Surfside Condo Collapse Updates: Remaining Parts of Tower Will Be Demolished

A memorial for those missing at Champlain Towers South.
A memorial for those missing at Champlain Towers South. Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
Days after Champlain Towers South plummeted to the ground, the search for victims continues in Surfside. Officials have explained that excavating the site remains tricky because of the limited space for heavy machinery. And daily thunderstorms haven't helped matters.

Nevertheless, rescue crews remain hard at work. Here's the latest on what's happening in response to the tragedy in Surfside.

Friday, 5:45 p.m.:

Two more victims have been found in the rubble at Champlain Towers South, bringing the death toll to 22. There are 126 people who remain unaccounted for.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a Friday evening press conference that she had signed an emergency order to demolish the remaining part of the structure. The still-standing portions of the building have threatened the rescue operation in recent days, with structural engineers warning that the rest of the condo could collapse, too.

"The building poses a threat to public health and safety," Cava said.

Engineers still have to determine the best way to demolish the building, as well as the timeline.

Cava alluded to the compounding danger of both Hurricane Elsa and the instability of the remaining portion of Champlain Towers South but said the building cannot be safely demolished before the storm is expected to arrive. First responders have been unable to expand their search areas because of the potential danger caused by the standing structure, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky.

State and county leaders are continuing to monitor the trajectory of Hurricane Elsa as it makes its way toward Florida over the holiday weekend. Emergency managers have not yet made a determination as to when they will pause search and rescue efforts should Elsa hit South Florida. For now, rescue efforts are continuing.

"The safety of our personnel is paramount. We want to be working out there as long as we can. If winds increase, depending on the calculations and what the engineers advise us, we'll make that decision," Cominsky said at the press conference.

Cominsky also confirmed reports that a task force made up of firefighters from outside of Miami-Dade came in to relieve local teams, and that six individuals from that task force tested positive for COVID-19. Cominsky said those individuals have been isolated and the task force has been demobilized.
—Joshua Ceballos

Friday, 12:15 p.m.:

Rescue teams recovered two more bodies from the site of the Champlain Towers South collapse early Friday morning, including the body of the 7-year-old daughter of a City of Miami firefighter, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed this morning.

City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said that out of respect for the privacy of the girl's family, they are not releasing her name or her father's name at this time. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky confirmed to media that the girl's father was not working on the pile when they found her.

First responders have now found 20 deceased people in the rubble. There are currently 128 people still unaccounted for.  As Elsa strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane overnight, officials are preparing for the storm's possible effects in South Florida and on search-and-rescue efforts in Surfside. National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Molleda said today that South Florida may receive tropical storm force winds as early as Sunday evening as Elsa emerges off the coast of Cuba and nears the coast of Florida between Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Emergency personnel recommend preparing for hurricane conditions today as they continue to track the storm.

After reports that the standing portion of Champlain Towers South began to sway, which temporarily halted search efforts Thursday, Cava said the county is meeting with engineers to discuss demolishing the remaining structure for the safety of rescue teams. She said they are moving through the decision-making process expeditiously, but a demolition will take time.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he has fielded several calls from people concerned about pets and animals that may still be trapped in the Champlain Towers South structure, but search teams have gone through the existing structure three times and not found any living thing still there.

Residents of Champlain Towers North, the twin condo of Champlain Towers South, have been offered arrangements to leave the building as engineers begin to inspect the structure for any possible causes for concern, Burkett said. Building officials will x-ray concrete columns in Champlain Towers North to determine if there are any dangerous deficiencies.

—Joshua Ceballos

Thursday, 8:30 p.m.:

Firefighters have resumed their search of the rubble after pausing operations early this morning out of concerns about the structural integrity of the remaining portions of the Champlain Towers South building.

At a press conference Thursday evening, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said officials are preparing for the likely demolition of the rest of the building, as New Times contributor Bob Norman reported earlier today.

For now, the death toll remains at 18. Police on Thursday night identified 80-year-old Magaly Elena Delgado as among the deceased.

