Florida condo collapse search stretches to 6th day
Death toll hits 12 as 1 more body recovered Tuesday
Twelve people have now been confirmed dead, leaving another 149 unaccounted for, in the collapse of an oceanfront Florida condo tower.
Officials provided an update Tuesday after vowing to conduct multiple investigations, convene a grand jury and to look closely "at every possible angle" to prevent any other building from experiencing such a catastrophic failure, earlier in the day.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she and her staff will meet with engineering, construction and geology experts, among others, to review building safety issues and develop recommendations "to ensure a tragedy like this will never, ever happen again."
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she will pursue a grand jury investigation to examine factors and decisions that led to Thursday's collapse of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South in Surfside.
Even as officials looked to the future to determine the cause of the collapse, they were resolute in vowing to continue the effort to find survivors.
On the sixth day of a painstaking search, Gov. Ron DeSantis evoked a well-known military commitment to leave no one behind on the battlefield and pledged to do the same for the people still missing in the rubble.
"The way I look at it, as an old Navy guy, is when somebody is missing in action, in the military, you're missing until you're found. We don't stop the search," DeSantis said at a news conference.
"I think that's what is happening. Those first responders are breaking their backs trying to find anybody they can. I think they are going to continue to do that. They've been very selfless. They've put themselves at risk to do it."
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett cited the case of a woman who was found alive 17 days after a garment factory collapsed in 2013, killing more than 1,000 people in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Martin Langesfeld, whose sister, 26-year-old Nicole Langesfeld, is missing in the collapse, also expressed hope that there are still survivors.
"We're not alone in this. There's hope. I really believe miracles do happen. Things like this have happened around the world," he said during a vigil Monday night on the beach near the collapsed building.
Also Tuesday, the White House announced that U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden would travel to Surfside on Thursday.
The collapse has drawn scrutiny of the safety of older high-rise buildings throughout South Florida. Cava ordered a 30-day audit on whether buildings 40 years old or older are complying with a required recertification of their structural integrity, and that any issues raised by inspections are being addressed.
On Tuesday, the mayor said building inspections have found four balconies in one building in Miami-Dade County that "must be immediately closed due to safety concerns."
Previous grand juries in South Florida have examined other large-scale disasters, such as the 2018 collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, which killed six people. That investigation is ongoing.
Criminal charges in such matters are possible, such as the third-degree felony murder and manslaughter charges brought in the 1996 crash of ValuJet Flight 592, which killed 110 people in the Everglades.
Work at the site has been deliberate and treacherous. Thunderstorms rolled through the area Tuesday morning, and debris fell onto the search area overnight from the shattered edge of the part of the building that still stands, forcing rescuers to mark a "don't go beyond here" line and focus their efforts on parts of the debris pile that are farther from the structure, Burkett told WSVN.
Just two additional bodies were found Monday.
Authorities are meeting frequently with families to explain what they're doing and answer questions. They have discussed with families everything from how DNA matches are made to help identify the dead, to how will next of kin be contacted, to going into "extreme detail" about how they are searching the mound, the mayor said.
Precarious mound of rubble
Armed with that knowledge, she said, families are coming to their own conclusions.
"Some are feeling more hopeful, some less hopeful, because we do not have definitive answers. We give them the facts. We take them to the site," she said. "They have seen the operation. They understand now how it works, and they are preparing themselves for news, one way or the other."
Rescuers are using bucket brigades and heavy machinery as they work atop a precarious mound of pulverized concrete, twisted steel and the remnants of dozens of households. The efforts included firefighters, sniffer dogs and search experts using radar and sonar devices.
Authorities said their efforts were still a search and rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday.
The pancake collapse of the building left layer upon layer of intertwined debris, frustrating efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space.
"Every time there's an action, there's a reaction," Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said during a news conference Monday. "It's not an issue of we could just attach a couple of cords to a concrete boulder and lift it and call it a day." Some of the concrete pieces are smaller, the size of basketballs or baseballs.
From outside a neighbouring building on Monday, more than two-dozen family members watched teams of searchers excavate the building site. Some held onto each other for support. Others hugged and prayed. Some people took photos.
"It's an incredibly difficult decision, and I've never had to make that decision," Barbera said.
The building collapsed just days before a deadline for condo owners to start making steep payments toward more than $9 million US in repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier, in a report that warned of "major structural damage."