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MDFR chief explains why search operation in Surfside came to a halt

Engineers consider possibility of demolishing what is left of Champlain Towers South

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Search-and-rescue teams haven’t been able to work at Champlain Towers South on Thursday since 2:11 a.m. Monitors detected shifts in what is left of the L-shaped building that partially collapsed last week, in Miami-Dade County’s town of Surfside.

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 a group of 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.

“Our monitors went off. We were monitoring the cracks we had three that signaled there was some expansion,” Cominsky said.

Comisky also said a large hanging column moved 6-10 inches. 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.

“We have been working in a very, very unsafe environment,” Comisky said after seven days and seven nights of searching for survivors.

Crews first accessed the compact mountain of pancaked concrete through the garage a few 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)

“Our primary focus is obviously rescuing our victims as well as protecting our fire personnel,” Cominsky said.

The work with heavy equipment also came to a halt. Gov. Ron DeSantis said The Florida Department of Transportation had removed almost 1,400 tons of building material from the site. It was piling up at a lot in Golden Glades.

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)

A team of structural engineers was assessing the situation to make recommendations. And with Tropical Storm Elsa approaching the Caribbean and potentially affecting Florida, the safety plans in Surfside were quickly changing.

“We are not expecting any impacts through Saturday, but obviously the state meteorological team is actively monitoring the storm and will continue to provide updates,” DeSantis said.

Related story: Engineers consider demolishing what is left standing of Champlain Towers South to continue search operation

President Joe Biden visited Surfside Thursday to meet with the relatives of the victims, DeSantis, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, and other local leaders.

“The search and rescue operation will continue as soon as it is safe to do so,” Levine Cava said.

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."

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.