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Live Updates: Hope Dwindles in a Painstaking Search for Survivors | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Live Updates: Hope Dwindles in a Painstaking Search for Survivors

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Credit…Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Following another painstaking, dangerous and ultimately fruitless day in the search for survivors, the rescue effort at the site of the Champlain Towers South collapse appeared to be entering a delicate new phase, as officials and rescuers continued to quietly acknowledge the possibility that no more victims would be found alive, though they refused to abandon all hope.

No survivors have been found since the day of the disaster in Surfside, Fla., more than a week ago, and although federal, state and local officials said they remained committed to the rescue effort, there was no sign of letup in the extraordinary challenges at the site of the condominium collapse.

Rescue workers have found it extremely difficult to tunnel through the layers of flattened concrete without putting people in danger, amid rubble that is so unstable that work was suspended for at least 12 hours on Thursday because of fears that it could collapse further. And the thunderstorms that have plagued the mission could soon worsen with the approach of Hurricane Elsa, which hammered the eastern Caribbean on Friday and could affect parts of Florida early next week, forecasters said.

After meeting on Thursday with families of the missing, President Biden said: “They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly.”

The agencies involved in the rescue — including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue — have mostly declined to answer questions about when the search might shift to a recovery mission. Such a designation could unlock new and potentially faster ways of tunneling through the concrete to find remains, including the use of heavier machinery, and could also help families move forward in the grieving process.

On Friday, the bodies of four more victims were found, including that of the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter. Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers paused the search to pay their respects and flank her removal from the scene. The police did not identify the girl.

The police also confirmed the deaths of Bonnie Epstein, 56, and the married couple Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69, and Claudio Bonnefoy, 85, raising the known death toll to 22. As many as 126 people are still unaccounted for, a number that was revised down after officials determined that some people included in earlier tallies had been located.

Publicly, rescuers and emergency medical workers refused to abandon hope. People have survived for many days after building collapses elsewhere, including after earthquakes in Haiti and Mexico. Additional urban search-and-rescue teams, activated by FEMA this week, have headed down to Surfside to assist with the effort and with hurricane preparations.

“I’m not going here right now with the hopes of finding victims — we’re going down there with the goal of finding survivors,” Ken Pagurek, the leader of Pennsylvania Task Force 1, said as he drove down to Florida on Thursday with more than 70 engineers, doctors, logistics experts and other specialists. “I still think there’s a slim chance. A slim chance is better than no chance.”

Hurricane Elsa moving through the Caribbean, over Barbados on Tuesday.
Credit…NOAA, via Associated Press

Hurricane Elsa is continuing on a path across the Caribbean, and may break northward toward Florida, further complicating search and rescue efforts at the Champlain Towers South condominium building.

Even as the hurricane was predicted to weaken to a tropical storm over the weekend, rescuers warned that the heavy rain and gusting winds it could bring to South Florida as soon as Sunday evening could hinder the work at the partially collapsed building.

At a news conference on Friday, local leaders pledged to redouble rescue efforts in spite of the storm. Thunderstorms and rain slowed the work at the site this week, and no survivors were found.

“We’re not just running an emergency response, as you can see,” said Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County. “We’re also preparing our whole community for a possible storm at the same time.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Friday that the search for survivors would continue and that emergency responders were taking steps to secure equipment at the site in advance of the storm’s arrival.

“We’re actively monitoring the situation, like we always would do with these storms,” Mr. DeSantis said. “But given what we’re doing on this site, we’re also paying special attention to any impacts that could happen here.”

While Elsa’s path remains somewhat uncertain, its most likely track would take it through much of Florida, according to forecasts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, Fla., after it was ordered to close and evacuate its residents on Friday.
Credit…Giulia Heyward/The New York Times

NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — A 10-story condominium complex in North Miami Beach was ordered to close and evacuate its residents on Friday after the building submitted a recertification report, based on a January inspection, that documented “unsafe structural and electrical conditions.”

The 156-unit building, Crestview Towers, was built in 1972 and is about a seven-mile drive from the collapse site in Surfside. The condominium submitted the report as part of an audit recommended by the office of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County.

“In an abundance of caution, the city ordered the building closed immediately and the residents evacuated for their protection, while a full structural assessment is conducted and next steps are determined,” Arthur H. Sorey, the North Miami Beach city manager, said in a statement. “Nothing is more important than the safety and lives of our residents, and we will not rest until we ensure this building is 100 percent safe.”

The recertification report, which the city received on Friday, documented cracks and corrosion in the building’s structure, and noted that repairs would be required to shore up the building’s concrete frame.

In the building’s parking lot, Chief Richard Rand of the North Miami Beach Police told dozens of residents that officers would be delivering boxes of pizza to them and would not ticket cars left overnight.

“As you all know, this building has become unsafe,” Chief Rand said. “The last thing I want to do is need to find out that another building collapsed, and multiple people are dead.”

