SURFSIDE, Fla. - One week after the sudden collapse of a South Florida condo building, the death toll now stands at 18 with another 145 missing.
Thursday morning, officials said the search and rescue efforts had been temporarily halted because of concerns over the stability of the building that is still standing. They said that a column on the part of the structure still standing shifted 6 to 12 inches. Engineers are on-site assessing the situation.
Search crews that have been atop the pile of rubble for the last week stopped work shortly after 2 a.m., Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference.
Concerns remained that the still-standing portion of the complex could also collapse and work at the site appeared to have paused early Thursday. During a meeting with families Wednesday, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah said officials are concerned about the stability of that portion of the building.
"What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are kind of, of concern, not compromised, but just right now of concern," Jadallah said. "Hypothetically, worst-case scenario: If these columns are truly really bad, we are worried they could collapse right back into the parking garage."
Families were asking if they could add tensions rods but the assistant fire chief said that is not possible, according to structural engineers.
Just before 6 p.m. Thursday, authorities said the search and rescue effort had resumed, WSVN confirmed.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived in Surfside one week after the collapse. They landed in South Florida on Thursday morning and thanked first responders and search and rescue teams. They also planned to meet with the families of victims, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
During a briefing with DeSantis and Levine Cava, Biden praised the cooperative efforts of local, state and federal agencies on the ground.
"This is life and death," Biden said at the briefing. "We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference."
The president said he believed the federal government would be able to cover the full cost of the search and cleanup and urged the local officials to turn to Washington for assistance.
"I have the power and will announce shortly that we’ll be able to pick up 100% of the cost from the county and the state over the first 30 days," Biden said at the briefing. "I think I’m quite sure I can do that."
On Wednesday, Levine Cava said two of the bodies found were children, ages 4 and 10, calling the loss "too great to bear." The Miami-Dade Police Department later identified the girls as sisters Emma and Lucia Guara.
According to WSVN's Frank Guzman, the girls' father was 52-year-old Marcus Guara, and their mother was 42-year-old Anaely Rodriguez, both of whom were previously found in the search.
Guara family (via WSVN)
15 of the victims have been identified:
- 10-year-old Lucia Guara
- 4-year-old Emma Guara
- 42-year-old Anaely Rodriguez
- 21-year-old Andreas Giannitsopoulos
- 54-year-old Stacie Fang
- 54-year-old Manuel Lafont
- 83-year-old Antonio Lozano
- 79-year-old Gladys Lozano
- 80-year-old Leon Oliwkowicz
- 26-year-old Luis Bermudez
- 46-year-old Anna Ortiz
- 74-year-old Christina Beatriz Elvira
- 55-year-old Frank Kleiman
- 52-year-old Marcus Guara
- 50-year-old Michael Altman
Credit: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue
State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said he hopes to emphasize to Biden that there is a need for mental health resources to treat rescue workers for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"These guys are so blindly focused on the mission of saving lives, and unfortunately they see things they can’t unsee," Patronis said.
"Their feet are covered in blisters," Patronis continued. "Their hands are covered in, in cuts. They’re blowing through gloves. They’re blowing through boots."
That’s the situation for rescuers, who are painstakingly moving concrete, metal, and personal possessions. International teams from Israel and Mexico are working with groups from around the state and across the country going through debris pile – sometimes by hand.
During Thursday morning's press conference, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said rescuers heard the voice of a woman during initial search and rescue efforts after the collapse as they sifted through the debris, but were ultimately unable to find her.
"A female voice is what we heard for several hours, eventually we didn't hear a voice anymore," Cominsky said. "Unfortunately we didn't have success with that."
Some families have filed class-action lawsuits against the condo association for failing to address structural problems. One group of legal officials is calling for an observer and drone to monitor rescue and recovery efforts to make sure potential evidence – as to why the building fell – doesn’t get thrown away.
"The families have no idea whether it is being documented as they peel through that collapse layer by layer," said Robert Mongeluzzi, a construction accident attorney, "have no idea what is going to happen to that evidence."
In April, the condo board president sent owners a letter, saying structural problems identified in a 2018 inspection had "gotten significantly worse." The key issue: weakening concrete.
The letter also told owners they needed to pay a hefty price to get them fixed.
The April 9 "Dear Neighbors" letter from Champlain Towers South Condominium President Jean Wodnicki hinted at an ongoing debate over the repairs and a reluctance by some condo owners to pay for major work that would cost at least $15.5 million.
"A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by. But this is where we are now," she wrote in the letter, which was confirmed to The Associated Press by a spokesman for the condo board.
Wodnicki noted costs had increased since an October 2018 report by engineering firm Morabito Consultants first identified key issues with weakening concrete, and she predicted they would only grow more if put off any longer.
Two months later, on June 24, the 12-story Champlain Towers South building in Surfside came tumbling down. Search crews have been working around the clock since last Thursday, sifting through the rubble.
Teams on the ground say thunderstorms are expected and they’re keeping an eye on some tropical disturbances.
Gov. DeSantis has launched a website to provide support for survivors, families and first responders: surfsidestrength.com. It provides resources for both mental health and physical assistance needs. There are links for those wishing to donate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.