Rescuers were given the all-clear to resume work looking for victims at a collapsed South Florida condo building after demolition crews set off a string of explosives that brought down the last of the building in a plume of dust.
As of early Monday morning, the remains of 24 people have been recovered while 121 remain missing.
Approaching Tropical Storm Elsa had added urgency to the demolition plans with forecasts suggesting the system could bring strong winds.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida because of the storm, making federal aid possible.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the Associated Press that the demolition went ‘exactly as planned’ around 10:30pm on Sunday.
‘It was picture perfect. Exactly what we were told would happen,’ Levine Cava said in an interview shortly after the demolition.
The demolition on Sunday night was key to resuming the search for victims of the June 24 collapse and is even expected to open new areas for rescue teams to work in.
Crews immediately began clearing some of the new debris so rescuers could start making their way into parts of the underground garage that is of particular interest.
It wasn’t long before cranes were again in motion at the site. Levine Cava said in an interview on NBC’s TODAY that crews were back searching the rubble before midnight.
Workers demolished what remained standing of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside on Sunday evening in a bid to open up further areas for rescue
So far, rescuers have recovered the remains of 24 people, with 121 still missing
Rescuers hope the demolition will open up areas such as parts of the garage section of the building for the first time
Officials initially believed it would take weeks to tear down the damaged building
Officials made the announcement Saturday that they were bringing the building down out of fears it could collapse on its own
Search and rescue operations resumed soon after the remaining structure was razed
The images above show the progression of the demolition of the remaining structure late on Sunday
A pile of debris is seen above on the morning after the controlled demolition in Surfside on Monday
The image above shows another vantage point of the rubble of the demolished condo tower in Surfside on Monday morning
Approaching Tropical Storm Elsa had added urgency to the demolition plans with forecasts suggesting the system could bring strong winds. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida because of the storm, making federal aid possible.
Once there, they were hoping to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for 121 people believed to be trapped under the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside that collapsed June 24.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse.
On Sunday, Miami-Dade police identified David Epstein, 58, as one of the 24 people known to have perished in the fallen tower. His remains were recovered on Friday.
The body of David’s wife, Bonnie, 56, was recovered days earlier. The couple, who worked in real estate investments, moved to Florida to retire early so that they could pursue their love of water sports, according to a friend.
Richard Oller, a friend of the couple, wrote on Facebook that David and Bonnie lived on the ninth floor of the building with their dog. The couple is survived by their son, Jonathan, 26, a resident of Brooklyn, New York.
Some residents had pleaded to return to their homes one last time before the demolition to retrieve belongings left in haste, but were denied.
Others wondered about the pets left behind, even though officials said they found no signs of animals after making three final sweeps, including the use of drones to peer into the abandoned structure.
Levine Cava said officials have been explaining their decisions with the survivors since the beginning of the search-and-rescue effort.
‘We understand that families realize the fact that time has gone by, they realize that the chances are growing all dimmer,’ she said on TODAY.
‘They are with us, they know what we’ve been doing every step of the way.’
The mayor also said that teams are working to save any personal items they can.
‘We have been asking them to go ahead and catalog all of their precious belongings so that as soon as they are recovered, we’ll be able to make a match.’
Rescue crews are seen on Monday working at the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building after the remaining structure was demolished on Sunday
Rescuers were given the all-clear to resume work looking for victims on Monday morning
The demolition Sunday night was key to resuming the search for victims of the June 24 collapse and is even expected to open new areas for rescue teams to work in
On Sunday, Miami-Dade police identified David Epstein, 58, as one of the 24 people known to have perished in the fallen tower. His remains were recovered on Friday
Many people are unaccounted for in the rubble of the building which partially collapsed on June 24
Rescue crews are seen above on Monday working at the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building after the remaining structure was demolished late on Sunday
No one has been found alive since the first hours after the disaster.
Crews were to begin clearing some of the new debris so rescuers could start making their way into parts of the underground garage that is of particular interest.
Once there, they were hoping to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble and could possibly harbor survivors.
On Sunday afternoon, however, Col. Golan Vach, an Israeli search-and-rescue operations expert who has been working at the site, said he was doubtful that further survivors would be found.
‘I believe right now that the chances are close to zero, unfortunately,’ Vach told reporters with Local 10.
