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.
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.
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.
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.
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."