Fewer people missing in collapse; nearby tower is evacuated
SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — The number of people missing in the Florida condominium collapse fell Friday following a new review, but fears of another potentially catastrophic failure deepened after engineers found unsafe conditions in a different tower and ordered the entire building evacuated.
The nearby city of North Miami Beach announced that an audit prompted by the deadly collapse of Champlain Towers found the 156-unit Crestview Towers building structurally and electrically unsafe.
“In an abundance of caution, the City ordered the building closed immediately and the residents evacuated for their protection, while a full structural assessment is conducted and next steps are determined,” City Manager Arthur H. Sorey III said a news release.
The evacuation comes as municipal officials in South Florida and statewide are scrutinizing older high-rises in the wake of the collapse to ensure that serious structural problems are not being ignored.
Crestview Towers residents could be seen Friday evening hauling suitcases and packing items into cars outside the building, which was constructed in 1972. City officials were trying to help residents find places to go.
Meanwhile, authorities in Surfside said four more bodies had emerged from the rubble, including the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter, bringing the confirmed death toll to 22.
But there was also relief. Closer inspection of missing persons list reduced the number from 145 to 126 after duplicate names were eliminated and some residents reported missing turned up safe, officials said.
“So this is very, very good news,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. She said the numbers were expected to keep changing because detectives are continually reviewing the list and verifying reports.
In some cases, when detectives were able to contact people who had been reported as potentially missing, they found that not only were they safe, but other members of their families were safe too. That pushed the list of people who have been accounted for up to 188 and cut the number of missing, she said.
Detectives have worked around the clock to contact relatives and others. In some cases, English and Hebrew names have been offered for the same missing relative, officials have said.
The 7-year-old who perished in the collapse was “a member of our fire family,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said.
The discovery of the girl’s remains was especially hard on rescuers, Levine Cava said.
“It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders. These men and woman are paying an enormous human toll each and every day, and I ask that all of you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” she said at a news conference.
The mayor also said she signed an emergency order to demolish the remaining part of the building once engineers have signed off on it. She said the order was signed now so that the demolition can move quickly once a date is set. It will likely be weeks before the demolition is scheduled, officials said.
“Our top priority is search and rescue. We will take no action that will jeopardize our search-and-rescue efforts,” Levine Cava said. “The building poses a threat to public health and safety.”
No one has been rescued since the first hours after the June 24 collapse.
During a meeting Friday with relatives of the missing, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said that only one voice has been heard during the entire search. A woman’s voice was detected until about 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. on the morning of the collapse, which happened around 1:30 a.m. Rescuers were unable to reach her, and he said no other voices or human sounds have been heard since.
“Most of the victims have been deceased in their bedroom indicating they were asleep,” he said.
Jadallah also prepared the families for a possible suspension of the search if Hurricane Elsa — now in the eastern Caribbean — brings strong winds to South Florida that would make the work too dangerous. Search efforts have been stopped briefly several times because of inclement weather.
“We will try to go as long as we can, but you can see from different periods of inclement weather we’ve had, we have stopped,” Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said.
Some rescue workers who are now staying in tents will be moved to cruise ships, which can stay safe during a tropical storm, Jadallah said.
About 600 first responders will stay on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas, the cruise line said. The ship, which can accommodate more than 3,000 passengers, began housing rescue teams Thursday and likely will continue for the next month.
Friday’s announcements came the day after concerns about the structure’s instability prompted a 15-hour halt to the search for survivors. Crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column.
The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.
Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.
Associated Press Writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed to this report from Tallahassee, Florida.