Death toll climbs to 36 in Florida condo collapse after search efforts resume

Key Points
  • The death toll has now climbed to 36 people with 109 still unaccounted for.
  • Authorities expect occasional gusts and strong rain Tuesday amid the threat of Tropical Storm Elsa.
After a brief stop to demolish the standing debris, search and rescue personnel continue to work in the rain on the rubble pile of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo that partially collapsed on July 5, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.
Giorgio Viera | AFP | Getty Images

At least 36 are confirmed dead and 109 still unaccounted for after the collapse of a 12-story condominium building in Surfside, Florida, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The rest of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South was demolished in a controlled explosion on Sunday.

"Every single life that has been lost is a beloved family, friend, a best friend, someone's child, or parent, or niece, or cousin or grandparent and we know that waiting for news is unbearable." Levine Cava said.

Levine Cava said search and rescue efforts were temporarily halted earlier Tuesday due to lightning and tropical winds but resumed after two hours. Rescue teams were able to remove a total of 5 million pounds of debris from the site, with some being used as evidence to investigate the cause of the collapse.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is working with structural specialists, detectives and fire rescue crews on-site to continue its federal investigation into the collapse, Levine Cava said. The U.S. Geological Survey and National Science Foundation are also expected to send additional staff to help with the probe. 

Levine Cava added that lidar scanners, a tool that uses light detection to measure the exact distance of an object on the earth's surface, are now being utilized to analyze the debris for NIST's investigation. 

"We are working on all levels — local, state and federal — to provide answers and accountability for the victims of this unthinkable tragedy," Levine Cava said.

"And we're going to be making policy changes, as you know, at every level, at every step in the building process to ensure that this can never ever happen again," the mayor said.

With regard to Tropical Storm Elsa, Levine Cava said that authorities expect occasional gusts and strong rain Tuesday. Weather monitoring services have been incorporated into search-and-rescue teams to track any changes that could impact search efforts, she added. 

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett also announced efforts to monitor the safety of other buildings in Surfside. Burkett has drafted a letter that advises oceanfront condo boards and other building owners to follow a stopgap measure that will "provide residents with a basic level of confidence that their building is not, obviously, unsafe."

Burkett also provided updates on Champlain Towers North, the sister property of the collapsed condo building. Burkett said that some residents have opted for alternative housing arrangements while authorities investigate the building's safety using tools such as ground-penetrating radars. 

"We have some deep concerns about that building, especially given that we don't know what has happened there," Burkett told reporters. 

Levine Cava added that the Family Assistance Center is continuing to provide resources for families impacted by the collapse, noting that 178 families have been served. The center provides mental health grief counseling as well as financial and housing assistance, among others. 

Through the Support Surfside fund, grants ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 have been distributed for larger families, she added. 

"I ask all of you around the world who are continuing to follow the story to please keep these victims and these families in your hearts and prayers," Levine Cava said.

The cause of the collapse of Champlain Towers South is still unknown. 

However, a report from 2018 reveals that the 40-year-old condominium building had shown signs of major structural damage in the underground parking garage and below the building's pool deck. 

A video taken on the night of the collapse surfaced, showing water pouring into the parking garage of the building.