Rescue teams found another body on Saturday in the rubble of a collapsed 12-story condominium tower near Miami, bringing the death toll to five as they rushed to retrieve survivors while responding to gunfire and to smoke deep in the remains of concrete and metal.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the rising toll at an evening press briefing, saying the identification of three bodies had reduced the number of people missing to 156. She said that the crews had also discovered other unspecified human remains.
Officials said the remains they found were being sent to the medical examiner and they were also collecting DNA samples from family members to help identify them.
Separately, a video posted online showed an official briefing to the families of missing loved ones. When he said that they had found remains among the rubble, people started to sob.
Throughout the day, rescuers scoured the mountain of debris with trained dogs and sonar, searching for survivors. “Our top priority remains the search and rescue and the rescue of all possible lives,” said the mayor.
But crews had to fight the flames in the debris during the day. At one point on Saturday, a fire hose detonated one of the lower floors on the north side of the tower as white smoke or steam billowed out. A bitter, sulphurous smell hung in the air.
âThe stench is very thick,â Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.
A crane removed debris from the over 30-foot heap in the town of Surfside, and dozens of rescuers used large machines, small buckets, drones, microphones and their own hands to pick up the debris.
For many people concerned about the disappearance of their loved ones, the wait was excruciating. The atmosphere inside a hotel ballroom where around 200 family members were briefed by authorities was tense, two people in attendance told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the conversations private.
The two said families frustrated by the slow recovery efforts had demanded that they be allowed to come to the scene and attempt a collective cry – an attempt as much to find survivors as a cathartic farewell to those who were deceased.
Among those waiting to hear from loved ones was Rachel Spiegel, whose mother, Judy Spiegel, 66, lived on the sixth floor. Speaking alongside her siblings, she said on Saturday that “we are trying to hold on”.
âI know my mother is a fighter. I know she loves us. I know she doesn’t want to give up. So, you know, it’s day three, so it’s tough, âSpiegel said.
President Joe Biden said via Twitter that he spoke with DeSantis on Friday to offer help if needed.
âMy heart is with the Surfside community as they mourn their lost loved ones and anxiously await search and rescue efforts to continue,â Biden tweeted.
Authorities have said they are starting an audit of buildings about to be reviewed after 40 years – such as the South Champlain Towers failed – to make sure they are safe. The mayor has asked other towns in the county to join the building review and said there will be state and federal funding to help.
Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency joined local and state authorities at the site, DeSantis said. He added that a “twin building” near the collapsed tower is also under consideration as it was built at the same time and with the same designer.
Late Saturday, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said a city official had conducted a quick review of buildings near the Champlain North and Champlain Towers East.
âThey didn’t find anything wrong,â he said.
He stressed that the priority now was to rescue anyone who was still alive.
âWhat we’re doing now is saving lives and pulling people out of the rubble. What we’re going to do in the next phase, after we get to supporting families, is we’re going to dig deeper into why this building collapsed, âBurkett said.
Burkett had said earlier that he was working on a plan to temporarily relocate residents of the Champlain North Towers, which were built the same year and are about 100 meters from the collapsed building, and which FEMA has agreed to pay for. accommodation.
The mayor said he had no plans to order residents to evacuate, but if he lived there, “I would have left.”
Employees at the Town of Surfside also gathered details on the Champlain East Towers, which were built in a different style and apparently were built in a different era.
The news came after news of a 2018 engineering report that showed the building had “major structural damage” to a concrete slab under its pool deck that needed major repairs, part of it. a series of documents published by the Town of Surfside.
While officials said no cause for the collapse Thursday morning had been determined, DeSantis said a “definitive response” was needed in a timely manner. The video showed the center of the building appearing to collapse first, followed by a section closer to the beach.
The 2018 report was part of the preliminary work of the engineering company performing the required building inspections for a due recertification this year of the building’s structural integrity at 40 years. The condominium tower was built in 1981.
A federal agency specializing in disaster losses and structural failures is sending half a dozen scientists and engineers to collect direct information about the site, to determine whether further study is needed.
The first members of the team arrived on Friday, said Jason Averill, an official at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This agency also investigated the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11 and, more recently, the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, among other disasters.
Separately, the Israeli government said it was sending a team of engineers and rescue specialists to help with the search. Israeli media reported that around 20 citizens of that country were among the missing.
22 other missing persons were from Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay, including relatives of Paraguayan first lady Silvana de Abdo BenÃtez.