—Jessica Lipscomb

Thursday, 1:59 p.m.:

After learning that the search has been paused because of structural concerns at Champlain Towers South, some family members on Thursday urged officials to execute a controlled demolition of the standing building so the rescue mission can continue.

"Just tear that building down," one relative said during a morning briefing at the family reunification center. He added: "We can't have things stop the search for the loved ones who are there, who are hoping to be found alive."

Structural engineer Scott Nacheman, who is working at the site with FEMA, told the families there is a strong chance the building will indeed be demolished.

"One of our concepts of operations is exactly what you're talking about," Nacheman told them. "And the reason it hasn't been possibly pursued further at this point is we didn't want to cause any more damage or destruction to the individuals who are trapped in the low portion....We're now getting to a point in the operation where we're exploring the next phase. One of those possibilities, a very highly likely possibility, is what you just discussed."

(Read the full story here.)

—Bob Norman

Thursday, 10:21 a.m.:

At a press conference Thursday morning, officials confirmed they had paused the search effort at Champlain Towers South out of concerns about the structural integrity of the building. About half of the condo tower remains standing, although structural engineers advising the rescue crews worry it could topple.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said workers were pulled off the rubble at 2:11 a.m. after the engineering team flagged multiple signs of distress at the site, including movement in the debris pile, movement in concrete floor slabs on the south side of the structure, and six to 12 inches of movement in a column hanging from the building that could fall and damage support columns in the underground parking garage.

Cominsky said he will continue to consult with the engineering experts about when it may be safe for firefighters to resume their search.

President Joe Biden is in Surfside today meeting with first responders and families, but Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said his visit would have "no impact" on the rescue mission.

"The only reason for this pause is concerns about the standing structure," she said.

Also at the press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state is monitoring developments on Tropical Storm Elsa, which formed overnight and could reach Florida by Monday.

"We are not expecting any impact through Saturday, but obviously the state meteorological team is actively monitoring the storm and will continue to provide updates," he said.

No additional deaths were reported this morning, leaving the death toll at 18.

—Jessica Lipscomb

Thursday, 8:11 a.m.:

Last night, the Miami-Dade Police Department released the names of four people whose bodies were recovered from the site yesterday.

Three of the victims were a family unit: sisters Emma and Lucia Guara, who were 4 and 10, and their mother, Anaely Rodriguez, who was 42. The girls' father, 52-year-old Marcus Guara, was found dead June 26.

The fourth victim recovered yesterday was 21-year-old Andreas Giannitsopoulos, police said.

The death toll stands at 18 in Surfside.

The Miami Herald is reporting this morning that rescue workers had to halt their search overnight out of fears that the rest of the structure at Champlain Towers South isn't stable. Sources told the Herald they received warnings around 2 a.m. that the part of the building that remains standing was shifting and may collapse.  —Jessica Lipscomb

Wednesday, 6:49 p.m.:

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a Wednesday evening press conference that rescue workers have recovered the bodies of two children aged 4 and 10, bringing the death toll to 18. Cava said the names of the children will not be made public unless the families give permission.

At least 145 people remain unaccounted for at Champlain Towers South.

It was also announced that the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which investigated the collapse of the World Trade Center after 9/11, will launch an investigation into the Surfside condo collapse:
After the investigation is complete, which could potentially take years, the institute will issue its findings and provide recommendations for changes to building codes and practices in South Florida.

Officials at the press conference also confirmed reports that between five to six floors of the fallen tower are underground, pancaked in a subfloor within a 10- to 12-foot space. Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said structural engineers are checking the stability in the sections where search-and-rescue teams are working to make sure they're safe to work there.

—Joshua Ceballos

Wednesday, 2:56 p.m.:

The giant pile of debris in Surfside rises more than two stories above the earth and has proven to be a huge challenge for teams searching for victims of the Champlain Towers South building collapse.

But that's only what can be seen. Officials believe there is nearly as much of the building below ground level.

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jadallah said Wednesday that it's suspected that roughly six floors of the building — about half of it — are crushed under the ground in the parking garage area built beneath the building.