‘We are trying to be hopeful, but realistic at the same time,’ he said of conversations with families of the victims.
Search efforts had been suspended Saturday to allow demolition workers to drill holes for the explosives needed to bring the damaged Surfside building down.
Through the night, rescuers were awaiting the ‘all-clear’ after the demolition so they could dive back into the task of trying to locate any survivors buried under the rubble.
Officials had previously said that the search could resume from 15 minutes to an hour after the detonation.
‘We are standing by. We are ready to go in, no matter the time of night,’ Levine Cava told a news conference earlier Sunday night.
Concerns had mounted that the damaged building was at risk of falling on its own. Parts of the remaining building shifted on Thursday, prompting a 15-hour suspension in the work.
Officials first announced plans to bring the partially collapsed building down at a news conference on Saturday morning.
The decision to raise the damaged building came as Tropical Storm Elsa bore down on the area
The demolition was carried out by Maryland-based company Controlled Demolition Inc
Stephanie Rioja prayed as the partially collapsed towers were demolished
Crowds watched the damaged building fall Sunday evening
Levine Cava issued a State of Emergency Saturday for Tropical Storm Elsa and made the ‘dramatic decision’ to sign an emergency order to raze the building before the storm hits the area.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during Saturday morning’s press conference that they wouldn’t let people who escaped go back and get their possessions before the demolition.
‘At the end of the day, that building is too unsafe to let people go back in,’ DeSantis said.
‘I know there’s a lot of people who were able to get out, fortunately, who have things there. We’re very sensitive to that. But I don’t think that there’s any way you could let someone go back up into that building given the shape that it’s in now.’
In terms of the demolition, officials were told Friday evening that it would take weeks to safely tear down the remaining structure, but Cava said Saturday morning that the Maryland-based demolition company Controlled Demolition Inc. came forward the previous night.
Controlled Demolition Inc. says on its website that it has demolished ‘thousands of structures across six continents using explosives.’
The method of demolition is called ‘energetic felling,’ which uses small detonation devices and relies on the force of gravity.
Levine Cava said that should bring the building down in place, containing the collapse to the immediate surroundings so as to minimally disturb the existing mound of debris — where scores of people are believed to be trapped.
Levine Cava said they work fast, their engineers have studied the scene Saturday and said they could demolish the building before the storm impacts Southeast Florida.
Meteorologists predict the eye of the storm, which was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, won’t directly hit the area, but Surfside and the surrounding municipalities could feel the brunt of strong wind gusts.
Elsa is scheduled to make landfall in the Florida Keys on Tuesday, according to meteorologists
The bulk of the storm is expected to run along the Florida’s west coast, although the area around Surfside could still feel its effects
Some models show Elsa spinning into the Gulf or up the Atlantic Coast. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to Dry Tortugas
Elsa prompted Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in 15 Florida counties, including in Miami-Dade County where the high-rise condominium building collapsed last week
While the Caribbean Islands are expected to be hit hardest, Florida officials fear the storm’s gusts would knock down the remaining structure ‘in a direction we don’t want it to go,’ Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.
As of Sunday, AccuWeather forecasters say Elsa is most likely to enter the eastern Gulf of Mexico and approach Florida early next week. Southeast Florida will start to feel its effects Monday afternoon through the middle of the week.
According to AccuWeather, Florida is expected to get enough rainfall to cause flooding along with damaging winds.
The problem for the collapse site would be if the storm moves north, instead of continuing on its track along the Gulf Coast side of Florida.
If it moves north, the rain and gusty winds would shift inland and batter sections along Florida’s southern shoreline, according to AccuWeather.
As of Sunday, the storm was predicted to make landfall north of Tampa and head along the west coast of Florida.
A Miami-Dade County Police boat patrols in front of the Champlain Towers South condo building on Friday, shortly before officials made the decision to demolish the remaining structure with explosives
Workers transport a stretcher with remains extricated from the rubble on Friday, near the Champlain Towers South condo building, where 121 people remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed
The official cause of the June 24 collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had ‘major structural damage’ and needed extensive repairs. The report also found ‘abundant cracking’ of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.
Just two months before the building fell, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had ‘gotten significantly worse’ and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill visited the site and the makeshift memorial earlier this week and met with local and state officials in Florida, victims’ families and first responders.
‘I promise you: I know. What you’re doing here is incredible,’ the president told first responders.