Search-and-rescue operations resume at Surfside site following temporary halt of operations

Authorities: 18 dead, 145 missing in Champlain Towers condominium collapse
Surfside condo collapse, July 1, 2021
Posted at 8:07 AM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 23:37:17-04

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Authorities said Thursday evening that search-and-rescue efforts at the collapsed Surfside condominium building have resumed after structural engineers inspected the remaining structure.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during an evening news conference that operations resumed at 4:45 p.m. after engineers studied conditions to make sure the building was safe.

Given the ongoing safety concerns associated with the integrity of the building, Levine Cava said they are continuing to restrict access to the collapsed zone.

"Our team of engineers is doing ongoing testing and evaluation as we work to expand the search area as quickly as possible as it becomes safe to do so," Levine Cava said. "We're proceeding with planning for the likely demolition of the building, while the search and rescue continues as our top priority."

President Joe Biden spent more than three hours with families and first responders during his Thursday visit, according to the mayor.

"He listened deeply to everyone. It was truly emotional for all of the families, as well as me and my team," Levine Cava said.

Levine Cava said the death toll in the tragedy remains at 18.

Search-and-rescue operations resume at Surfside site following temporary halt of operations

Speaking on the demolition of the building, FEMA structure specialist Scott Nacheman said they are currently looking at several methodologies before they can determine how they want to safely proceed.

"Any demolition process takes time. ... Best case scenario, we're looking at weeks before we can determine exactly what that definitive timeline is going to be," Nacheman said.

Operations were halted earlier in the day due to "structural concerns about the standing structure."

"We paused operations last night due to detection by our monitor systems of moving," Nacheman said. "The building itself had not moved, however, debris in the pile below the building, as well as debris on the building of a significant size, had displaced."

Officials previously said efforts were paused just after 2 a.m. because of movement in a large column, as well as slight shifting of concrete floor slabs.

"We've been working in a very, very unsafe environment," said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said at an earlier news conference. "There was some expansion with the cracks, so immediately we removed."

The work stoppage came on the same day that Biden and first lady Jill Biden were in Surfside to tour the damage at the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building, meet with emergency officials and first responders, and spend time with the families of the victims and missing.

"We're doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our first responders is paramount and to continue our search-and-rescue operations as soon as it is safe to do so," Levine Cava said.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said $20.5 million had been allocated by FEMA to support ongoing response efforts at Surfside.


President Biden praises first responders in Surfside condo collapse

Speaking at a Thursday evening news conference, Biden praised firefighters, FEMA and other first responders associated with the rescue efforts.

"They're remarkable, remarkable people. They're always risking their lives to save lives as well as the police and other first responders," Biden said.

The president said he spent "a whole lot" of time with the families impacted in the tragedy, speaking to every person who wanted to speak to him.

"I sat with one woman who had just lost her husband and her little baby boy," Biden said. "I sat with another family that lost almost an entire family. Cousins, brothers, sisters."


President Biden visits Surfside, search halted due to 'structural concerns'

It's been eight days of searching, but the pause was another gut punch for families still holding onto hope and praying for a miracle.

"Do you think it's a possibility, a realistic possibility, that you will be able to continue searching?" asked WPTV journalist Ryan Hughes.

"I believe we will. The question is when," answered Col. Elad Edri, who's part of a specialized search team from Israel.

Edri called this collapse the most complicated site he's ever seen, but he knows more than 140 families are still counting on his team.

"The feeling is a bit rough, but we're waiting hopefully to get inside. All of our teams are waiting here with the gear like me," Edri said.

Surfside condo collapse, July 1, 2021
A U.S. Coast Guard boat patrols in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building, on Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Rescue efforts at the site of the partially collapsed building were halted Thursday out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure, officials said.

Air Force One landed at Miami International Airport just after 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The president and first lady then received a command briefing from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Levine Cava, and other local leaders.

"You've been very supportive," DeSantis told Biden. "Lives have been shattered irrevocably because of this."

The governor thanked the Biden Administration and FEMA for their efficiency in assisting with the disaster, and added that mental health support will be needed for first responders.

"What we just need now is a little bit of luck, a little bit of prayers. And we would like to be able to see some miracles happen," DeSantis said. "We're not gonna stop until we identify everybody."

Biden said there will be much pain and suffering in the days and months to come, and he believes the federal government will be able to fund the search-and-rescue efforts.

"I think there's more that we can do, including, I think I have the power and I'll know shortly, to be able to pick up 100% of the costs for the county and the state over 30 days," Biden said. "We're not going anywhere."


President Biden meets with emergency officials

From there, the Bidens spent time with dozens of brave and dedicated first responders, search-and-rescue teams, and others who have been working tirelessly since the 12-story tower collapsed last Thursday.

"The job you're doing is incredible," President Biden told emergency crews. "What you're doing now is just hard as hell. I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you."


President Biden meets with first responders

DeSantis said more than 500 first responders are involved in the painstaking search-and-rescue mission, and crews have removed 1,400 tons of building material from the property.

Officials said the state's meteorological team is closely monitoring the latest developments with Tropical Storm Elsa, which is churning in the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to move toward the Florida Peninsula early next week.

WPTV First Alert Chief Meteorologist Steve Weagle said most computer models take the system over the Lesser Antilles by Friday morning, passing south of Hispanola by Saturday afternoon, moving over Cuba on Sunday, and then approaching the Florida Peninsula late Monday and early Tuesday.

If the same track continues, Elsa would arrive near South Florida as tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.

"It's one to watch the next few days," Weagle said. "If it does have an impact [on South Florida], winds would pick up Monday night. They would peak on Tuesday. And I would expect tropical storm conditions on the current track."

Florida's Division of Emergency Management has contingency plans in place for potential storm-related impacts, including identifying alternate work facilities.

WPTV Tropical Update, 5 p.m. on July 1, 2021.jpg
WPTV Tropical Update, 5 p.m. on July 1, 2021.
WPTV Tropical Update, 5 p.m. on July 1, 2021 (1).jpg
WPTV Tropical Update, 5 p.m. on July 1, 2021.

Authorities said 18 people, including two children ages 4 and 10, are dead. 145 people are missing.

The deceased have been identified as:

  • Lucia Guara, 10
  • Emma Guara, 4
  • Anaely Rodriguez, 42
  • Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21
  • Hilda Noriega, 92
  • Marcus Joseph Guara, 52
  • Frank Kleiman, 55
  • Michael David Altman, 50
  • Leon Oliwkowicz, 80
  • Luis Bermudez, 26
  • Anna Ortiz, 46
  • Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74
  • Stacie Dawn Fang, 54
  • Antonio Lozano, 83
  • Gladys Lozano, 79
  • Manuel LaFont, 54
  • Magaly Elena Delgado, 80

Investigators are looking for information from anyone who witnessed the Surfside building collapse. If you have videos or photos, you're asked to call the Surfside Collapse Witness Tip Line at 305-428-4417 from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.

A family information and reunification center continues to operate at the Surfside Recreation Center, located at 9301 Collins Avenue, for people who are unable to locate their relatives who live in the building.

You can open a Missing Person Report by clicking here or calling 833-930-3701.

If you live at the Champlain Towers property or you know a person who lives there who has been found safe, click here.