The June 24 collapse on the Champlain Towers South ocean coast killed 97 people, and at least one more person missing has yet to be identified. The site has been mostly swept up and the debris has been moved to a Miami warehouse. Although forensic scientists are still working, including examining the debris in the warehouse, there are no more bodies where the building once stood.
Except for the first hours after the collapse, the survivors never emerged.
Search teams spent weeks battling the dangers of the debris, including an unstable part of the building reeling overhead, a reoccurring fire, and the sweltering summer heat and Florida thunderstorms. They went through more than 14,000 tons (13,000 metric tons) of broken concrete and rebar, often working stone by stone, stone by stone, before finally declaring the mission complete.
The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue urban search and rescue team left the site on Friday in a convoy of fire trucks and other vehicles, slowly driving home for a press conference to announce that the search was officially over.
At a ceremony, Fire Chief Alan Cominsky greeted firefighters who worked 12-hour shifts while camping at the scene.
“Obviously it is devastating. Obviously, it’s a difficult situation across the board, ”Cominsky said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the men and women who represent Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.”
Officials have declined to clarify whether they have an additional set of human remains on hand that pathologists are struggling to identify or whether the search for that final set of remains is continuing.
If found, Estelle Hedaya would raise the death toll to 98.
Hedaya was a 54-year-old outgoing person who loved to travel and liked to strike up conversations with strangers.
His younger brother, Ikey, has given him DNA samples and has visited the site twice to see the search efforts for himself.
“As we enter the second month alone, without other families, we feel powerless,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. He said he receives frequent updates from the medical examiner’s office.
Leah Sutton, who knew Hedaya from birth and considered herself a second mother to her, is worried that she will be forgotten.
“They seem to be packing up and congratulating everyone on a job well done. And yes, they deserve all the praise, but after finding Estelle. ”
Among the dead were members of the large Orthodox Jewish community in the area, the sister of the first lady of Paraguay, her family and her nanny, as well as a local vendor, his wife and their two young daughters.
The collapse kickstarted a race to inspect other older residential towers in Florida and beyond, and raised broader questions about the nation’s regulations governing condo associations and building safety.
Shortly after the disaster, it became clear that the warnings about Champlain Towers South, which opened in 1981, had gone unheeded.
A 2018 engineering report detailed cracked and degraded concrete support beams in the underground parking lot and other problems that would cost nearly $ 10 million to fix.
Repairs were not made and the estimate increased to $ 15 million this year as the owners of the building’s 136 units and the condo board of directors squabbled over the cost, especially after an inspector from the city of Surfside He said the building was safe.
A total collapse was almost impossible to imagine.
As many officials said in the early days of the catastrophe, buildings of that size do not collapse in the US outside of a terrorist attack. Even tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes rarely bring them down.
The final destination of the property where the building once stood has yet to be determined.
A judge presiding over several lawsuits filed after the collapse wants the property to be sold at market prices, which would bring in an estimated $ 100 million or more.
Some condo owners want to rebuild and others say a memorial should be erected to remember the dead.
“All options are on the table,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing this week.
The disaster was one of the nation’s deadliest engineering failures.
A set of elevated walkways collapsed at a Kansas City hotel in 1981, killing 114 people attending a dance.
But that was not the structure itself. A Washington, DC movie theater collapsed in 1922, killing 98 people.
But that came after a blizzard dumped feet of snow onto the flat roof.
In the weeks after the collapse, a 28-story courthouse in downtown Miami, built in 1928, and two apartment buildings were closed after inspectors discovered structural problems.
They will remain closed until repairs are made.
The first calls to 911 came around 1:20 a.m., when Champlain residents reported that the parking lot had collapsed.
A woman standing on her balcony called her husband, who was away on business, and told him that the pool had fallen into the garage.
Then, in an instant, a section of the L-shaped building fell downward.
Eight seconds later, another section followed, leaving 35 people alive in the standing part.
In the first hours, a teenager was rescued and firefighters believed that others could be found alive. They were hopeful from the noises emanating from inside the pile that it could have been the survivors tapping, but in hindsight the sounds came from moving debris.
Rescue teams worked tirelessly, even when smoke and heat from a fire inside the standing portion of the building hampered their efforts.
They persisted as temperatures rose to 90 degrees (35 degrees Celsius) under the scorching sun, some working until they needed IVs to replenish fluids.
They continued when Tropical Storm Elsa passed nearby and dumped torrential rains. They left the pile only when lightning developed.
The part of the building that remained standing posed another grave threat, looming precariously over the workers. Authorities ordered its demolition on July 4.
In the end, the teams found no evidence that someone who was found dead had survived the initial collapse, Cominsky said.