For two weeks, crews from around the world have scoured the rubble of the Champlain Towers South, an oceanfront condominium complex in Surfside, Fla., that inexplicably collapsed in the middle of the night. They have recovered dozens of bodies, moved tons of concrete and salvaged precious family heirlooms.
Those efforts continued on Thursday. But the searchers are no longer looking for survivors.
After long insisting that they were maintaining a search-and-rescue effort even as it became increasingly hopeless, officials made the announcement on Wednesday that they were now focused solely on recovery efforts. They said there had been no signs of life in the wreckage since the hours immediately after much of the building tumbled down on June 24.
“At this point,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County said, “we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search-and-rescue mission.”
By midmorning Thursday, the death toll had risen to 60, with 35 victims identified. Eighty people are still classified as potentially missing.
“We are working around the clock to recover victims and to bring closure to the families as fast as we can,” Ms. Levine Cava said at a news conference, adding that rescue teams also have been working to recover personal belongings.
Searchers paused their work at 1:20 a.m. Thursday for a moment of silence to mark two weeks since the building collapsed.
One relative of a victim said rescue officials had clung to hope that the demolition of the remainder of the building on Sunday would lead to the discovery of survivors in a stairwell or perhaps in basement areas, in the voids between cars.
Instead, he said, “There was nothing. It was all rubble, and crushed. Nothing.”
Rescue teams had come from all over Florida, as well as Texas, Israel and Mexico, driven on by the anguish of onlooking family members who yelled out the names of their missing loved ones and stories of unlikely survivals from disasters past. The work was grueling and dangerous, with fires that burned in the rubble and the constant possibility of mounds of debris giving way.
“They did all that they could,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida told reporters on Thursday morning. He said search crews would continue to dig through the rubble until the remains of “every single person” has been found and identified.
“We are all still praying for a miracle,” Mayor Charles W. Burkett of Surfside said. “We have not given up all hope.”
As workers continued this week to look for pockets in the debris where survivors might be found, the prospect of finding anyone alive grew increasingly unlikely.
“Just based on the facts, there’s zero chance of survival,” Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue told families in a private briefing.
It could take months for investigators to determine precisely why a significant portion of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., collapsed without warning last month. But there are already some clues about potential reasons, including design or construction flaws, for the disaster.
Engineers who have visited the wreckage or viewed photos of it say that damaged columns at the building’s base may have less steel reinforcement than was originally planned. Even if there was a shortfall, some experts said it was unlikely to be the primary cause of the collapse.
Florida has some of the country’s strictest regulations on high-rise buildings, where coveted oceanfront views bring the sun, rain, wind and salty air that can cause structural damage. But the rules are not always enforced, with compliance sometimes taking years longer than required.
The condo board at the Champlain Towers South had for years struggled to convince homeowners to pay special assessments of up to $200,000 in order to begin major renovation projects. Delayed maintenance is an issue for homeowners’ associations around the country, with residents often hoping that future owners will pick up the tab for infrastructure repairs.
In the initial days after the collapse, experts began focusing on the bottom levels of the building where an initial failure could have set off a structural avalanche. Three years before the collapse, a consultant found evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and “abundant” cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage.
Stacie Dawn 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.
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.
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.
Also killed in the collapse were Ingrid Ainsworth, 66, and Tzvi Ainsworth, 68; Claudio Bonnefoy, 85, and Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69; Graciela Cattarossi, 48, Gino Cattarossi, 89, and Graciela Cattarossi, 86; Gary Cohen, 58; Magaly Elena Delgado, 80; Bonnie Epstein, 56, and David Epstein, 58; Francis Fernandez, 67; Nancy Kress Levin, 76, and Jay Kleiman, 52; Elaine Sabino, 71; Simon Segal, 80; Gonzalo Torre, 81; and the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter, whom the authorities declined to name.
In between briefings and paperwork one day last week, Steve Rosenthal received a phone call from FedEx: A driver could not deliver his package of bedsheets. Was there a better time or address to reach him?
But his bed, along with the family porcelain, photo albums and the possessions accumulated over two decades of homeownership, was buried somewhere in the rubble of Champlain Towers South.
Mr. Rosenthal escaped the tower’s collapse in Surfside, Fla., with a change of clothes and his wallet, iPad and phone. He was not even sure if he could get the FedEx package delivered to the hotel where he was staying.
“You’ve got to cancel the power bill, you’ve got to cancel The Wall Street Journal, you’ve got to talk to your mortgage company,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “They’ve never dealt with anything like this.”
From a hotel lobby and temporary apartments across Miami, survivors of the condo collapse are now trying to reconstruct their lives: replacing crucial identification cards, canceling utility bills and tracking down prescriptions and medication.
