SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – Rescue crews made way for demolition crews at the site of a South Florida condominium as authorities focused on destroying the unstable remains of the structure before a tropical storm.
The search and rescue mission was suspended on Saturday afternoon so workers could begin the precarious business of drilling holes to contain explosives in the concrete of the still standing portion of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, a Miami-Dade Deputy Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told relatives. awaiting news on the missing relatives.
Jadallah said the suspension was a necessary safety measure as drilling could cause the structure to fail. If that were to happen, he said, “It’s just going to fall apart without warning.”
But in a video feed of Jadallah’s closed-door briefing to relatives of the missing, one was heard calling it “devastating” that the search was on hiatus. She asked if rescuers could at least work the perimeter of the site so as not to “stop the operation for so many painful hours.”
Once the structure is demolished, the remains will be immediately removed in an effort to allow rescuers to gain access for the first time to parts of the garage area that are a center of interest, Jadallah said. This could give a clearer picture of the voids that may exist in the rubble and could potentially shelter survivors.
No one has been saved alive for the first few hours after the collapse.
Although the demolition operation carried risks, officials said it could not be avoided with Tropical storm Elsa looms in the Caribbean and is expected to hit the state by Tuesday morning. The storm heightened fears that the remaining structure might fall, endangering the crews below and complicating the search.
The confirmed death toll since the June 24 collapse stood at 24, but 121 people were still missing. The Miami-Dade Police Department added Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and Gonzalo Torre, 81, to the list of those who died on Saturday night.
“We have a building here in Surfside that is tottering. It’s structurally unhealthy, ”Governor Ron DeSantis said on Saturday. “And although the eye of the storm is not likely to pass in that direction, you might experience gusts in this area.”
The timing of demolition depends on how quickly workers can drill holes and insert explosive charges – a slow process to ensure the building does not prematurely collapse in an uncontrolled manner.
DeSantis said on Saturday that the demolition could take place within 36 hours after the site is ready. Sunday morning, Jadallah estimated that it could happen until late Sunday evening.
Miami-Dade Police will be going door-to-door to evacuate residents from surrounding buildings ahead of the demolition, Surfside officials said. No one will be allowed in the buildings immediately north and south of the collapsed structure.
Calvan reported from Tallahassee, Florida. Associated Press editors Terry Spencer in Surfside, Florida, and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.