According to Mayor Levine Cava, the death toll now stands at 54, with 86 people "potentially unaccounted for."
A little after the clock chimed 12 on June 24 midnight, almost half of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, crumbled into a mound of rubble, in a matter of few minutes. Since then, first responders have been working day and night to rescue people who have been trapped under the pieces of concrete slabs. Now, almost two weeks after the tragic incident, officials announced on Wednesday, July 7, that search and rescue operations will come to a complete halt.
The efforts would now switch to a recovery operation, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, per CNN.
"To share this news with the families this evening who are still missing their loved ones was devastating and it's also difficult to share with all of you," she said in an evening news briefing, adding that the transition will happen at midnight. "Our team has developed a very detailed plan to guide the transition and to ensure that the operations proceed at the same speed and intensity," Levine Cava said.
Local officials provide updates on Florida building collapse after search-and-rescue operations have been halted. https://t.co/u97nQFsIEz— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 1, 2021
"Today is a heartbreaking day, but I have not lost hope that there could yet be a miracle," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said during the evening briefing. "In the end, God is still in charge. While there seems to be no chance of finding life in the rubble, a miracle is still possible."
According to Levine Cava, the death toll now stands at 54, with 86 people "potentially unaccounted for." The decision to switch operations was made mainly because crews have not pulled anyone out alive since the condo collapsed, states NBC News.
Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said the decision to call off the rescue effort "was not an easy one, as our hearts still hoped to find survivors, but our experience and expertise indicated that was no longer possible." Cominsky said search crews had used "every resource and expertise available to find life under the rubble."
"Crews worked under arduous conditions through rain, smoke, fire, and even imminent danger of a secondary collapse," he said. "The men and women who arrived here in the early morning hours of June 24 did not anticipate the tragedy that had unfolded before their eyes. These courageous individuals saw the possibility to save lives at the risk of losing their own and immediately acted," he added.
The Surfside, Florida, condo collapse efforts are transitioning to a "recovery operation," officials said. The death toll stands at 54, with 86 people still unaccounted for.https://t.co/Al2SsQnrg8— KOMU 8 News (@KOMUnews) July 8, 2021
"To determine the viability of life in the rubble, we considered engineering, medical and other factors," Cominsky then mentioned.
Those factors included "the building collapse itself, the pancake, which gives you the lowest probability of survivability," Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief of Operations Raide Jadallah added. "Typically an individual has a specific amount of time, in regards to lack of food, water, and air. This collapse, you know, just doesn't provide any of that sort."
"The other factors that we have to include, you know, the fact that we did not get in the alert (from) a K-9, a sensor trip forward, sound, and any visual utilizing our cameras. The last known alert that we received was in the initial hours the day of the collapse," Jadallah added.
So far, about 5 million pounds of debris have been removed from the site, Cominsky said. Federal organizations are now investigating why the building collapsed. The incident has also raised doubts about the safety of other buildings in Miami-Dade County, given that sea levels are on the rise. The salt in the air easily corrodes metals and nearly two-thirds of all commercial, condo, and apartment buildings are as old or older than the 40-year-old building that collapsed.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Anna Moneymake