The Miami community has galvanized to support them, donating thousands of dollars, distributing free food and supplies, supplying housing for survivors and for out-of-town families awaiting news of their loved ones, and tunneling through the mountain of paperwork to replace medications.
“The moment we speak into the universe and say we need X, people fill the gap,” said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, president and chief executive of the Miami Foundation, which has helped coordinate donations.
The victims have been visiting what one person compared to a somber college fair: a room lined with tables, set up by companies, grief counselors and official organizations to help both survivors and families of the missing begin to move forward. Neighboring churches and synagogues have also become centers for donations, collecting food and supplies and distributing it around the community.
Mental health and trauma counseling, officials said, should remain a priority for the community going forward. Therapists and grief counselors, as well as therapy dogs, have been present as well, to offer support to the families.
The job offer came when Mark Loizeaux was driving back to his office after obliterating a 400-foot chimney at a coal-fired power station in Virginia. And it needed to be done quickly, which allowed him to squeeze the project in before taking down 33 wind turbines outside Chicago.
Mr. Loizeaux, the president of Controlled Demolition, is no stranger to destroying structures — including power plants, bridges and university dormitories — that are no longer considered safe or desirable, making his small family business an ideal one to implode what remained of the Champlain Towers South.
“We perform structural origami,” he said. “We fold buildings up.”
The demolition took 6.5 seconds on Sunday evening, when local officials were fearful that an incoming storm would topple what remained of the condominium building, threatening the laborious search for victims and survivors.
By knocking down the structure, Mr. Loizeaux enabled rescue crews to safely reach new parts of the rubble. Twenty-four people had been pronounced dead before the demolition; 30 more victims have been found in the three days since.
Mr. Loizeaux ordinarily has access to multiple floors, but because of the precarious state of the condo building in Surfside, Fla., his workers could enter only its lobby and basement. They filled holes in columns and walls with 128 pounds of dynamite.
“What brings the building down is gravity not explosions,” he said.
Mr. Loizeaux’s inbox was flooded by people urging him to postpone the demolition until more pets had been located, and he knew that residents who survived might be losing everything they had left behind, including cherished family photographs.
But with storm warnings flaring, an engineer told him the remaining structure would not withstand 45-mile-per-hour winds. After waiting for authorities to clear the area, one of his “blasters” pressed the button initiating the collapse.
They had designed the explosion so parts of the building would fall at different velocities, enabling them to “twist and curl” it away from the large expanse of rubble — protected by black industrial fabric — that still needed to be searched.
From about 300 feet away, Mr. Loizeaux watched the building fall.
Because it was a still night, it took only 15 minutes for the dust to clear. When it did, he was pleased to see that the black tarp covering the original rubble was free of debris.
Patricia Mazzei has spent her entire career reporting from South Florida, first as a reporter at The Miami Herald and for nearly four years at the Miami bureau chief at The New York Times. She is no stranger to breaking news coverage, from the death of Fidel Castro in Cuba to the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to the horrific shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. For the past two weeks, she has anchored The Times’s coverage of the condo collapse in Surfside, Fla. We asked her for some insights into the experience.
How did you first hear the news?
Erin McCann, an editor in the London bureau of The Times, called at 6 a.m. Eastern. Her team had covered the story for about four hours by that point, allowing me a few more hours of sleep on what would turn out to be a very long day.
It’s never good when an editor calls at dawn; seeing the country code for England on my phone made my heart drop. This news sounded terrible, but it wasn’t until I saw the images of the half-collapsed building that I realized the enormity of the tragedy.
Tell us about one poignant moment in covering this story that you’ll never forget?
I realized shortly after starting to look for names of people who lived in Champlain Towers South that I had been in that building before, or at least out front and in the back. Years ago, when I was in college, a friend from high school was staying there with her family one summer. We went with other former classmates and hung out by the beach. Her parents were among the victims of the collapse. So many longtime Miamians knew people at the Champlain Towers South, or had connections to them. It’s been heartbreaking.
How many reporters are on the ground in Miami covering this story? From The Times and other outlets?
At one point, I think The Times had nine or 10 staffers here, plus a crew of incredible freelance reporters and photographers. We have had other colleagues rotate in and out since then.
There is a crush of media at a staging area about a block south of the building. Especially the first few days, a number of international outlets showed up, too, in part because the building had residents from many countries.
How long do you think the search effort will go on?
As long as it takes to recover every victim possible, according to the authorities. That seemed like it might take many weeks, but the search sped up dramatically after officials demolished the remaining structure of the building over the weekend. Once the tottering floors were gone, rescue teams could fully search the whole site, something that had previously been too dangerous. As long as those teams are out there, we will be there too.