SURFSIDE, Fla. — Officials on Tuesday afternoon said four additional bodies have been recovered in the rubble of a collapsed Surfside condominium building, increasing the death toll to 36 as Tropical Storm Elsa is expected to impact South Florida over the next 24 hours.
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The media was just allowed near the collapse site in #Surfside for the first time. The mountain is monstrous. This is the part of the building that was demolished over the weekend. Beyond that, rescue crews are still searching for ppl trapped under the rubble. @WPTV @FOX29WFLX pic.twitter.com/GZh5ndF3Pv— Ryan Hughes (@HughesWPTV) July 6, 2021
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a 5:30 p.m. news conference that 109 people are potentially missing, and another 191 are accounted for and that 29 of the 36 bodies have been identified.
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Overnight Monday, thunderstorms and lightning forced crews to briefly pause the search-and-rescue operation, but it has since resumed.
The latest WPTV First Alert Weather forecast shows Tropical Storm Elsa moving westward on Tuesday and mostly sparing South Florida. But officials said the National Weather Service is embedded with first responders to track any changes with the system that could impact the painstaking mission.
"We do continue to expect occasional gusts and strong showers today, and we're closely monitoring the weather," Levine Cava said.
WPTV journalist Ryan Hughes reported live from the scene around 3 p.m. on WPTV's Facebook page as a squall of heavy rain hit the Champlain Towers South condominium building search site. Wind gusts caused the rain to whip in sideways, and there was also some street flooding.
Levine Cava said the search-and-rescue operation will only pause when there's a lightning strike within roughly two miles of the site.
"It's important that Floridians don't focus necessarily on the cone, as we know impacts are expected well outside of the area of the cone," said Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez. "The storm will likely be lopsided with most of the rainfall to the east of the center of the storm."
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said wind gusts from Elsa are hampering the movement of large cranes that are moving very heavy debris.
"That's a challenge that they're attempting to work around right now," Burkett said.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said 5 million pounds of debris have been removed from the site, but no one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse on June 24.
"Unfortunately, we're not seeing anything positive," Cominsky said. "The key things we're looking for all throughout in regards to void spaces, livable spaces, we're not coming across that."
Nearly two weeks after the collapse, Levine Cava said the grueling mission is still very much a search-and-rescue operation, but she's confident that "everybody will be ready when it's time to move to the next phase."
"For the family members who are waiting and waiting, excruciatingly waiting for information, they know what is happening," Levine Cava said. "They understand that the news of their loved ones may be tragic loss."
First responders got a big boost when the unstable remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South building came down on Sunday. The demolition, prompted by fears that the structure could fall, allowed rescuers into previously inaccessible places, including bedrooms where residents were believed to be sleeping at the time of the disaster, officials said.
"The site is busier and more active now than I've seen it since we began, now that the damaged building is down," Burkett said, adding that heavy equipment is now able to move freely around the site.
Investigators are seeking the assistance of the community in obtaining information from anyone who witnessed the Surfside building collapse. Anyone who has videos or photos is asked to call the Surfside Collapse Witness Tip Line at 305-428-4417 from 8:00 a.m. - 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.