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Bodies of 2 children pulled from rubble of collapsed Florida building, mayor says

Two more victims have been found in the rubble of a collapsed condo building in Surfside, Fla., bringing the death toll to 18, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

18 people now confirmed dead, including two children

Search and rescue teams look for survivors at a collapsed 12-storey oceanfront condo in Surfside, Fla. on June 30, 2021. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via The Associated Press)

Two more victims have been found in the rubble of a collapsed condo building in Surfside, Fla., bringing the death toll to 18, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Levine Cava announced the information at a Wednesday evening news conference, saying that two of the victims were children. She says the number of residents unaccounted for stands at 147. Earlier Tuesday, officials confirmed that they had found four additional victims.

Also on Wednesday, crews built a ramp that should allow the use of heavier equipment, potentially accelerating the removal of concrete that "could lead to incredibly good news events," the state fire marshal said.

Since the sudden collapse of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South last week in Surfside, rescuers have been working to peel back layers of concrete on the pancaked building without disturbing the unstable pile of debris.

Miami-Dade assistant fire chief Raide Jadallah told family members of those missing Wednesday that a ramp built onto the pile overnight allowed rescuers to use a crane on sections that were not previously accessible. He said that improves the chances of finding new pockets of space in the urgent search for survivors.

"We hope to start seeing some significant improvement in regards to the possibility of [finding] any voids that we cannot see," Jadallah said.

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State Fire Marshal Jimmy Petronis described the ramp as "a Herculean effort" that would allow the use of more heavy equipment.

"Now you are able to leverage massive equipment to remove mass pieces of concrete that could lead to those incredible good news events," Petronis told a Miami TV station.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building's ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had "major structural damage" and needed extensive repairs. The report also found "abundant cracking" of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.

Rescue workers continue to search for survivors in the ruins of a collapsed building on June 30, 2021, in Surfside. (Emily Michot/Miami Herald via The Associated Press)

Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had "gotten significantly worse" and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million US. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.

Rescuers still faced enormous obstacles as they spent a seventh day searching for survivors. The pancake collapse of the building has frustrated efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space.

The possibility that severe weather in coming days could further stretch Florida's search and rescue resources prompted state officials to ask the federal government for the additional team, Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said Tuesday. Intermittent bad weather has already caused temporary delays in the search.

Guthrie said the new team, which would likely come from Virginia, would be on hand if severe weather hits the area in coming days, and allow crews that have been working at the site for days to rotate out. Authorities said it's still a search and rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday.

Mario Gonzalez visits a memorial wall full of photos of the missing, messages of love, support and prayers on June 29, 2021, in Surfside. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via The Associated Press)

"There are two areas of [possible storm] development out in the Atlantic, heading to the Caribbean. We have eight urban rescue teams in Florida. We talked about doing a relief," Guthrie said at a news conference Tuesday night.

"We have all the resources we need but we're going to bring in another team. We want to rotate those out so we can get more resources out."

The National Hurricane Center says two disorganized storm systems in the Atlantic have a chance of becoming tropical systems in the coming days, but it is unclear at this point whether they would pose a threat to the U.S.

Charles Cyrille of the Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency said 900 workers from 50 federal, state and local agencies were working on the search.

President to visit Thursday

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden planned to travel to Surfside on Thursday. 

"They want to thank the heroic first responders, search-and-rescue teams and everyone who's been working tirelessly around the clock, and meet with the families" waiting for word of their loved ones, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

Jadallah told family members Wednesday that if they want to meet with Biden, they should respond through an RSVP form from police and fire officials.

Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said he hopes Biden's visit will be a morale booster for the devastated community.

"We've had several challenges from weather, sorrow, pain. And I think that the president coming will bring some unity here for our community, support, like our governor, our mayor, all of us together."

Emergency workers conduct search and rescue efforts at the site of the partially collapsed residential building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Fla., on Tuesday. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Layers of intertwined debris

Work at the site has been deliberate and treacherous. 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.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said the work has been extremely difficult, but "we're out here 110 per cent."

"These are the times that are the most difficult," Cominsky said. "We are here to do a job. We are here with a passion. Hopefully, we have some success."

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