SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – Authorities searching for victims of a deadly Florida collapse said on Sunday they hope to complete their meticulous work in the coming weeks as a team of first responders from Israel left the site.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said 90 deaths have now been confirmed in last month’s collapse of 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside, up from 86 the day before. Among them, 71 bodies have been identified and their families have been notified, she said. Some 31 people are still missing.
The Miami-Dade Police Department said three young children were among those recently identified.
Teams continued to search the remaining rubble pile, peeling layer after layer of debris for bodies. The relentless search has recovered more than 14 million pounds (roughly 6.4 million kilograms) of concrete and debris, Levine Cava said.
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said he was not sure when recovery operations would be completed as it remains unclear when the final body will be found.
When the recovery phase began on Wednesday, officials hoped it could be done within three weeks. In a Sunday morning interview near the site, Cominsky said it could now be as little as two weeks, based on the current pace of work.
“We were looking at a delay of 14 to 21 days,” he said, adding that the schedule remained “a sliding scale”.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett highlighted the care taken by rescuers in peeling layers of rubble in the hope of recovering not only the bodies but also the property of the victims. He said the work is so delicate that teams found intact bottles of wine amid the rubble.
“It doesn’t get any less difficult and finding casualties, this experience doesn’t change for our search and rescue teams,” he said. “It takes a toll, but you have to love the heart they put into it and we are very grateful to them.”
On Saturday night, community members walked along Collins Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, to celebrate crews from across the country – and from Israel and Mexico – to help with the rescue efforts, and now recovery. The Israeli search and rescue team arrived in South Florida shortly after the building collapsed on June 24 and were returning home on Sunday.
Members of the teams that have searched the site 24 hours a day since the collapse lined up on both sides of the street, shaking hands and bidding farewell to the Israeli team.
the israeli team joined other task forces from across the United States to assist first responders in Miami and Miami-Dade County, working in 12-hour shifts. They searched through the intense summer heat of South Florida and pouring rain, only stopping when lightning was spotted nearby. They also halted operations as officials planned to implode the still standing portion of the condo tower on July 4.
The Israeli team used blueprints of the building to create detailed 3D images of the disaster site to facilitate research. They also gathered information from the families of the missing, many of whom were Jewish, to build a room-by-room model showing where people would have slept during the pre-dawn collapse.
Levina Cava said Saturday night’s memorial march was “a beautiful moment.” She gave the keys to the county to the Israeli commander and colonel – her first two handings as mayor.
Four teams from Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania are still dedicated to the recovery effort, Cominsky said. Teams from Virginia, New Jersey and Ohio prepare to leave.
“To give you an answer when we think we’re going to pick everyone up, I can’t give you an exact date,” the fire chief said. “We do whatever we can – whatever is possible – until we feel we’ve delayed every floor.”
Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.