Credit…Giorgio Viera/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The evacuation of Crestview Towers came as Miami-Dade County is re-evaluating the safety of older structures. Ms. Levine Cava announced a 30-day audit of all oceanfront buildings that are at 40 or more years older and are under the county’s jurisdiction, meaning that they are not located within cities like Miami or Surfside, where the Champlain Towers South fell.

Though it is outside the county’s jurisdiction, North Miami Beach undertook the building audit recommended by Ms. Levine Cava’s office, the mayor said. A notice posted on North Miami Beach’s website said a special City Council meeting has been called for Saturday evening at 6 p.m. to discuss the evacuation.

Residents hurried to leave the building on Friday, scrambling to pack necessities and trying to coordinate lodging for the night. In the parking lot, children played blissfully on tablets while their parents talked rapidly on the phone, in English or Spanish.

“I had picked up my son from summer camp when I saw all the cops here,” Harold J. Dauphin, 46, said. “I thought there had been a shooting — my only thought was ‘Where am I going to go?’ I have no idea.”


Stacie Fang, 54, was the first victim identified in the condo collapse. She was the mother of Jonah Handler, a 15-year-old boy who was pulled alive from the rubble in a dramatic rescue as he begged rescuers, “Please don’t leave me.”

Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, were confirmed dead by Mr. Lozano’s nephew, Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist on WSVN Channel 7 in Miami. Mr. Ferro wrote on Instagram: “They were such beautiful people. May they rest in peace.”

Luis Andres Bermudez, 26, lived with his mother, Ana Ortiz, 46, and stepfather, Frank Kleiman, 55. Mr. Bermudez’s father confirmed his son’s death on social media, writing in Spanish: “My Luiyo. You gave me everything … I will miss you all of my life. We’ll see each other soon. I will never leave you alone.”

Manuel LaFont, 54, was a businessman who worked with Latin American companies. His former wife, Adriana LaFont, described him as “the best dad.” Mr. LaFont’s son, 10, and daughter, 13, were with Ms. LaFont when the building collapsed.

Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Cristina Beatriz Elvira, 74, were from Venezuela and had recently moved to Surfside, according to Chabadinfo.com, which said they were active in the Orthodox Jewish community in greater Chicago, where one of their daughters lives.

Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, lived with his wife, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and their two daughters, Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4. Mr. Guara was remembered as a kind and generous man, a godfather to twins and a fan of hard rock music.

Hilda Noriega, 92, was a longtime resident of Champlain Towers South who enjoyed traveling and whose family described her “unconditional love.” Hours before the collapse, she attended a celebration with relatives.

Michael David Altman, 50, came from Costa Rica to the United States as a child, and was an avid racquetball player as a youth. “He was a warm man. He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top,” his son, Nicholas, told The Miami Herald.

Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21, was in South Florida visiting Mr. LaFont, a close friend of his father’s. He was studying economics at Vanderbilt University and had been a decathlon athlete at his high school. An image of him is on a mural outside the school’s athletic facility.

Also killed in the collapse was Magaly Elena Delgado, 80.

Neighbors, friends and relatives have turned a fence near the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla., into a memorial for the dead and missing. Victoria Cavero of Surfside added some flowers to the memorial on Thursday.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Every day for the past week, Maria Noble has carried flowers two blocks from her house to the Surfside Tennis Center, where the black chain-link fence has been transformed into a makeshift memorial to victims of the Champlain Towers South disaster.

Ms. Noble, 71, did not know any residents of the collapsed condominium personally. But she has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.

“So many people don’t know Surfside,” Ms. Noble said on Friday after carefully arranging three bouquets of white flowers — two hanging from the fence and one in a vase at its base. “It’s a friendly, friendly city and it’s too bad that what happened here is the way the world knows Surfside.”

Along with other neighbors and family members, Ms. Noble has helped expand the memorial from a smattering of paper fliers with photos of missing people and a small row of flowers beneath them into a vast array of bouquets affixed to the fence, interspersed with messages and prayers for the victims and their families.

Different people are remembered in different sections of the memorial. Ms. Noble has contributed flowers to many of them.

“One day I’m coming for one, later I go to another group, another group,” Ms. Noble said, motioning down the length of the fence.

On Friday morning, she brought flowers, a rosary and a votive candle with a lantern to protect the candle from the expected rain. She lay them by a photo of Leidy Luna Villalba, a 23-year-old woman who had arrived in Miami from Paraguay on June 23 to work as a nanny for the first lady of Paraguay’s family. The family and Ms. Villalba were sleeping at the condo when it collapsed, and are listed as missing.

“You imagine she was alone, maybe with family coming,” said Ms. Noble, who immigrated to the United States from Paraguay herself in 1982.

Ms. Villalba was studying to become a nurse, she added. “You imagine her coming for more success, and that happened,” she said, nodding to the memorial.


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