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Engineers plan to demolish what is left standing of Champlain South

SURFSIDE, Fla. – A group of structural engineers worked to make a recommendation Thursday about what needed to be done to improve the safety of the search-and-rescue operation in Miami-Dade County’s town of Surfside.

Search-and-rescue teams suspended work at Champlain Towers South at 2:11 a.m., Thursday, after monitors alerted engineers to shifts in what is left of the L-shaped building that partially collapsed last week.

The search-and-rescue operation resumed about 4:45 p.m., just after President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden departed, but officials said the suspension had nothing to do with their visit. Officials feared the structure was threatening to fall down on rescuers.

Engineers considered the pros and cons of demolishing what is left standing of the southern section of the 12-story building. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava will make a decision with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Levine Cava counts with the recommendations of Scott Nacheman, a structures specialist with FEMA’s urban search and rescue. The engineer has experience as a firefighter and as a forensic architect. He said the demolition will slow the search-and-rescue efforts at first, but it will allow more rescue personnel to come in afterward, therefore speeding up the effort.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the town was helping the team to prepare for the demolition.

“Once the decision is made I didn’t want there to be like another day setting up the demolition if that was the decision, so I directed my building official to start talking to those demolition companies,” Burkett said.

A Coast Guard boat patrols in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building, ahead of a planned visit to the site by President Joe Biden, on Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Rescue efforts at the site of the partially collapsed condominium building were halted Thursday out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure, officials said.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The oceanside property at 8777 Collins Ave., is across the street from Veterans Park, a space that can be useful if there was a demolition. The official death toll stands at 18, and 145 people remain unaccounted for, according to the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky told reporters Thursday morning there were additional concerns for building stability. The concrete slabs of the southern part of the 12-story building that didn’t collapse were moving.

A parked crane sits beside the still standing section of Champlain Towers South, which partially collapsed last Thursday, as rescue efforts on the rubble below were paused out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure, Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Scores of residents are still missing one week after the seaside condominium building partially collapsed. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Comisky said there was also up to a foot of movement in a large hanging column. The shifts threatened support columns in the underground parking garage. The more than 300 people who have been working on the operation were at risk.

Crews first accessed the compact mountain of pancaked concrete through the garage hours after the collapse. The rescue teams had been tunneling through in groups of 10 to 12. They worked through intermittent rain and spontaneous fires.

Workers peer up at the rubble pile at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building, ahead of a planned visit to the site by President Joe Biden, on Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Search and rescue workers, who have had to contend with summer rainstorms, fires within the debris, and the threat of collapse from the still standing portion of the building, were not visible atop the rubble on Thursday morning, as scores of people remain missing one week after the collapse.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The work with heavy equipment also came to a halt. A team of structural engineers was assessing the situation.

With Tropical Storm Elena approaching, the safety plans were quickly changing. After the search-and-rescue mission resumed, Levine Cava said there was a contingency plan in place.

Complete coverage

Coverage on Thursday

Coverage on June 30

Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of people remain missing almost a week after it partially collapsed, Wednesday, June 30, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on June 29

Crews work in the rubble Champlain Towers South residential condo, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on June 28

Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on June 27

Crews work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on June 26

Rescue workers search in the rubble for survivors at the Champlain Towers South condominium, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in the Surfside area of Miami. The building partially collapsed on Thursday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coverage on June 25

FILE - In this June 25, 2021, file photo, rescue personnel work at the remains of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Fla. Harry Rosenberg, a New York City man, bought a beachfront home there to start a new chapter of his life after his wife and parents died. Now he is missing in the collapse of the building outside Miami. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coverage on June 24

This photo taken from video provided by ReliableNewsMedia, firefighters rescue a survivor from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla., early Thursday, June 24, 2021. (ReliableNewsMedia via AP)

About the Authors:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.