Rescue operation resumes at collapsed condo in Florida after day-long pause

A sad family awaits by the site as team of rescue workers are working during a rescue operation of Champlain Tower partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, United States on June 30, 2021.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Search-and-rescue operations at the collapse of a Florida condominium building have resumed Thursday after a day-long halt, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference Thursday evening. 

The decision to resume operations came at approximately 4:45 p.m. Thursday after structural engineers said conditions were safe enough to do so, Levine Cava said. Operations were halted Thursday morning over concerns that the rest of the building could fall.

“I am grateful to their hard work that got us back to work on the search-and-rescue as soon as possible,” Levine Cava said. “We are continuing, of course, to assure that we do everything to protect our first responders.”

The death toll remains unchanged as of late Thursday, with 18 people confirmed dead and 145 unaccounted for, according to Levine Cava.

While search-and-rescue operations are the first priority of authorities, plans to demolish the building are currently underway, Levine Cava told reporters. 

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said all task force leaders, division group supervisors and heavy equipment operators were briefed on a plan to resume the search with safety mitigation measures in place.

Authorities are restricting access to parts of the collapse zone that pose safety concerns, Levine Cava said. Technology, such as cameras and drones, is being used to search areas of the building that are inaccessible. 

A team of engineers is also conducting tests and evaluations to expand the search area safely, she added. 

Levine Cava and other authorities also expressed thanks to President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for their visit to Surfside earlier Thursday, noting that Biden offered comfort to families that have been impacted by the collapse.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie added that Biden pledged to cover 100% of the reimbursements for local governments facing deficits due to the collapse.

The Office of Emergency Management division director Charles Cyrille also provided updates on Tropical Storm Elsa, which is continuing to move swiftly through the Caribbean Sea. Cyrille told reporters that the state Department of Emergency Management is continuing to monitor the storm and that contingency plans are in place.

Cyrille said that “Miami-Dade County is not in immediate danger,” but urged citizens to be prepared with disaster kits and evacuation plans.

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Cominsky, the fire rescue chief, said the decision to halt operations Thursday morning was based on “additional concerns for building stability” identified by subject matter experts.

Those concerns included six to 12 inches of movement, a large column hanging from the building that could fall and damage support columns in the underground garage, and slight movement in the concrete floor slabs in the south side of the structure that “could cause additional failure of the building,” according to Cominsky.

In recent days, a growing body of evidence has come to light indicating that the 40-year-old condominium building showed signs of major structural damage as far back as 2018.

A newly uncovered video taken the night of the collapse shows water pouring into the parking garage of Champlain Towers.

On Wednesday evening, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced it had launched a federal investigation into the causes of the building collapse.

“We are going in with an open mind,” Judith Mitrani-Reiser, associate chief of the materials and structural systems division at NIST, told reporters Wednesday at a press conference near the site of the collapse.

“With any building collapse, we would want to understand how the building was designed, constructed, modified and maintained,” she said.

Several lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of the families of victims, some of whom are still missing.

But the question of who, if anyone, is at fault for the collapse is not likely to be resolved in the near future.

James Olthoff, the director of NIST, told The Miami Herald the federal investigation would not seek to assign blame for the collapse.

“This is a fact-finding, not fault-finding, type of an investigation,” he told the Herald. “It will take time, possibly a couple of years.”

Correction: This story was updated to correctly describe Tropical Storm Elsa.