The death toll in the Surfside condo collapse rose to 86 on Saturday after recovery efforts were temporarily halted over lightning strikes.
Search teams have been recovering victims more quickly now that a portion of the tower that remained standing was demolished and is no longer a threat to collapse, according to Florida Fire Marshall and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
Sixty-two of the 86 victims have been identified and 61 next of kin notified, with 211 people accounted for and 43 others potentially unaccounted for, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Crews at the site paused their work briefly Saturday morning because of lighting, but recovery efforts resumed within an hour, Levine Cava said. The work will continue despite rain that is expected throughout the day.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department Chief Alan Cominsky said the timeline for completion of recovery efforts was 14 to 21 days.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said crews removing rubble from the recently demolished section of the building may complete their work “a lot sooner than many expected.”
Burkett described the progress in removing debris as intense, saying “much of the original pile is at ground level or below.”
The city is setting up a fund for downtown businesses affected by recovery efforts, Burkett said.
“One thing I can assure you is the dogs are still on the site. The infrared equipment is still being used. The cameras are still being used. The task forces that are here … are the same level of skills that were here with FEMA task forces,” he said. “They’re all still working. What’s happening right now is no different than five days ago.”
FOCUS ON INVESTIGATION
Meanwhile, officials have turned more of their attention to the investigation and to ensuring other structures in the area are safe.
Experts have already begun their investigation by examining Champlain Towers North, a sister building that is “substantially the same as the building that came down,” Burkett said
“We have been in there several times now. We have taken out samples. We’ve done the ground-penetrating radar. We’re trying to determine the amount of steel, the thickness of the slabs, so we’re trying to compile all that information and see exactly if there is some indication of weakness.”
“I talked to the engineer today, and he’s ready to make a determination as soon as he gets results back and let the residents of that building know whether he feels they are safe or not.”
The north towers building was evacuated for safety concerns.
Burkett said he urged other condo board members in the area to inspect their structure.
“We’ve given them a series of boxes to check in order to make sure that their buildings are as safe as they can be, given especially we don’t know why this building fell down,” Burkett said.
He thinks it’s important for investigators to compare North and South Champlain Towers.
“I’ve advised them to pull the minutes of Champlain Towers North board over the last 40 years and compare to the minutes of South and see if both boards have made the same investments over the last 40 years.”