"I had my structural engineers, I had my men and women, really try to give me at least an estimate," Jadallah told loved ones of collapse victims at the family reunification center this morning. "This is just based on the evidence they have, nothing more than a very calculated opinion: There's 12 floors — they feel that [six to seven of the 12 floors] are above ground level. All the other floors are below ground level."

(Read the full story.)

—Bob Norman

Wednesday, 11:43 a.m.:

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced at a media briefing this morning that four more bodies have been recovered from the wreckage at Champlain Towers South. That brings the death toll to 16 and leaves 147 people unaccounted for.

Officials are in the process of contacting next of kin before releasing any details about those found dead overnight.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said first responders are still very much in rescue mode, meaning crews are still actively searching for signs of life in the rubble. He expressed sympathy for the families who are facing great uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones.

"I think that while there's an overwhelming amount of grief, there's just still the apprehension of not knowing for sure," the governor said. "Rest assured that those folks [the first responders] are gonna be working on that pile and it's not gonna stop, and they're gonna get answers one way or another."

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett echoed that sentiment: "This is gonna go until we pull everybody out of there."

—Jessica Lipscomb

Wednesday, 9:58 a.m.:

WSVN is reporting that more bodies were recovered from the scene overnight.

Col. Golan Vach of the Israeli National Rescue Unit told the TV station this morning that crews were able to find and survey new tunnels at the site.

"We found people. Unfortunately, they are not alive," Vach said. "We found some more tunnels, and we strolled at night in those tunnels. On one hand, there are new spaces that we find, and on the other, we found more people, but unfortunately, not alive."

Miami-Dade officials will hold their next press briefing at 11:30 a.m.

—Jessica Lipscomb

Wednesday, 9:05 a.m.: 

The Miami-Dade Police Department has identified the 12th victim at Champlain Towers South as 92-year-old Hilda Noriega. Her body was recovered from the rubble on Wednesday.

CBS Miami reporter Brooke Shafer noted that Noriega is the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega.

In a statement, the family expressed gratitude for the rescue workers "who bravely and selflessly risked their lives to locate his mother and the other innocent victims found to date."

"The Noriegas have lost the 'heart and soul' and 'matriarch' of their family but will get through this time by embracing the unconditional love Hilda was known for," the statement says. As the search effort enters day seven, 149 people remain unaccounted for.

More thunderstorms are in the forecast today, which could continue to impact the rescue mission. The National Weather Service says it expects more rainy weather over the next several days.

—Jessica Lipscomb

Tuesday, 7:20 p.m.

As part of an emergency audit of residential buildings pending 40-year recertification, Miami-Dade building inspectors have deemed four balconies at a property in unincorporated Northeast Miami-Dade unsafe for residents.

County inspectors visited the Royal Oaks Condominium, a four-story residential property at 441 NE 195th St., on Monday and found concerns with a steel column on the first floor that supported three stories of exterior patios, according to the county's Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources (RER). Residents were instructed not to step onto the patios until they're inspected by an engineer.

Representatives for the condo were already due to appear before the Unsafe Structures Board for failure to provide reports on its 40-year recertification, which is what led county inspectors to visit the property this week. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in recent days issued an emergency directive to audit old residential buildings that had fallen behind on inspections following the collapse in Surfside.

The Royal Oaks condo association will be required to shore up the portion of the building with the unsecure balconies until the structure can be repaired. It has already contacted a company to begin that process, according to RER spokesperson Tere Florin.

—Joshua Ceballos

Tuesday, 4:50 p.m.

In the wake of last week's condo collapse in Surfside, homeowners and city officials want to make sure nothing like it ever happens again.

Officials haven't yet declared a definitive cause for the tragedy. But in a webinar this afternoon hosted by the Brickell Homeowners Association, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said he believes it was preventable.

"What we saw [in Surfside] is an anomalous event, but one that may have been preventable," Suarez said. "When you see the deterioration of some of these buildings that seem to have gone unattended...associations are like cities. Your primary responsibilities, just like the city's primary responsibility, is to take care of our common areas. Our streets, our sidewalks. If we fail to do that, someone could get hurt. The same thing can happen in a building."

