The death toll from the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Florida, was 24 on Sunday, with 121 missing. But rescue teams gave way to demolition crews at the site, as officials shifted their focus to tearing down the unstable remainder of the structure before a tropical storm.
In a small moment of hope, a cat was seen wandering a lower floor on the remaining flank of the 12-story condo complex. The teams hoped to place a trap on the balcony so the cat could be rescued. It could not be immediately determined if the animal belonged to a resident.
Meanwhile, in nearby Miami Beach, a three-story apartment building was evacuated Saturday after an inspector discovered structural damage to an empty unit. Firefighters were called to the building after a city building inspector found a flaw in the flooring system and “excessive drift” in an exterior wall.
Several residential buildings in Florida have been evaluated. On Friday in North Miami Beach, residents were evicted from the 156-unit Crestview Towers after it was deemed structurally and electrically unsafe.
In Surfside, as crews prepared for demolition work, officials assured families that they had done everything possible to search for missing pets. On a day when the death toll rose, Miami-Dade Deputy Fire Marshal Raide Jadallah interrupted a family briefing to share news of the cat.
“So apparently there is a cat now that may have gone out and up on a balcony,” he said.
The news brought murmurs of excitement.
“Wait,” Jadallah told the crowd, “I haven’t talked to the cat yet.”
Earlier, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at least three searches for pets had been conducted, and none had been found.
“I understand very much that pets are part of people’s family,” said the mayor. “My heart goes out to those who fear for their animals, and I just want them to know that additional efforts have been and are being made.”
Earlier in the week, a firefighter tried to locate the cat of an elderly woman and her daughter who lived on the fourth floor of the wing that was still standing. The two women escaped with their dog, Rigatoni. But his cat, Coco, apparently stayed behind. Ken Russell, a Miami city commissioner who is married to a veterinarian, alerted officials.
“Once I realized that a cat was still in danger, I called the fire marshal,” he said, adding that he made sure no resources were taken from the search and rescue mission of people buried under the rubble.
A firefighter hung himself from the edge of the truck and started calling for Coco. Russell said he had heard of other possible pets left behind, including a dog in a cage on the ninth floor and two parrots and a cat on the 10th.
“People trust them for their mental stability and comfort,” Russell said. “Knowing that they left their animal behind is a tremendous feeling of guilt.”
A portion of Champlain Towers South remains largely intact, but authorities said they would not demolish it before Monday, before Tropical Storm Elsa.
“We have a building here in Surfside that is tottering,” Governor Ron DeSantis said. “It is structurally flawed. And while the eye of the storm is not likely to pass in this direction, you could feel gusts in this area. “
The search and rescue mission was suspended so that workers could begin drilling holes to contain explosives, Jadallah told a relative awaiting news of missing loved ones. He said the suspension was necessary because drilling could cause the structure to fail. If that happens, he said, “it will just collapse without warning.”
But in a video clip of Jadallah’s briefing, a relative was heard saying it was “devastating” that the search was on hold. He asked if rescuers could at least work the perimeter so as not to “stop the operation for so many painful hours.”
Officials said the demolition work could not be avoided.
The confirmed death toll from the June 24 collapse was 24. Miami-Dade police added Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and Gonzalo Torre, 81, to the death list Saturday night. No one has been rescued since the hours after the collapse.
The apartment building in nearby Miami Beach was evacuated as a precaution, authorities said. Contains 24 units, 11 unoccupied. Only one person needed help finding another place to stay.
Officials were briefed on a 72-unit condo in Kissimmee after contractors said there were “significant” structural problems. Some residents chose to stay in hotels paid for by the county, while others appeared to stay in their homes, the Orlando Sentinel reported.