The remaining portion of a Miami-area condo tower that partially collapsed was demolished Sunday night after engineers declared it unstable, officials said.
Search-and-rescue efforts were put on pause at the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, Saturday afternoon as officials worried the unstable structure could come down on crews working the debris pile.
The building came down at 10:30 p.m. Earlier, residents in the area were told to shelter in place and close their windows and other air intakes that could allow dust into their homes.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that bringing down the building was “critical” to allowing first responders to continue safely searching for victims.
“As soon as the building is down, and once the site is deemed secure, they’ll be back on the pile to immediately resume their work,” she said.
Initially officials thought it could take weeks to bring the remaining condos down, but Cava signed an order to demolish the building as soon as possible. The mayor said “the building poses a threat to public health and safety” when announcing the decision.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said that the state will pay all costs associated with the demolition. The city is using a method called energetic felling, which uses a series of small detonations and relies on gravity to bring the structure down, Cava said.
It should also hopefully keep the collapse contained to the building’s footprint, though nearby residents will be given advance notice so that can remain inside with closed doors and windows to avoid possible debris filtering into their homes. They will also be asked to turn off their air conditioning to prevent dust to entering, according to Cava.
Champlain Towers South unexpectedly crumbled more than a week ago, and as of Sunday morning there are 24 confirmed deaths and 121 people still unaccounted for. Out-of-town crews, including search-and-rescue teams from Mexico and Israel, were brought in to assist with the effort to recover and identify the people who were still missing.
The demolition will allow authorities to expand the scope of the search efforts among the debris pile without concerns that the remaining structure will fall onto the teams. Cava hopes that an all clear will be issued quickly after the building comes down, but Tropical Storm Elsa may force another work stoppage.
Though the storm is currently tracking toward the west of the state — its path projected into the Gulf, making landfall in the Tampa-area — Surfside could see increased gusts and rainfall in the coming days, according to the National Weather Service.
There could also be a chance for isolated tornadoes as part of the inclement weather expected to arrive on Monday evening, DeSantis added Sunday.
Miami-area officials begun a review of the structural integrity of all city condo high-rises above five stories in the aftermath of the Champlain Towers South collapse. As part of that audit, one North Miami condominium complex was evacuated on Friday.
The Crestview Towers Condominium, built in 1972, was the subject of a Jan. 11 recertification report in which an engineer said the 156-unit complex “was structurally and electrically unsafe,” according to a statement Friday from the city of North Miami Beach. The zoning department “ordered the immediate closure and evacuation of Crestview Towers Condominium” as a result.
Champlain Towers North, about a block away, underwent an expedited inspection and Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said nothing was found that indicates the tower is in danger. He said a deep-dive inspection of the north tower will be conducted Tuesday by an engineering firm hired by the residents.
While some residents chose to leave, many have stayed put, saying their building — almost identical to the collapsed Champlain Towers South — is better maintained.
Officials have released a number of documents related to Champlain Towers South which revealed previous concerns about the building’s structural integrity. The findings from engineering consultant Frank Morabito showed there was “abundant cracking” and crumbling in the underground parking garage of the 12-story building, according to a 2018 report.
Morabito recommended that concrete slabs, which were “showing distress” by the entrance and pool deck, “be removed and replaced in their entirety.” He said the concrete deterioration should “be repaired in a timely fashion.”
That pool was swallowed into a massive sinkhole shortly before the collapse, now-missing resident Cassondra “Cassie” Billedeau-Stratton told her husband on the phone before her line went dead.
At least three lawsuits have been filed following the disaster, including one on Monday by Raysa Rodriguez, who was rescued from a balcony. She recounted in a complaint that seeks class-action status that the building “swayed like a sheet of paper.”
A spokesperson for the resident-led Champlain Towers South Condominium Association Inc. said they “cannot comment on pending litigation” and “our focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”