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Demolition expedites search at condo site as storms threaten

With four more victims found at the site, the death toll has climbed to 28

SNS | SURFSIDE |

Rescuers searched through fresh rubble on after the Florida condo building was demolished but they are also racing against the tropical storm Elsa approaching the state.

Four more victims were found in the new pile, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members, raising the death toll to 28. Another 117 people remain unaccounted for as none since the partial collapse has been recovered alive.

The demolition late Sunday was crucial since it may increase both pace of the search and the number of searchers at the site.

“We know that with every day that goes by, it is harder to see a miracle happening,” said Maggie Castro, a firefighter and paramedic with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department who briefs families daily.

Teams had been unable to access areas closest to the remaining structure because of its instability, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

“Truly we could not continue without bringing this building down,” she said at a news conference.

Part of the existing debris pile was also helping to support the remaining structure, City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said. Rescuers were still holding out hope of reuniting loved ones.

“We continue to remain focused on our primary mission, and that is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them,” Carroll said.

The newly accessible area includes master bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping when the building collapsed, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

Crews could be seen climbing a mound of debris at the site on Monday alongside a piece of heavy equipment that was picking up rubble. Jadallah said rescuers focused on a stairwell section, but inclement weather hampered the search, particularly in a garage area that was filling with water. Crews had to pump out water.

The latest forecasts showed the storm moving westward, mostly sparing South Florida, but the area near the collapsed building experienced thunderstorms, and the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Miami Beach, which is just south of Surfside.

Lightning caused temporary stops to the search, frustrating rescue crews, Levine Cava said.

Rescuers hoped to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for those believed to be trapped under the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South. Crews, however, have found very few voids, Jadallah said.

“The world is mourning for those who lost their loved ones and for those who are waiting for news from the collapse,” she said at the news conference. “To lose your home and all your belongings in this manner is a great loss as well.”