The mayor of Miami-Dade County said on Friday that she had ordered the demolition of the still-standing portion of Champlain Towers South, a decision made a day after fears that the damaged structure could fall and disrupt rescue efforts.
“The building poses a threat to public health and safety, and bringing it down as quickly as possible is critical to protect our community,” said the mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, who cautioned that the demolition would not begin until engineers signed off, perhaps weeks from now.
More than a week since much of the condo tower collapsed, the search effort has proceeded slowly, with some areas of the debris pile deemed too dangerous for rescue crews. Ms. Levine Cava said on Friday that four more bodies had been found, bringing the total to 22. As many as 126 people remain unaccounted for.
The search, which paused for about 14 hours on Thursday amid fears that the rest of the condo building could fall, has been hampered by rough weather and dangerous conditions, with each passing day further dimming the chances of finding survivors. Though rescue crews said they were holding out hope that they might find someone alive — a point Chief Alan Cominsky of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Ms. Levine Cava reiterated on Friday — officials have spoken in increasingly blunt terms about the outlook.
“They’re praying, they’re pleading, ‘God, let there be a miracle,’” President Biden said on Thursday after meeting with the families of the dead and missing.
The number of people who have not been accounted for dropped slightly on Friday after officials audited their reports and found that some people who had been marked missing were in fact safe.
As the weekend approached, authorities were making contingency plans for Hurricane Elsa, which had strengthened from a tropical storm. The hurricane, which was already threatening Caribbean islands, was expected to turn toward Florida by the end of the weekend, with strong winds reaching the state as early as Sunday evening.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said officials were planning to continue searching in Surfside, while also protecting any equipment that might be threatened by the storm and monitoring the stability of the partly collapsed building.
“We’re adding this special emphasis on this site because we understand the sensitivities involved,” Mr. DeSantis said.
Chief Cominsky said crews were monitoring the weather to determine if and when they might have to pause search efforts.
“We want to be working out there as long as we can,” he said.
Even as the search continues and investigations remain in their early stages, court hearings are already being held about the collapse. At a virtual hearing on Friday, a lawyer for the building’s condo association board said the surviving board members — one is still missing — had voted unanimously to appoint an independent party to handle the lawsuits that residents have started filing against the board.
Michael Goldberg, a lawyer, will serve in the position, known as an independent receiver, and will be closely involved in how the association uses $48 million in insurance money and any proceeds from asset sales, including cash distributions to survivors and families of the dead.
The nearby city of North Miami Beach undertook a building audit recommended by Ms. Levine Cava’s office following the collapse, the mayor said, and had found one building that had not completed the necessary recertification process for buildings 40 years and older.
A notice posted on North Miami Beach’s website said a special City Council meeting had been called for Saturday to discuss the evacuation of Crestview Towers, about a seven-mile drive from the collapse site in Surfside.
Tropical Storm Elsa became Hurricane Elsa on Friday morning as it moved along a path that could batter the Caribbean this weekend and hit Florida early next week, potentially complicating rescue work at the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that he was committed to continuing the search for any survivors. He said officials were monitoring the track of the storm and preparing to secure equipment at the site and monitor the stability of the partly collapsed building.
“We’re actively monitoring the situation like we always would do with these storms,” Mr. DeSantis said, “but given what we’re doing on this site, we’re also paying special attention to any impacts that could happen here.”
Elsa’s route remains highly uncertain, but most of Florida lies within the cone forecasters use to project the storm’s course. The potential for strong winds, heavy rain and storm surge could present yet another setback to the search for survivors of last week’s condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., in which 20 people are confirmed to have died and as many as 128 remain missing.
“It’s just so challenging, so many different obstacles” said Chief Alan Cominsky of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, who added that engineers were monitoring the site and the potential for heavy wind to affect the remaining part of the building.
Tropical-storm-force winds could reach South Florida as early as Sunday evening, according to the National Weather Service, with the center of the storm approaching the state by late Monday or Tuesday morning. The current forecast calls for Elsa to weaken back into a tropical storm as it moves through the Caribbean and toward Florida’s west coast.
Officials in the Miami area urged residents on Friday to begin assembling emergency supplies and to secure objects like patio furniture and trash cans that could blow away.
As Elsa moved over Barbados on Friday, sustained winds of 75 mph were reported with gusts of up to 86 m.p.h. Hurricane warnings were in effect for Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
No survivors have been found at Champlain Towers in more than a week, and the search has already been complicated by heavy rain and structural challenges. Work resumed at the collapse site Thursday evening after being paused earlier in the day amid concerns that portions of the building still standing could fall onto rescuers.
