SURFSIDE, Fla. – Search-and-rescue teams looked for survivors through the 9th night and into the 10th day of a delicate operation after the Champlain Towers South collapse formed a compact mountain of pancaked concrete in Surfside. There were 126 people who remained unaccounted for Saturday.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan R. Cominsky said he was rotating the Florida Task Force teams out of the site with teams from out of state Friday and Saturday. Gov. Ron DeSantis said they were from Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. On Friday night, some of the members of the teams had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, tested positive for the coronavirus, and had to turn back.
The search-and-rescue strategists also had Hurricane Elsa to worry about. The National Weather Service has a presence at the site to provide up-to-the-minute updates on Elsa, the tropical storm strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Friday and threatened to affect South Florida early next week.
There are countless stories of sacrifice and heroism at 8777 Collins Ave. There have been tears at the rescuers’ tent city. The crews have worked through intermittent rain and dealt with spontaneous fires. They recovered human remains and bodies when they had hoped to find more survivors.
The official death toll was at 22.
Members of Florida Task Force 2 Miami pulled the body of a 7-year-old girl. They watched as her father, a 10-year veteran Miami firefighter, held her for one last time. The youngest victim was 4-year-old Emma Guara. Crews also recovered the bodies of her 11-year-old sister and parents. The eldest victim was 92-year-old Hilda Noriega, the mother of the North Bay Village police chief.
The unstable structure that is left standing prompted engineers to pause the operation from 2:11 a.m. to about 4:45 p.m. Thursday. There was an area that they couldn’t access.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to expand our search zones due to the high concerns with the building structure,” Cominsky said.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava signed the order Friday to demolish the southeastern side of the L-shaped building. She said the top priority was to continue the search-and-rescue mission.
“It’s going to take time. It’s going to take more likely weeks,” Levine Cava said about the demolition, also adding the structure needs to come down as quickly as possible.
Federal Emergency Management Agency engineers recommended the demolition because the structure has gotten increasingly more unstable and it is threatening the lives of the hundreds of rescuers on site. Levine Cava said the building also poses a threat to the community.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said search-and-rescue teams have plenty of specialized boots, socks, demolition gloves, and respirators.
Royal Caribbean has a ship at Port Miami to provide free housing to search-and-rescue teams.
Guthrie also said that in coordination with Volunteer Florida, Amazon donated items that will be used to help rescuers with their dirty laundry.
Roy Ramos joined the Local 10 News team in 2018. Roy is a South Florida native who grew up in Florida City. He attended Christopher Columbus High School, Homestead Senior High School and graduated from St. Thomas University.