(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 60 people have now been confirmed dead and 80 others remain potentially unaccounted for since a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last month.
The disaster occurred on June 24 around 1:15 a.m. local time at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to officials. The rest of the building was demolished on Sunday night, due to concerns about its structural integrity and an incoming tropical storm.
For two weeks, hundreds of first responders carefully combed through the pancaked piles of debris in hopes of finding survivors. But no one has been found alive in the wreckage of the building since the morning it partially collapse, and officials announced Wednesday evening that the search and rescue operation, in its 14th day, would shift to a recovery mission.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told reporters that the decision was “a result of a consensus by those closest to the rescue efforts that the possibility of someone still alive is near zero.”
“And while there seems to be no chance of finding life in the rubble, a miracle is still possible,” Burkett said during a press conference Wednesday evening.
To mark the somber move, a moment of silence was held in honor of all the victims, of whom 35 have been identified thus far. A candlelight vigil was held later that night at the memorial site for the victims.
Reflecting on the transition the next day, U.S. Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., told reporters: “When that happened, it took a little piece of the hearts of this community.”
Crews paused their work atop the piles early Thursday “for a brief moment of silence to honor the two-week mark since the collapse,” according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
“We have now officially transitioned from search and rescue to search and recovery,” Levine Cava said during a press conference Thursday morning. “The work continues with all speed and urgency. We are working around the clock to recover victims and bring closure to the families as fast as we possibly can.”
“We are taking as much care as ever to proceed to find victims in the rubble,” she added.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters that crews “will identify every single person” who is found. Officials will also continue to help the survivors and the families of the victims get back “on their feet as best as we possibly can,” even after the media attention wanes, DeSantis said.
Meanwhile, 200 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has repeatedly stressed that the figures are “very fluid” and “continue to change.”
Crews have hauled away more than 7 million pounds of debris from the vast scene, but large piles of rubble still remain. Officials said it could take several weeks to get to the bottom of the wreckage. Crews have been working virtually nonstop, with help from teams who came from across Florida and elsewhere in the United States as well as from abroad. However, their efforts were halted for almost an entire day last week due to safety concerns regarding the still-standing structure, prior to the demolition. Poor weather conditions have also forced them to temporarily pause working.
The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation. Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.
“This tragedy shook our community and the world,” Levine Cava told reporters Thursday.
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