Search of collapsed Florida condo building shifts from rescue to recovery with dozens missing

Key Points
  • Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the possibility of finding someone alive is "near zero" as first responders sift through the rubble for a second week.
  • The death toll has climbed to 54 people, with 86 still unaccounted for.
  • "As the magnitude of this catastrophe continues to grow each and every day since the collapse, the community and the world are grieving," Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. 
Search and rescue teams continue to work in the rubble at the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Florida, on July 6, 2021.
Eva Marie Uzcategui | AFP | Getty Images

The search at the site of a collapsed Florida condominium building is shifting from a rescue effort to a recovery operation as the likelihood of finding survivors diminishes, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

For two weeks, rescue teams have pursued painstaking search-and-rescue efforts to find more victims in the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida. But the possibility of finding someone alive is "near zero," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Wednesday. 

Levine Cava also announced that the death toll climbed to 54 people, with 86 still unaccounted for.

"I could not be prouder of our team. The extraordinary men and women from here, at home, and from around the world who have given this search everything they have, day in and day out," Levine Cava said.

"At this point, we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search-and-rescue mission. Today is about beginning the transition to recovery, so that we can help bring closure to the families who've been suffering and waiting for us."

The transition from rescue to recovery will occur at midnight tonight and will be marked by a moment of silence in front of the building site with first responders and faith leaders, Levine Cava added.

Search-and-rescue teams have been able to reach areas of the pile that were inaccessible prior to the demolition of the building Sunday night, with no reported injuries to any first responders despite difficult conditions at the site, Levine Cava said.

The building was razed in a controlled demolition due to concerns that the standing structure was unstable and could fall on first responders, as Hurricane Elsa approached Florida.

Weather conditions cleared up Wednesday, allowing rescue teams to continue their search efforts despite initial concerns they'd have to temporarily pause work, Levine Cava said in the morning. Forecasters downgraded Elsa from a hurricane to a tropical storm Wednesday after it made landfall along Florida's north Gulf coast.

The Division of Emergency Management has received 42 resource requests from citizens impacted by Tropical Storm Elsa, with more than 26,000 experiencing power outages, according to Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez.

More than 10,000 personnel are prepared to respond to these outages and provide resources such as water, food and generators, Nunez added.

After a brief stop to demolish the standing debris, Search and Rescue personnel continue working in the rubble pile of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo on July 5, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.
Giorgio Viera | AFP | Getty Images

Surfside Vice Mayor Tina Paul said authorities are working to find long-term housing for survivors of the condominium collapse, with many still staying in a hotel.

"That's also a priority, just to help rebuild their lives," Paul said. "The best way to start is to have a home that you can call your own."

Paul added that authorities are receiving inquiries from condominium board members and presidents about the safety of their buildings. The city of Surfside has sent out a release calling for geotechnical surveying of properties that are more than 30 years old, but Paul said better recommendations are currently being developed.

Levine Cava said that Miami-Dade County is continuing to move forward with a 30-day audit that evaluates all residential properties above four stories that are 40 years old or older and "have not completed the process to identify and address any issues."

The county has evaluated a total of 40 buildings under the audit and identified a building with four balconies that were deemed unsafe, according to Levine Cava. While the building was not evacuated, the balconies were immediately closed down.

The remaining part of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building falls in a controlled demolition on July 4, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Other cities, such as North Miami Beach and Miami Beach, have begun to conduct their own audits as well, she added.

"There will be changes, there will be improvements made," Levine Cava said.

Burkett also provided updates on Champlain Towers North, the sister property of the collapsed condo building. Engineers and authorities are at the property evaluating whether it is safe for residents to live in.

Burkett said it will take several weeks to gather sufficient evidence of any structural issues in Champlain Towers North.

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

Recent evidence reveals that the 40-year-old building had shown signs of structural damage as far back as 2018, with waterproofing issues beneath the pool and cracking in the underground parking garage.