As search and rescue workers worked through the effects of Tropical Storm Elsa, four more bodies were discovered while an official raised the issue of who exactly was in the condo when it collapsed.
On Day 13 of the search of the rubble that was the Champlain Towers South, there are now 32 confirmed dead with 113 reports that Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava described as “potentially unaccounted for.” It was the first time she brought up the fact that some of the unaccounted may not have been in the building during the collapse.
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She said of the 113, officials so far are only able to confirm that 70 were in the building at the time of the collapse.
She said they have taken every tip into consideration as far as who may be missing. She said of people who called in tips, some called in anonymously, some called with partial information. Detectives review dozens of databases to determine whether people could have been there at the time, she said, adding that she is urging families who are missing loved ones to reach out to officials.
“So we have been extremely diligent in following leads,” she said, noting there may even be people in the building who no one knows the identity of.
Effects of Tropical Storm Elsa continue to hamper search-and-rescue efforts
Strong wind gusts, bands of downpours and occasional threats of lightning — all parts of the outer bands from Elsa — have paused the search effort at times.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the wind is affecting the heavy cranes at the site. “These are challenges they are trying to work around.”
FEMA and other agencies will provide relief for families who lost their homes, and donations that have come from all over the world are already going directly to families, officials said this weekend.
Burkett said he met with Gov. DeSantis on Monday and the governor told him he wants to supplement the charitable efforts and asked Burkett to work on the project so “nobody falls through the cracks.”
Burkett also said the families are asking to go back to the rubble site, something they were allowed to do last week. The families took buses to the site, which Burkett and officials described as cathartic.
He also repeated that officials are doing a full structural review of the Champlain Towers North, which he said had many similarities to the south tower.
The remaining sections of the building were imploded Sunday amid concerns that winds from approaching Elsa would topple the structure and bring the rescue to a halt. Unrelated lightning only briefly stopped the search Monday night.
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“The site is busier and more active now than I’ve seen it since we began,” Burkett said, adding that heavy equipment was now able to move freely around the site.
Elsa was expected to make landfall north of Tampa on Wednesday morning, but Miami-Dade County was already not completely spared from its effects.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said there was a two-hour delay early Tuesday as a result of lightning. He said workers have removed 5.5 million pounds of debris from the pile.
The investigation into the cause of the collapse is underway, but officials warn that no final determination is likely in the immediate future.
“We continue to remain focused on our primary mission, and that is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them,” City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said.
Surfside condo collapse: Memorial wall still stands as a ‘beautiful expression of love’
The memorial wall serves as a somber magnet for mourners as the small barrier-island community comes to grips with the disaster. The fast-growing memorial extends along the western fence of Surfside’s tennis center. Hundreds of flower bouquets, stuffed animals, candles, handmade posters, religious messages and flags adorn the site.
A floral frame of red roses and yellow tulips on the chain-link fence surrounded the smiling portrait of Elaine Sabino. The JetBlue flight attendant, who relatives say loved to travel and meet new people, lived on the 12th floor. She remains unaccounted for.
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“She was a very loving person. Very vivacious,” said Sabino’s sister, Daytona Beach resident Linda Howard as she fought back tears. “She had a bigger-than-life personality.”
Burkett said he believes the memorial is cathartic. And he hopes it becomes permanent.
“I think it’s a beautiful expression of love and respect. And it’s the kind of spontaneous creation that moves people,” Burkett said. “I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s necessary. And I’m very thankful that the people who put that wall up are maintaining it with love and passion.”
— Rick Neale, Florida Today