Firefighters have declared the end of their search for bodies at the site where a Florida condo building collapsed, and completed a month of painstaking work to remove layers of dangerous debris that were once piled up several stories high.
The June 24 landslide in the Champlain Towers South ocean 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 of broken concrete and rebar, often working stone by door, stone by stone, before finally declaring the mission complete.
The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue urban search and rescue team left the disaster 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 they camped 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.”
The disaster was one of the nation’s deadliest engineering failures.
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. Victim number 98 is believed to be Estelle Hedaya, a 54-year-old extrovert 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.
“Going into the second month alone, without other families, we feel powerless,” he told the Associated Press on Friday.
The collapse also fueled 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 collapse, 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. The repairs were not made and the estimate increased to $ 15 million this year as the owners of the 136 units in the building 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.
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.
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.