In the wake of the tragedy, some have raised questions about Miami-Dade County's 40-year building recertification process, especially after a 2018 report was found to show "major structural damage" to the Champlain Towers South building. The property, built in 1981, was due for its 40-year recertification this year.

The collapse calls into question how safe Miamians are in their buildings, Suarez said at the webinar.

(Read the full story.)

—Alan Halaly

Tuesday, 1:39 p.m.

As of noon on day six of the rescue efforts, the death toll remained at 11 as workers continued to search through the rubble. Over 150 people are still unaccounted for, but rescue teams said Monday that infrared cameras have found several "void spaces" within the rubble that are large enough to potentially hold survivors, according to WPLG's Glenna Milberg.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava emphasized during an afternoon press briefing that the county no longer needs search-and-rescue volunteers because trained rescuers have flooded into Surfside from around the world. There are currently 210 rescue workers on the mound, the maximum that can safely work on the rubble.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said at the briefing that rescue crews had to cordon off the western section of the rubble overnight because of falling debris from the standing portion of Champlain Towers South, and they will continue to work in other areas of the collapse site until they can get a handle on the debris. Approximately 3 million pounds of concrete have already been removed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky.

Burkett said the families of the missing residents have expressed frustration that rescue crews have had to pause their work during thunderstorms. He said officials would speak to higher-ups to see if crews could be allowed to work amid inclement weather under the circumstances.

Also on Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden announced that he and First Lady Jill Biden will visit the site on Thursday. Cava told reporters that they will be spending time with the families affected by the collapse, as well as with first responders.

Cava also said she would be meeting with experts in the coming days to come up with recommendations for how the county can avoid a similar disaster. In the meantime, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced that she would empanel a grand jury to examine the collapse.

As part of an emergency audit of aging residential properties in Miami-Dade that have not passed the 40-year building recertification process, Cava said the county has notified a property in Northeast Miami-Dade that four balconies must be closed to residents because of safety concerns. (New Times has reached out to the county for more information.)

The Miami-Dade Police Department also announced an updated traffic plan in Surfside. Starting today, Collins Avenue will be closed to the public from 81st Street to 91st Street, and Harding Avenue will be closed from 81st Street to 96th Street. Residents of the area, business owners, employees, and hotel guests will still be allowed in at checkpoints at Abbott Avenue and 96th Street, as well as at Harding Avenue and 96th Street. The Red Cross is asking survivors from Champlain Towers South who have not yet contacted the agency, including those who have left the area and are staying with family, to meet with the organization at the family assistance center at 9301 Collins Ave. or to contact the agency via phone to assess their needs.

Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity urges local businesses affected by the collapse and those who have stopped their normal operations to serve the community to go to FloridaDisaster.Biz and fill out a survey so the state can assess what resources are needed while it contacts the Federal Small Business Association for assistance.

—Joshua Ceballos

Tuesday, 9:17 a.m.:

As of this morning, 150 residents or visitors at Champlain Towers South remain unaccounted for.

Firefighters have recovered the remains of 11 people:
  • Marcus Joseph Guara, age 52
  • Frank Kleiman, age 55
  • Michael David Altman, age 50
  • Leon Oliwkowicz, age 80
  • Luis Bermúdez, age 26
  • Ana Ortiz, age 46
  • Christina Beatriz Elvira, age 74
  • Stacie Dawn Fang, age 54
  • Antonio Lozano, age 83
  • Gladys Lozano, age 79
  • Manuel LaFont, age 54
Last night, USA Today reported that, according to a letter the Champlain Towers South condo association president wrote to unit owners this past April, the concrete damage identified in 2018 had grown "significantly worse."

"When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface," president Jean Wodnicki wrote. "... Also, when performing any concrete restoration work, it is impossible to know the extent of the damage to the underlying rebar until the concrete is opened up. Oftentimes the damage is more extensive than can be determined by inspection of the surface."

—Jessica Lipscomb
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Miami New Times staff