The death toll from last week’s condominium collapse in Florida rose on Friday to 20 after search and rescue crews found two more bodies, including the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter.
The tally of the missing in the Florida condominium collapse has been substantially reduced, from 145 to 128, officials said after duplicate names were eliminated and some people reported missing turned up safe.
The grim, painstaking search for victims in the rubble, which was suspended for most of July 1 over safety concerns, proceeded on Friday with greater caution and a watchful eye on a new Atlantic hurricane that could strike Florida within days.
The young girl was the third child to be recovered from the mound of pulverized concrete, twisted metal and splintered lumber, local officials said, and with 128 still missing and feared buried, the search stretched into its ninth day.
“It goes without saying that every night since the last Wednesday has been immensely difficult for everybody and particularly the families that have been impacted,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.
The discovery of the child’s remains was especially difficult for rescuers, who have mounted an unprecedented around-the-clock effort to search for survivors even as hopes have grown dim.
“Last night was different. It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders” who are confronting “an enormous human toll” at the site of the high-rise collapse, Levine Cava said.
No one has been pulled alive from the debris since the initial hours after the 12-floor Champlain Towers South condo partially caved in, in the early hours of June 24 as residents slept.
Authorities had halted the rescue and recovery effort early July 1 for fear that a section of the high-rise tower still standing might topple onto search crews in the debris field.
A large column hanging from the building had shifted and rescue workers on the site felt heavy movement. Investigators had found evidence of structural corrosion before the building collapse. An official cause has not been identified yet.
President Joe Biden visited the area on July 1, meeting with families of victims, local first responders, rescue crews and Florida officials.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, on Friday publicly thanked President Biden, a Democrat, for pledging 100 percent federal reimbursement to Florida state and local governments for costs of the recovery operation.
“He was very, very supportive … and that will be very, very helpful to all levels of government here in Florida,” DeSantis said.
At the site, the rescue operation was restarted about 15 hours after it had been paused when it was deemed safe, though with a new set of precautions in place, Miami-Dade County Fire and Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky told reporters.
Under the new search plan, teams would confine their work to just three of nine grids demarcated in the ruins, Cominsky said.
Authorities were eager to make as much progress as possible before the expected arrival of Hurricane Elsa, which strengthened into the first hurricane of the 2021 season on Friday as it threatened the Caribbean.
DeSantis has instructed state officials to begin planning for a state of emergency to prepare for possible landfall of the hurricane.
“There will be some impacts in Florida starting as early as Sunday night,” the governor said.
“It is possible that this area could see tropical storm force winds,” DeSantis added.
State officials are making preparations to protect the equipment at the site of the collapsed building, he said, and “you could possibly have an event with the building as well.”