SUNRISE — Emergency workers in South Florida are pushing ahead with rescue efforts at the site of a collapsed beachside condo while keeping an eye on Hurricane Elsa, which threatens to bring heavy rain and wind to the area as soon as this weekend.
Rescuers overnight recovered two more bodies from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 20, with 128 unaccounted for.
One of the bodies recovered overnight was the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Thursday night it was “truly different and more difficult” for first responders conducting the search and rescue mission because of that grim discovery.
Efforts to recover survivors enters second week
Rescue efforts are now into their second week and with each passing day, the chances of finding any more survivors grow slimmer. The only rescued survivor was recovered hours after part of the condo collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24.
Rescuers lost precious hours of work Thursday as concerns about the integrity of the remaining portion forced searchers to stop sifting through the pile of rubble.
Victims of the collapse:Remembering those who died in the Champlain Towers condo collapse in Surfside, Florida
Engineers cleared rescuers to return to the pile late Thursday afternoon, but their efforts are being limited to a smaller area in order to keep clear of debris falling from the remaining portion.
Now rescuers are in a race against Mother Nature as Hurricane Elsa threatens South Florida. The site of the collapse is in the “cone of uncertainty,” though it is too early to say exactly how, when or even if, Elsa would effect the rescue efforts.
The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center has Elsa passing west of Miami as a tropical storm sometime Monday, with the possibility of high winds, rain and storm surge for South Florida.
When the building fell:‘It would take a miracle’: Victims’ families, survivors lose hope as rescue efforts stall in Surfside building collapse
“There is a lot of uncertainty in the forecast: how it will evolve, how the storm will interact with the land areas that are to our south,” said Robert Molleda, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami.
“And that could affect not only the intensity, or how strong the storm is, but also the track that it takes,” he said.
What could Hurricane Elsa do to the unstable site?
That is bad news for rescuers who are already worried about the stability of both the remaining portion of the building and the pile of rubble they are digging through. Even if high winds didn’t threaten to demolish the remaining building, they could blow falling debris onto the rescue area and heavy rains could cause the pile of rubble to shift as pulverized concrete turns to mud.
Officials have acknowledged the remaining portion will have to be demolished. But how and when that could happen is yet to be determined.
It could take weeks to plan and prepare for such a demolition, said Scott Nacheman, an engineer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We are currently looking at several different methodologies and as we get technical data, as we get stakeholder information, those decisions will be made,” Nacheman said.
But Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he wants to fast-track the possible demolition of the remaining section.
“In most cases, setting up for a demolition is a time-consuming effort in testing and making sure it doesn’t have asbestos. There’s a list of things that you do. But we’ve got a potential hurricane coming that’s going to demolish it for us,” Burkett said, addressing reporters after a Friday morning press conference.
“And if that happens — and it just happens to blow it the wrong direction — it could be a mess of immense proportion,” he said.
The disaster site is hemmed in by the pile of the rubble to the east, buildings to the north and south, and Collins Avenue, the main beachfront road to the west. Across Collins Avenue is a park and tennis center.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.