by David Fisher and Terry Spencer | The Associated Press
MIAMI – Firefighters on Friday announced an end to the search for bodies at the site of a collapsed Florida condo building, ending a month of painstaking work removing layers of dangerous debris that once stood several stories high. was given.
Champlain Towers South by the sea on June 24 killed 97 people, with at least one more missing person yet to be identified. The site has mostly been leveled and the debris has moved to a warehouse in Miami. Although forensic scientists are still at work, including examining the debris in the warehouse, no more bodies have been found where the building once stood.
The survivors never emerged, except in the early hours after the collapse. Search teams spent weeks battling debris threats, including an unstable part of the building that slammed upward, a recurring fire, and Florida’s scorching heat and thunderstorms. They passed through more than 14,000 tons (13,000 metric tons) of broken concrete and rebar, often worked boulder by boundary, rock by rock, before finally declaring the mission had been completed.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s urban search and rescue team drove away from the site on Friday in a convoy of firetrucks and other vehicles, slowly driving to its headquarters for a news conference to announce that the search had officially ended. Was.
At a ceremony, Fire Chief Alan Kominsky saluted firefighters who worked 12-hour shifts while camping at the site.
“It’s obviously disastrous. It’s obviously a difficult situation across the board,” Kominsky said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the men and women representing Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.”
Officials have declined to clarify whether they have an additional set of human remains that pathologists are struggling to identify or whether the search for the final set of remains is ongoing.
If found, Estelle Hedaya would bring the death toll to 98.
Hedaya was an outgoing 54-year-old who loved traveling and was fond of interacting with strangers. His younger brother Iki has given DNA samples and visited the site twice to see the search efforts for himself.
“As we enter the second month alone, without any other family, we feel helpless,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. He said that he gets constant updates from the medical examiner’s office.
Leah Sutton, who knew Hedaya from birth and considered herself his second mother, worried she would be forgotten.
“Looks like they are packing up and congratulating everyone for a job well done. And yes, they deserve all the praise, but after finding Estelle. “
Among the dead were members of the region’s large Orthodox Jewish community, the sister of the first lady of Paraguay, her family and her maternal grandmother, as well as a local vendor, his wife and their two young daughters.
The collapse sparked a race to inspect other aging residential towers in Florida and beyond, and it raised widespread questions about condominium associations and the country’s rules governing building safety.
Shortly after the disaster, it became clear that warnings about Champlain Towers South, which opened in 1981, had gone unheeded. A 2018 engineering report detailed cracked and degraded concrete support beams in underground parking garages and other problems that would cost about $10 million to fix.
Repairs did not take place, and the estimate rose to $15 million this year as the owner of the building’s 136 units and its governing condo board disputed the cost, especially after the Surfside Town Inspector told them the building was safe.
A complete collapse was impossible but impossible to imagine. As many officials said in the first days after the devastation, buildings of that size don’t collapse in the US outside of just a terrorist attack. Even tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes rarely bring them down.
The ultimate fate of the property where the building once stood has yet to be determined. A judge presiding over several lawsuits filed after the collapse wants the property to be sold at market rates, which would bring in an estimated $100 million or more. Some condo owners want to rebuild, and others say a memorial should be built to remember the dead.
“All options are on the table,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Heinzmann said at a hearing this week.
The disaster was one of the nation’s deadliest engineering failures. In 1981 a set of overhead walkways at a Kansas City hotel collapsed, killing 114 people who attended a dance. But that was not the structure itself. A Washington, DC, movie theater collapsed in 1922, killing 98 people. But it came when a blizzard froze on the flat roof.
In the weeks following the collapse, a 28-story courthouse in downtown Miami, built in 1928, and two apartment buildings were closed after inspectors uncovered structural problems. These will remain closed until repairs are made.
The first call to 911 came at about 1:20 a.m., when residents of Champlain reported that the parking garage had collapsed. A woman standing on her balcony called her husband, who was on a business trip, and said that the swimming pool had collapsed in the garage.
Then, in an instant, a part of the L-shaped building fell straight down. Eight seconds later, another section followed, leaving 35 people alive in the standing section. In the early hours, one teenager was rescued, and firefighters believed others could be found alive. He expected a noise from inside the pile, which may have been from the survivors tapping, but as they turned to the back, there were sounds from the rubble.
Rescuers worked tirelessly, even when the smoke and heat from the fire inside the standing part of the building hindered their efforts. When temperatures pushed into the upper 90s under the blazing sun, they remained until they required IVs to refill the fluid. They advanced as Tropical Storm Elsa passed and it rained heavily. He left the pile only when the lightning struck.
The part of the building that had remained standing posed a more serious threat as it was hovering precariously over the workers. The authorities ordered it to be demolished on 4 July.
In the end, the crew found no evidence that anyone who was found dead had survived the initial collapse, Kominsky said.
Associated Press writer Kelly Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.