Demolition crews have set off explosives to bring down the damaged remaining portion of a collapsed South Florida condo.
The demolition Sunday night was key to resuming the search for victims of the June 24 collapse and even expected to open new areas for rescue teams to work in. No one has been found alive since the first hours after the disaster. So far, rescuers have recovered the remains of 24 people, with 121 still missing.
Search efforts were suspended Saturday to allow demolition workers to drill holes for the explosives needed to bring the damaged Surfside building down.
A Miami-Dade fire official said previously that search teams could resume their work between 15 and 60 minutes after the demolition. Up to 210 rescuers will be poised to restart the search as soon as the site is declared safe after the blast, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told relatives of those missing in the collapse.
Concerns had mounted that the damaged building was at risk of falling on its own. The approach of Tropical Storm Elsa added urgency to the demolition project. With the entire building down, rescuers hoped to have access for the first time to parts of the garage area that are a focus of interest.
“Our top priority is that the building come down as soon as possible, no matter what time that occurs and as safely as possible,” County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. “Bringing down this building in a controlled manner is critical to expanding the scope of our search-and-rescue effort.”
The search at the Surfside building has been suspended since Saturday afternoon so workers could begin the drilling work. Jadallah said the suspension was necessary because the drilling could cause the structure to fail, but a family member could be heard calling that news “devastating” in video of a closed-door briefing that one of the relatives livestreamed on social media.
The Miami-Dade Police Department on Saturday night added Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and Gonzalo Torre, 81, to the list of those confirmed dead.
Once the structure is demolished, the remnants will be removed immediately with the intent of giving rescuers access for the first time to parts of the garage area that are a focus of interest, Jadallah has said. That could give a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble and could possibly harbour survivors.
Despite the dwindling chance that anyone remains alive in the rubble, officials have pledged to keep looking.
“There’s nobody in charge really talking about stopping this rescue effort,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CBS’s Face the Nation. “This rescue effort as far as I’m concerned will go on until everybody is pulled out of that debris.”
Officials began considering the demolition at Champlain Towers on Thursday when parts of the remaining building shifted, endangering rescuers and prompting a 15-hour suspension in their work.
Elsa adds urgency
Approaching tropical storm Elsa added urgency to those plans with forecasts suggesting strong winds could enter the area by Monday. The latest forecasts have moved the storm westward, mostly sparing South Florida, but National Hurricane Center meteorologist Robert Molleda said the area could still feel effects starting Monday.
“We’re expecting primarily tropical storm force gusts,” Molleda said, referring to gusts above 64 km/h.
The detonation will aim to bring the remaining portion of the building straight down and toward the street side, away from the existing pile of debris, Jadallah said. Search-and-rescue efforts should resume between 15 and 60 minutes after the structure is brought down, he said.
The method of demolition is called “energetic felling,” which uses small detonation devices and relies on the force of gravity. Levine Cava said that brings the building down in place, containing the collapse to the immediate surroundings.
State officials said they hired the BG Group, a general contractor based in Delray, Fla., to lead the demolition. It was not immediately known how the company was selected.
A spokesperson for the state’s Division of Emergency Management said the company is subcontracting with Maryland-based Controlled Demolition Inc., which experts say is among only a handful of companies in the U.S. that demolishes structures using explosives.
CDI is “probably one of the best” in the industry, said Steve Schwartz, a member of the National Demolition Association’s board of directors. He described the company’s president and owner, Mark Loizeaux, as “cool, calm and collected.”
In implosions — using explosives to have a building fall in on itself — the charges are generally set off in rapid succession over a matter of seconds, said Scott Homrich, who heads the National Demolition Association and runs his own demolition company in Detroit. Setting the explosives off at intervals serves to break up the building at the same time it’s coming down.
No one will be allowed in the buildings to the immediate north and south of the collapsed structure. Levine Cava advised other residents nearby to stay indoors during the demolition and close windows, doors and any other openings that could allow dust in.
Officials acknowledged that the tragedy is continuing to unfold during the July 4 holiday.
“This July 4 we’re reminded that patriotism isn’t just about loyalty to country,” said Levine Cava. “It’s about loyalty to one another — to our communities, to those in need whose names or stories we may not know ever, but to whom we are connected by compassion and by resilience.”