Death toll rises to 28 at site of Miami-area condo

Four victims were found dead Monday in the rubble of a collapsed condominium as crews resumed their search following the demolition of the remaining part of the building.

28 people confirmed dead, at least 117 people missing following tower collapse

Rescuers continue to search for victims at a collapsed South Florida condo building on Monday as the death toll rose to 28 on Day 12 of the search in Surfside, south of Miami. (Pedro Portal/The Associated Press)

Rescuers searched through fresh rubble on Monday after the last of the collapsed Florida condo building was demolished, which allowed crews into previously inaccessible places, including bedrooms, where people were believed to be sleeping at the time of the disaster, officials said.

Four more victims were discovered in the new pile on Monday, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said, raising the death toll to 28 people. Another 117 people remain unaccounted for.

Crews faced a new challenge as thunderstorms and tropical storm Elsa approached the state.

The demolition late Sunday was crucial to the search-and-rescue effort, officials said, and raised the prospect that crews could increase both the pace of their work and the number of searchers at the site, although the chance of finding survivors 12 days after the June 24 collapse has diminished.

"We know that with every day that goes by, it is harder to see a miracle happening," said Maggie Castro, a firefighter and paramedic with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue who briefs families daily.

Cranes are seen Monday at the site where the partially collapsed 12-storey Champlain Towers South condo was taken down Sunday with a controlled demolition in Surfside, Fla. (Saul Martinez/Getty Images)

Teams had been unable to access areas closest to the remaining structure because of its instability, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

"Truly we could not continue without bringing this building down," she told a news conference.

Mission is 'to leave no stone unturned'

Part of the existing debris pile was also helping to support the remaining structure, City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said. Rescuers were still holding out hope of reuniting loved ones.

"We continue to remain focused on our primary mission, and that is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them," Carroll said.

The newly accessible area includes primary bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping when the building collapsed, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

WATCH | More bodies found in rubble of collapsed condo:

More bodies found in rubble of collapsed Florida condo

2 years ago
Duration 2:03
More bodies have been pulled from the rubble of the collapsed condo in Surfside, Fla., 28 people are now confirmed dead and 117 people are unaccounted for. The search is on hold as of Monday evening as tropical storm Elsa gets closer, bringing thunderstorms.

"We will be able to access every part of that pile, which they hadn't been able to do up to this point," DeSantis said. "I think it's going to move the pace. I think the momentum is very strong."

Crews could be seen climbing a mound of debris at the site Monday alongside a piece of heavy equipment that was picking up rubble. Jadallah said rescuers focused on a stairwell section, but inclement weather hampered the search, particularly in a garage area that was filling with water. Crews had to pump out water.

The latest forecasts showed the storm moving westward, mostly sparing South Florida, but the area near the collapsed building experienced thunderstorms, and the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Miami Beach, which is just south of Surfside.

Jadallah said rescuers planned to push through.

Will only stop for lightning

"Now that we don't have an issue with the building, the only time that we're stopping is lightning," he said. 

Workers immediately began clearing some of the new debris after the demolition, and the search resumed around midnight, officials said. It had been called off Saturday to allow specialists to drill holes for explosives needed for the demolition.

"As a result of the contractor who brought it down, he did it in such a way that literally we actually were back on the original pile in less than 20 minutes," Jadallah told family members of those missing earlier Monday, drawing applause in a rare upbeat moment for the twice-daily meetings.

Rescuers hoped to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for those believed to be trapped under the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South. Crews, however, have found very few voids, Jadallah said.

No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse.

WATCH | Evidence of structural problems before deadly Miami condo collapse: 

Remainder of Surfside, Fla., condo demolished

2 years ago
Duration 0:46
A controlled explosion was conducted in Surfside, Fla., to topple the rest of the damaged and unstable condo, which partially collapsed more than one week ago. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

During the demolition, a loud rat-a-tat of explosions echoed from the structure. Then the building began to fall, one floor after another, cascading into an explosion of dust. Plumes billowed into the air as crowds watched the scene from afar.

Some residents had pleaded to return to their homes one last time before the demolition to retrieve belongings, but they were denied. Others wondered about the pets left behind. Officials said they found no signs of animals after making three final sweeps, including the use of drones to peer into the abandoned structure.

Levine Cava said teams are working to save personal items and have asked residents to catalogue what they're missing to match with items as soon as they are recovered.

"The world is mourning for those who lost their loved ones and for those who are waiting for news from the collapse," she said at the news conference. "To lose your home and all your belongings in this manner is a great loss as well."

A pile of debris is seen Monday morning at the site of the Champlain Towers South condo after it was demolished late Sunday. (Saul Martinez/Getty Images)