Death toll rises to 86 as recovery crews battle inclement weather at the Surfside collapse site



By Aya Elamroussi and Ray Sanchez, CNN

(CNN) – The death toll in the Surfside, Florida condominium tower collapse rose to 86 on Saturday as recovery efforts were briefly halted after a lightning strike, officials said.

Search teams are recovering victims faster now that part of the tower that remained standing has been demolished and no longer threatens to collapse, according to Florida Fire Marshall and CFO Jimmy Patronis.

On Monday, one day after the demolition of the standing part of the Champlain South Towers, the death toll stood at 28. The building partially collapsed on June 24.

As of Saturday morning, the death toll rose to 86 after more victims were recovered from the rubble, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference.

Sixty-two of the 86 victims have been identified and 61 relatives notified, with 211 people identified and 43 others potentially missing, according to the mayor.

Authorities cross-checked the names of a list of residents with the U.S. Postal Service and driver’s license information, Levine Cava said.

“We can only really account for a deceased missing person after identification has been made,” the mayor said.

Ten other victims have been identified, according to a statement from the Miami-Dade Police Department on Saturday.

They were identified in the statement as Nicole Langesfield, 26; Miguel Pazos, 55 years old; Richard Rovirosa, 60 years old; Oresme Gil Guerra, 60; Ana Mora, 70 years old; Elena Chavez, 87; Elena Blasser, 64; and Marina Restrepo Azen, 76.

Two other victims, aged 5 and 44, have not been publicly identified at the family’s request, the statement said.

The recovery effort was briefly interrupted after the lightning

Crews at the site briefly interrupted work on Saturday morning due to lighting, but recovery efforts resumed within an hour, Levine Cava said. The work will continue despite the rain that is expected throughout the day.

Miami-Dade Fire Department Chief Alan Cominsky said the time to complete recovery efforts was 14 to 21 days.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said crews removing rubble from the recently demolished section of the building could complete their work “much sooner than expected.”

Burkett described the progress in debris removal as intense, saying “much of the original pile is at or below ground level.”

The city is setting up a fund for downtown businesses affected by the recovery efforts, Burkett said.

Patronis said crews pay equal attention to the importance of the task.

“One thing I can assure you is that the dogs are still on the site. Infrared equipment is still in use. Cameras are still in use. The working groups that are here… are of the same skill level as those that were here. FEMA working groups, ”he said. “They are still working. What’s going on right now is no different than five days ago.”

In an interview with CNN, Chief Nichole Notte of Florida Task Force 2 said there had been an emotional toll for all workers.

“I feel like I’m digging physically, but I’m also digging emotionally to have more strength to keep going,” she said.

Focus on the survey

Meanwhile, the authorities have focused more on the investigation and on the security of other structures in the region.

Experts have already started their investigation by examining the Champlain North Towers, a sister building that is “essentially the same as the building that collapsed,” Burkett said.

“We’ve been there a few times now. We’ve taken samples. We’ve done ground penetrating radar. We’re trying to determine the amount of steel, the thickness of the slabs, so we’re trying to compile all that information and see exactly if there is any sign of weakness, “Burkett told CNN on Friday.

“I spoke to the engineer today, and he is ready to make a decision as soon as he gets the results and let the residents of this building know whether he feels safe or not.”

The north tower building was evacuated for security reasons.

Burkett said he urged other members of the area condominium board to inspect their structure.

“We gave them a series of boxes to check to make sure their buildings are as safe as possible, especially since we don’t know why that building collapsed,” Burkett said.

Patronis said he thinks it’s important for investigators to compare the Champlain North and South Towers.

“I advised them to take the minutes from the Champlain Towers North board of directors over the past 40 years and compare them to the South minutes and see if the two boards have made the same investments over the past 40 years. . “

More structural concerns elsewhere

Employees of a local government building have been asked to work from home for safety reasons.

All staff at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse were urged to immediately begin a work-from-home protocol on Friday following safety concerns revealed in a building engineer report, according to a statement from local officials.

The report revealed safety concerns with various floors and recommended that floors 16 and above be closed to staff while repairs are complete, said Levine Cava, circuit court chief judge Nushin G. Sayfie and the court clerk Harvey Ruvin in a joint statement.

“Following this report, we are taking all necessary precautions and asking all staff at the 73 W Flagler Street courthouse to work from home starting immediately while the repairs can be completed,” Miam officials said. Dade in the press release. “Over the past year, throughout the pandemic, all courthouse staff were already working remotely and only recently returned to the building, and we are moving quickly to reactivate our remote work plan. “

Last week, residents of Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach were also asked to evacuate after a report determined the condominium building to be structurally and electrically unsafe based on an overdue recertification report for the building. nearly 50-year-old city manager Arthur H. Sorey III previously said.

How the engineer examines the building

Allyn Kilsheimer, a structural engineer hired by the town of Surfside to investigate the collapse, took CNN for a tour of Champlain Tours North on Friday.

Kilsheimer said his team had been in the North Tower for two days, using ground penetrating radar to check concrete thickness and take samples.

Kilsheimer said he hadn’t seen anything pertaining to him.

“What I’m looking for is anything that warned me (…) to get people out of the building,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything like it yet.”

Other buildings in the area will soon receive letters from the mayor advising them to take the necessary steps to assure residents that their buildings are safe, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN.

Regardless of the age of the building, the City recommends hiring an engineer to examine structural drawings and basements, as well as a geotechnical engineer to examine the foundations.

“The recommendations are made with great caution based on the current state of the investigation,” the letter said. “They are intended to serve as an interim methodology to provide residents with some peace of mind until the forensic investigation further progresses.”

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