Rescue crews resumed their search for survivors of the Champlain Towers South collapse on Thursday evening, more than 14 hours after work was halted out of concern that the rest of the building could also fall.
The pause of the search, which came the same day President Biden visited the area and spent three hours with affected families, further imperiled the chances of finding any survivors in the rubble. Eighteen people are known to have died in the collapse in Surfside, Fla., and as many as 145 people remain missing, numbers that have remained unchanged since Wednesday.
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County said structural engineers had determined that the remaining structure was safe enough for emergency medical workers to resume the search at about 4:45 p.m. They had paused their efforts at 2:11 a.m.
“We will continue to search feverishly,” she said, adding that officials were planning for the eventual demolition of the remaining structure.
The northeast portion of the building, facing the beach, fell to the ground last week, while other units were left standing. But after days of intensive searches, the scene appeared quiet on Thursday morning, with cranes frozen above the rubble.
“They’re working in a very, very unsafe environment,” said Chief Alan Cominsky of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, who described the initial concerns as a large hanging column that threatened to destabilize the remaining structure, as well as movement in concrete slabs and the debris pile. “I couldn’t pinpoint it to one specific incident.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Thursday morning that state engineers had been sent to help devise a plan to safely resume the search. Adding to the urgency, the state is also bracing for possible impacts from Tropical Storm Elsa in the coming days.
“Obviously, we believe that continuing searching is something that’s very, very important,” Mr. DeSantis said before rescuers returned to the site.
Authorities said they were making contingency plans for Tropical Storm Elsa, the fifth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which formed on Thursday and remains hundreds of miles away from Barbados and other islands. The National Hurricane Center has said it is still too soon to determine what effect the storm might have on Florida. The storm could bring heavy rainfall Sunday evening, said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
For days, the search had progressed slowly. The bodies of two sisters, ages 4 and 10, were pulled from the rubble on Wednesday as the known death toll rose to 18. Lucia Guara, 10, and her sister, Emma Guara, 4, were among four victims identified by the authorities on Wednesday evening, along with their mother, Anaely Rodriguez, 42. Rescue workers also found the body of Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21. On Thursday evening, the authorities announced the identification of another victim recovered on Wednesday, Magaly Elena Delgado, 80.
“Any loss of life, especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event is a tragedy,” Ms. Levine Cava, visibly emotional, said at a Wednesday news conference. “But the loss of our children is too great to bear.”
The collapse has also prompted a review of building integrity in South Florida.
Owners of oceanfront buildings that are more than 30 years old and taller than three stories high should hire engineers to analyze their property for the 40-year recertification, Surfside’s building official said in letters that were hand-delivered to property owners on Thursday. The city also asked property owners to hire a registered geotechnical engineer to analyze the properties’ foundation and subsurface soils.