SURFSIDE, Fla. – The search and rescue mission at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South has been suspended as a crew prepares for the demolition of the remainder of the building, officials confirmed Saturday.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members that rescuers stopped their search at about 4 p.m. Saturday, when demolition crews began boring holes into the concrete of the still-standing portion of the condominium building in Surfside.
The suspension prompted concern from one family member who called it “devastating” that work had to stop. Jadallah said the work stoppage was a necessary safety measure because the drilling could cause the structure to collapse.
Watch Saturday evening’s media briefing below:
During a Saturday evening press briefing, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she still did not have a timeline for when the actual demolition would begin, but said rescue crews would continue searching any areas of the rubble as soon as it is safe for them to do so.
The mayor said officials will also continue to monitor Tropical Storm Elsa, which continues moving closer to the Florida peninsula.
On Saturday morning, she confirmed two additional bodies had been recovered overnight, bringing the total number of deaths to 24. During the evening press conference she said the death toll remained unchanged and that the next of kin for 23 of the victims had been notified.
The latest victims to be identified are Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and Gonzalo Torre, 81.
The mayor said 121 people remain unaccounted for.
“The numbers are fluid and will continue to change, as we’ve told you repeatedly,” the mayor said.
The body of Cattarossi’s daughter, Stella, 7, was pulled from the rubble early Friday morning.
“Her entire world revolved around Stella,” Cattarossi’s friend, Mariela Porras, said.
A photo taken from the scene by a firefighter shortly after Stella’s body was found shows police officers and firefighters standing on the side of the roadway.
He said first responders stand alongside each other each time a body is carried through from the debris and a moment of silence is held to honor that person’s life.
Stella’s father is also a firefighter and he and his brother were at the scene when she was found. A firefighter who asked not to be identified said Stella’s dad placed his jacket over her and placed a small American flag on the gurney she was laid upon.
Cattarossi’s elderly parents and her sister Andrea remain among those who are unaccounted for after the collapse.
Watch Saturday morning’s media briefing below:
Levine Cava said the remaining structure will be demolished ahead of the pending impact from Tropical Storm Elsa.
“The building poses a threat to public health and safety, and bringing it down as quickly as possible is critical to protect our community,” she said. “We have experts on site evaluating.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis said the structure can be brought down in 36 hours once everything is ready to go and would “entail minimal work stoppage.”
The demolition plans are pending feedback from another team of experts that Levine Cava said were evaluating the site again Saturday afternoon.
“At the end of the day, that building is too unsafe to let people go back in,” DeSantis said. “I know there were people who were fortunately able to get out who have things there. We are sensitive to that, but I don’t think there’s any way you can let somebody in that building given the shape that it is in.”
On Saturday, Levine Cava also addressed concerns many have had regarding any possible pets left behind in the remaining building.
“I want to be very clear that search and rescue conducted three separate searches and they found no animals,” she said.
The state will cover the entire cost of the demolition.
Meanwhile, teams of scientists and engineers continue their painstaking structural detective work to understand the contributing factors underpinning the collapse.
Miami-Dade’s mayor announced Saturday that the National Science Foundation is now in Surfside.
“With 3D imaging and drones, and they are capturing as much detail as they can,” she said.