SURFSIDE, FLA. (WSVN) - Search and rescue efforts at the Surfside condo building collapse site have continued after they came to a halt overnight Thursday.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett confirmed Thursday evening that rescue crews have resumed searching the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo after they were paused for about 15 and a half hours.
The pause initially came at around 2:11 a.m. due to safety concerns of the stability of the part of the building that remains standing.
“Just last night, as we were actively producing our search and rescue efforts, our monitors went off,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky.
Cominsky said the halt is due to, “Six to 12 inches of movement in a large column hanging from the structure that could fall and cause damage to the support columns in the subterranean garage area.”
“The equipment that’s measuring is what definitely says it’s time to go.” said State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis. “We shoot laser beams, same as a surveyor would use, and it detects any movement. The movement has to be significant. The movement was significant enough where we did three blasts of the horn, and all the men and women rushed from the site to the water side.”
The movement added to crews’ concerns about the stability of the part of the building that has not collapsed.
“We’ve been working in a very, very unsafe environment, so I couldn’t pinpoint it to one specific incident,” said Cominsky.
Engineers were called to examine the site and to advise on when it was safe for rescue crews to return to the mound of debris to continue their search for survivors.
“We can’t add greater causalties to the challenges that we’re dealing with right now,” said Patronis.
“Our state assets are being provided to Miami-Dade in terms of engineering know-how so that they can look to see what their options are to handle this,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “We’re going to provide whatever resources they need to be able to allow the searches to continue.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the families of the missing have been made aware of the situation.
“We’ve already informed the families this morning who are waiting and waiting about this development, and we have worked to answer all the questions that they have,” she said.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said earlier Thursday that he wanted rescuers back on the rubble as quickly as possible. He said the town’s building officials are considering options and hopes they can bring in demolition crews to knock down the adjoining building so rescuers can continue their mission.
Emergency workers have not responded whether this is a route they’re going to take.
“If that building’s a problem, we make that building go away, and we make it go away now,” said Burkett.
Newly surfaced cellphone video captured screams for help moments after the collapse.
As of the last update by officials on Wednesday night, a total of 18 people have been found deceased at the site.
Among the fatalities were two children identified by Miami-Dade Police as sisters Emma Guara, 4, and Lucia Guara, 10.
“The loss of our children is too great to bear,” said Levine Cava.
Their mother, 42-year-old Anaely Rodriguez, was also among the six recovered on Wednesday.
The sisters’ father, 52-year-old Marcus Guara, was located over the weekend.
Officials confirmed 145 people have not been accounted for while 139 people have been accounted for.
The physical and emotional toll of the mission on the first responders is significant.
Cellphone video recorded the morning the building collapsed captured rescue crews trying to save a woman trapped inside. On Thursday, Cominsky confirmed they were unable to reach her.
“Eventually we didn’t hear her voice anymore, but we continued searching, and again, that’s emphasizing the magnitude of what we’re going through,” he said.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden arrived in Surfside Thursday morning and have since met with first responders and the families directly impacted. They spent the day in the area and flew out Thursday evening.
At the same time, emergency teams are currently monitoring Tropical Storm Elsa in the Atlantic. There are rescue crews on standby, so they can respond to any potential storm and continue searching for victims.
“At this time, impacts to Florida from this system are not expected through Saturday,” said Florida Dept. of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie.
“[Crews are] working so hard, so when you talk to these guys, their bodies have been put through a type of stress that has never happened before,” said Patronis.
Miami-Dade Police detectives are asking for the community’s help. Anyone who was at the site the morning of the collapse and has pictures or videos is asked to call the Surfside Collapse Witness Tip Line at 305-428-4417 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.
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