Demise toll as much as 27, storm risk eases at Miami-area rental collapse

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© Reuters. The partially collapsed Champlain Towers South residential building is demolished in Surfside, Florida, U.S., July 4, 2021. Picture taken July 4, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello

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By Francisco Alvarado

SURFSIDE, Fla. (Reuters) – Even as the death toll from a collapsed Miami-area condominium rose to 27, officials on Monday expressed renewed hope of finding survivors now that the building’s demolition is complete and Tropical Storm Elsa is veering away.

Search-and-rescue efforts resumed on Monday, just 20 minutes after the demolition of the remains of the 12-story Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside that partially collapsed overnight on June 24, emergency management officials said.

The recovery of three more bodies on Monday brought the number of confirmed dead to 27, with 118 people still missing, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

Nobody has been pulled alive from the mounds of pulverized concrete, splintered lumber and twisted metal since the early hours of the disaster in an oceanfront town adjacent to Miami Beach in Florida.

“We are looking for voids where someone may be inside,” Cava said.

“We worked very hard to bring the building down to get access to the pile where we hope there are voids that allow us to continue the search and rescue operations,” she said.

The controlled demolition allowed heavy equipment to be used in the site’s recovery efforts.

Before the demolition began at 10:30 p.m. Sunday local time, a sophisticated search for family pets employed drones with thermal imaging. First responders used ladders and cranes to place animal traps on balconies and search hiding places in closets and under beds.

“We went through truly great lengths at great risk to first responders to locate pets, and none were found,” Cava said.

Revised predictions that show Tropical Storm Elsa tracking to make landfall north of Miami-Dade on Tuesday sparked renewed optimism that the search for survivors would remain uninterrupted, except in the case of lightning, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters.

“The news is pretty positive,” said DeSantis, who announced plans to rescind the state of emergency order for Miami-Dade, although leaving it in place for other Florida counties more likely to be severely affected by the storm. Its impact on Surfside will be “incredibly, incredibly minimal,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, Tropical Storm Elsa was making landfall on the south coast of Cuba bringing flooding rains, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The storm was forecast to approach western Florida on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Ahead of the demolition, residents in nearby buildings were told they need not evacuate but were instructed to stay indoors and turn off air conditioning due to dust.

Investigators have not determined what caused the 40-year-old complex to collapse. A 2018 engineering report found structural deficiencies that are now the focus of inquiries that include a grand jury examination.

All residents of another building, Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, were told on Friday to leave immediately after engineers found serious concrete and electrical problems, officials said.

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