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Surfside building collapse death toll rises to 22; search for 126 continues

Out-of-state rescuers turned away after testing positive for coronavirus

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.

A team secures sets of recovered remains in body bags, as search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building where scores of people remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed, Friday, July 2, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Rescue efforts resumed Thursday evening after being halted for most of the day over concerns about the stability of the remaining structure.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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.

Personal belongings are seen amid debris dangling from the remains of apartments sheared in half, in the still standing portion of the Champlain Towers South condo building, more than a week after it partially collapsed, Friday, July 2, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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.

Workers transport a stretcher with remains extricated from the rubble, near the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of people remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed, Friday, July 2, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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.

Watch the Friday afternoon news conference

Watch the Friday morning news conference

Complete coverage: Surfside Building Collapse

Coverage on July 2

Workers load a stretcher with remains extricated from the rubble into a Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner van, near the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of people remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed, Friday, July 2, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on July 1

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit a memorial wall covered in flowers and photos of the missing Thursday, July 1, 2021, after a condo tower collapsed in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coverage on June 30

A dog working with search and rescue personnel barks to alert them after sniffing a spot 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/Gerald Herbert) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on June 29

Search and rescue workers comb the rubble of an oceanfront condo building that collapsed, with many dead and unaccounted for, in Surfside, Fla., Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coverage on June 28

FILE - In this June 28, 2021, file photo, workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Fla. Search and rescue teams from Miami-Dade have been described as among the best and most experienced in the world. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coverage on June 27

This aerial image shows an oceanfront condo building that partially collapsed three days earlier, resulting in fatalities and many people still unaccounted for, in Surfside, Fla., Sunday, June 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coverage on June 26

Rescue workers search the rubble of 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:

Christian De La Rosa joined Local 10 News in April 2017 after spending time as a reporter and anchor in Atlanta, San Diego, Orlando and Panama City Beach.

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.