Rescue crews found the body of the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter while searching the wreckage of Champlain Towers South, officials said on Friday, when the known death toll rose, by four, to 22. As many as 126 people remain unaccounted for.
The discovery of the girl, whom authorities declined to name, was especially painful for rescue crews, many of whom have labored for more than a week in Surfside, Fla., without finding any survivors since the day of the collapse.
“Every victim we remove, it’s difficult,” said Chief Alan Cominsky of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “Last night was even more, when we were removing a fellow firefighter’s daughter.” He added: “As firefighters, we do what we do. It’s kind of a calling. And we always say that. But it still takes a toll.”
Elad Edri, the deputy commander of an Israeli team working at the site, said police officers and firefighters formed two columns to flank the girl’s removal from the debris. Mr. Edri said that once she had been taken away, the rescuers embraced and wept.
“I think this tragedy has haunted so many of us because so many of us know someone who was in the building or affected by this tragedy,” Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami said at a news conference.
The three other victims found on Friday were Bonnie Epstein, 56, and the married couple Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69, and Claudio Bonnefoy, 85.
Mr. Bonnefoy’s daughter Pascale Bonnefoy, who contributes to The New York Times from Chile, said she was relieved to receive the news because she had been worried that Hurricane Elsa would topple the remaining structure and delay the recovery for months.
“They were found together around the bedroom area,” she said. “They said most everyone they found were found near their bedroom areas, which means, fortunately, people didn’t really have time to react and make a frantic run for the hallway or the elevator.”
NORTH MIAMI BEACH — A 10-story condominium complex in North Miami Beach was ordered to close and evacuate its residents on Friday after the building submitted a recertification report, based on a January inspection, that documented “unsafe structural and electrical conditions.”
The 156-unit building, Crestview Towers, was built in 1972 and is about a seven-mile drive from the collapse site in Surfside. It submitted the report as part of an audit recommended by the office of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County.
“In an abundance of caution, the city ordered the building closed immediately and the residents evacuated for their protection, while a full structural assessment is conducted and next steps are determined,” Arthur H. Sorey, the North Miami Beach city manager, said in a statement. “Nothing is more important than the safety and lives of our residents, and we will not rest until we ensure this building is 100 percent safe.”
The recertification report, which the city received on Friday, documented cracks and corrosion in the building’s structure, and noted that repairs would be required to shore up the building’s concrete frame.
In the building’s parking lot, Chief Richard Rand of the North Miami Beach Police told dozens of residents that officers would be delivering boxes of pizza to them and would not ticket cars left overnight.
“As you all know, this building has become unsafe,” Chief Rand said. “The last thing I want to do is need to find out that another building collapsed, and multiple people are dead.”
The evacuation of Crestview Towers comes as Miami-Dade County is re-evaluating the safety of older buildings. Ms. Levine Cava announced a 30-day audit of all ocean-front buildings 40 years and older under the county’s jurisdiction, which does not include cities like Miami and Surfside, where the Champlain Towers South fell.
Despite being outside her jurisdiction, North Miami Beach undertook the building audit recommended by Ms. Levine Cava’s office, the mayor said. A notice posted on North Miami Beach’s website said a special City Council meeting had been called for Saturday to discuss the evacuation.
Ahead of the meeting, residents hurried to leave the building, scrambling to pack necessities and trying to coordinate lodging for the night. In the parking lot, children played blissfully on tablets while their parents talked rapidly on the phone, in English or Spanish.
“I had picked up my son from summer camp when I saw all the cops here,” Harold J. Dauphin, 46, said. “I thought there had been a shooting — my only thought was ‘Where am I going to go?’ I have no idea.”
The homeowners’ association for the Champlain Towers South tried to get permits in May that would allow for the start of major repair work on the building. But it did not hear back from the building department for the town of Surfside, Fla., for more than a month, according to emails the town released late Friday.
The delay prompted Scott Stewart, the property manager for the condominium complex, to email town officials on June 21 asking for answers.
“This is holding us up,” Mr. Stewart wrote to the town manager, Andrew Hyatt, and its building official, James P. McGuinness.
At issue was a request to use an empty lot nearby as a temporary satellite parking location for construction crews. The repairs would have included replacing a concrete slab under the pool deck that was damaged because of improper waterproofing. Mr. Guinness had visited the building’s roof repairs project on May 25, according to the emails, which were earlier reported by The Miami Herald.
On June 23, Mr. McGuinness replied to Mr. Stewart’s email with a list of questions.
Less than 14 hours later, a significant portion of the building collapsed.
