• Wed. Dec 8th, 2021


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Miami Building Collapse: After Demolition, More Bodies Are Found

SURFSIDE, Fla. — With nearly half of the building no longer looming over them, rescuers resumed searching the rubble of a collapsed condominium complex north of Miami Beach on Monday, finding four more bodies and bringing the death toll to 28 in the hours after the still-standing portion of Champlain Towers South was leveled.

The search effort had been halted for much of the weekend amid growing worries about the building’s stability, particularly with the approach of a tropical storm. A controlled explosion at about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday brought the rest down, as families continued to await news of the more than 100 people missing since part of the building collapsed 11 days ago.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County told reporters on Monday that the demolition was “executed exactly as planned” and left officials optimistic about safely sifting through the rubble. “There is hope that there are voids that will allow us to continue the search-and-rescue operation,” she said.

After the demolition, rescuers began searching through the rubble closest to where the remaining building structure had stood, which had not been previously accessible. Search teams also began using heavy equipment to remove debris, no longer concerned about preserving the building’s stability.

Ms. Levine Cava said late Monday that rescuers had been able to search all sections of the collapsed building for the first time. They have now accounted for 191 residents; 117 remain missing.

While part of the building still stood, officials had feared that the rest could collapse at any moment, endangering workers and complicating an already difficult search. Those concerns had escalated throughout the weekend as Tropical Storm Elsa barreled toward Florida.

Meteorologists said the worst of the storm was expected to miss Surfside, yet it was forecast to hit the Miami area with lashing winds and heavy rainfall. By Monday evening, the sky had darkened and tornado warnings had been issued, with forecasters predicting several inches of rain in and around Miami.

Lightning from the approaching storm caused some pauses of the search efforts on Monday, Ms. Levine Cava said.

The demolition added a new layer of anguish as residents who had fled their intact homes saw them erupt into a plume of dust. Passports, wedding rings and yellowing photographs that were the last tangible reminder of long-dead relatives had been left behind.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said that concerns about the remaining part of the building left few options but demolition. Residents of the building who survived fled with whatever they had with them, and had not been permitted to enter the teetering structure to recover keepsakes and valuables.

“I would have loved for them to go in and get their belongings, but every single person said it’s too dangerous,” Mr. DeSantis said.

Animal advocates had also pushed to delay the explosion, saying that there were pets left inside. But officials said there had been an elaborate search — with emergency workers going room to room, peeking in closets and under beds, and even using thermal technology — that did not turn up any.

With the storm approaching, engineers had to balance an urgent time crunch against the sensitivity the site demanded, designing the blast to direct fresh debris away from the existing pile of rubble, which had been covered by tarps.

The explosion on Sunday night blended in with the crackle of fireworks across the Miami area’s Fourth of July celebrations. But officials said that the site demanded reverence, encouraging people to stay away.

“So often, demolitions of buildings are a spectacle — it’s almost like a show,” Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents the area in Congress, said on Sunday. “This particular demolition is certainly the furthest thing from that.”

On Monday morning, after the dust from the previous night had settled, some residents returned to a memorial of flowers, photos and candles that has grown along the fence of the city’s tennis courts. The day before, they had been able to look at the remaining part of the tower, with intact balconies still holding chairs and tables. Now, they saw only piles of debris.