(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — As the recovery effort continues after the devastating partial collapse of a 12-story residential building in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last month, there was a “small piece of good news” Friday, officials said, after a pet was reunited with its family.
A missing cat named Binx was found near the wreckage on Friday and reunited with its owners, who lived on the ninth floor of the tower, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a press briefing Friday evening.
“I’m glad that this small miracle could bring some light into the lives of a hurting family today and provide a bright spot for our whole community in the midst of this terrible tragedy,” she said.
The mayor did share any more details about the family. A volunteer who was feeding cats in the area recognized Binx and brought him to a local animal shelter, where it was identified as one of the cats missing after the disaster, she said.
At least 79 people have been confirmed dead and as many as 61 people remain missing following the collapse, officials said Friday.
Eight additional victims have been identified, the Miami Dade Police Department said Friday, including 3-year-old Luis Lopez Moreira III, the youngest so far; the boy’s father, Luis Pettengill, 36; and his mother, Sophia López Moreira, 36, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady, Silvana López Moreira. Two other children in the family remain missing.
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 over structural integrity and an incoming tropical storm.
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.”
For over 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 since the morning the building partially collapsed, and officials announced Wednesday evening that the search and rescue operation, in its 14th day, would shift to a recovery effort.
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.”
To mark the somber move, a moment of silence was held Wednesday in honor of all the victims, of whom 53 have been identified. A candlelight vigil was held later that night at the memorial site for the victims.
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 Levine Cava. Several families who lost loved ones were also brought to the site to pay their respects Thursday, she said.
“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’s found, and that officials also would continue to help the survivors and the families of the victims get back “on their feet as best as we possibly can.”
On Friday, the Broward County Medical Office started coming on-site to assist Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department personnel and help teams rotate more frequently, Levine Cava said.
“It is very, very valuable and critical that we provide some relief to those men and women working in the medical examiner’s office doing this vital work,” the mayor said during a press briefing Friday afternoon.
Crews have hauled away more than 13 million pounds of concrete and debris from the vast scene, and the pile of rubble is almost at ground level, Burkett said Friday. Some debris remains below ground level.
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.
Levine Cava asked members of the public to submit any photos or videos they have related to the collapse to the National Institute of Standards and Technology here.
“The magnitude of this tragedy is growing each and every day,” Levine Cava said Friday.
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