Stacie Fang, 54, was the first victim identified in the condo collapse. She was the mother of Jonah Handler, a 15-year-old boy who was pulled alive from the rubble in a dramatic rescue as he begged rescuers, “Please don’t leave me.”
Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, were confirmed dead by Mr. Lozano’s nephew, Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist on WSVN Channel 7 in Miami. Mr. Ferro wrote on Instagram: “They were such beautiful people. May they rest in peace.”
Luis Andres Bermudez, 26, lived with his mother, Ana Ortiz, 46, and stepfather, Frank Kleiman, 55. Mr. Bermudez’s father confirmed his son’s death on social media, writing in Spanish: “My Luiyo. You gave me everything … I will miss you all of my life. We’ll see each other soon. I will never leave you alone.”
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a businessman who worked with Latin American companies. His former wife, Adriana LaFont, described him as “the best dad.” Mr. LaFont’s son, 10, and daughter, 13, were with Ms. LaFont when the building collapsed.
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Cristina Beatriz Elvira, 74, were from Venezuela and had recently moved to Surfside, according to Chabadinfo.com, which said they were active in the Orthodox Jewish community in greater Chicago, where one of their daughters lives.
Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, lived with his wife, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and their two daughters, Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4. Mr. Guara was remembered as a kind and generous man, a godfather to twins and a fan of hard rock music.
Hilda Noriega, 92, was a longtime resident of Champlain Towers South who enjoyed traveling and whose family described her “unconditional love.” Hours before the collapse, she attended a celebration with relatives.
Michael David Altman, 50, came from Costa Rica to the United States as a child, and was an avid racquetball player as a youth. “He was a warm man. He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top,” his son, Nicholas, told The Miami Herald.
Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21, was in South Florida visiting Mr. LaFont, a close friend of his father’s. He was studying economics at Vanderbilt University and had been a decathlon athlete at his high school. An image of him is on a mural outside the school’s athletic facility.
Also killed in the collapse was Magaly Elena Delgado, 80.
A building collapse near Miami that killed two men in 1997 is back in the news after it emerged that a city inspector who conducted multiple site visits during that doomed demolition was Ross Prieto, the chief building official in Surfside, Fla., who told residents of Champlain Towers South that their building appeared to be sound nearly three years before its deadly collapse last week.
His reassurances to condo owners in November 2018 that their building appeared to be “in very good shape,” despite a consulting engineer’s concerns, are among the many things investigators are likely to review as they try to determine what led up to the June 24 failure, which left at least 20 people dead and as many as 128 people unaccounted for as of Friday.
The city of Doral, where Mr. Prieto has worked as a consulting building engineer since May, announced this week that Mr. Prieto was on leave for undisclosed reasons, and that it was reviewing the eight projects he had worked on in that city. Though there is no suggestion of problems with his work, a city spokesman said, the review was being undertaken out of “an abundance of caution.”
Mr. Prieto has not spoken publicly since the Champlain Towers South failure and did not respond to repeated requests for comment or a note left at his door.
With few clues yet as to what caused the collapse, experts expect investigators to look at a wide range of potential factors, including delays in acting on the consultant’s recommendations for repairs; design or construction flaws; any issues with subsurface soils; and the possibility that some outside force — a vehicle that struck a post in the underground parking garage, for example — could have affected a key structural component of the building.
Cities across South Florida are reviewing older high-rises along the seashore — notorious for its weathering effect on buildings — to determine whether any of them face potentially serious structural issues.
President Biden spent three hours on Thursday consoling the families of those who died or were still missing under the rubble of a collapsed condominium building in Surfside, Fla., saying “the waiting is unbearable” for agonized relatives.
In remarks after the private meeting, Mr. Biden said the families were “going through hell.” Many have been waiting for more than a week for word about whether anyone might still be alive under the concrete and steel.
“I sat with one woman who had just lost her husband and her little baby boy, didn’t know what to do,” the president said. “I sat with another family that lost almost the entire family, cousins, brothers, sisters. And to watch them, and they’re praying and pleading and God let there be a miracle.”
The president also met with a group of emergency workers, including firefighters and search-and-rescue teams who had been working for the past week at the site of the disaster.
For Mr. Biden, confronting the largest national tragedy since he took office was complicated by the fact that he could not eulogize those who were still unaccounted for, or hold out much hope for the missing. “They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly,” the president said.
Although his session with family members was closed to the news media, a video of Mr. Biden, posted by one of the family members, appeared to show him discussing the grief he felt after his wife and daughter died in a car crash nearly a half-century ago.
“The waiting, the waiting, is unbearable,” he told the families, and he later said it reminded him of waiting to hear whether his sons would survive.