- Everything we know about the tower block which collapsed in Miami
The death toll from a collapsed apartment block in Miami has risen to nine, as search and rescue teams dig a 125ft long tunnel deep in the rubble in an attempt to find survivors hidden in air pockets.
Specialist units have been brought in from Mexico and Israel to help with the mission at the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside where 156 people are still unaccounted for. At least 20 of the missing are from Israel.
Authorities insist that people could still be alive, but rescuers have had to battle against fire, torrential rain, acrid smoke and falling debris. No survivors have been pulled from the rubble since Thursday morning, shortly after the tower fell.
Teams have been working 24 hours a day in rotations and have dug a tunnel which is 40ft deep, 20ft wide and 125ft long. This is to access some of the lower layers of the collapsed building, in the hope that survivors could be found in voids.
Among those still missing is a pregnant British mother, Bhavna Patel, her husband Vishal and their one-year-old daughter Aishani.
Sarina Patel, Vishal’s niece, was due to fly to Miami and see their new home and meet Aishani for the first time. The pandemic has meant the family had been separated.
“We go through waves of disbelief and hope,” she said.
“You hear of tragic things happening but you never expect them to happen to your own. We are praying for a miracle."
Miami Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said four more bodies have been found on the site, while one victim who was pulled alive from the rubble and taken to hospital had died.
She added that human remains have also been found and that medical staff were working to ascertain their identities.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett assured families on Sunday that rescuers were working nonstop.
"Nothing else on our mind, with the only objective of pulling their family members out of that rubble," he told ABC’s This Week programme.
"We’re not going to stop doing that – not today, not tomorrow, not the next day. We’re going to keep going until everybody’s out."
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appeared to be agitated when asked by the Telegraph if sending police officers to Texas to deal with the border while officers on the ground were having to cancel leave and work 12-hour shifts was the best use of resources.
“Those would not be people that we would deploy in this situation, Those are highway patrol, fish and wildlife. That has nothing to do with this.
“Any kind of connection you’re making is totally wrong and political,” he said.
On the search and rescue mission, he said: “You’re going to see a lot of major debris moving out of there.
“The debris does have forensic value. It’ll be moved to a warehouse that has been identified.”
Rescue workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo
Already, officials have one eye on an investigation.
A report written by a consultant in 2018 found “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and “abundant” cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage.
The waterproofing below the pool deck was described as being "past its useful life" and should be replaced.
The 40-year-old building was supposed to undergo major renovations as part of a recertification process this year, but engineer Frank Morabito recommended that action be taken “in a timely fashion” three years ago.
Mayor Cava said she had not seen the report until the weekend.
Four of the nine known victims have now been identified.
Stacie Fang, a 54-year-old events coordinator, was pulled from the rubble alive, but succumbed to her injuries in hospital. Her 15-year-old son, Jonah, survived the collapse and was rescued by a member of the public who saw his hand sticking out of the debris.
Antonio Lozano, 83 and his wife Gladys, 79, had been married for 59 years and lived in apartment 903. “They were such beautiful people. May they Rest In Peace,” said Antonio’s nephew Phil Ferro.
Manuel La Font, a business consultant who lived in apartment 801, was found on Friday. He enjoyed playing baseball with his 10-year-old son Santi. His son and 13-year-old daughter were picked up by his ex-wife Adriana on Wednesday evening, hours before the collapse.
She posted on social media: “So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart.”
Search and rescue personnel search for survivors as thick smoke from a fire within the rubble fills the air in Surfside
Firefighters battle a blaze as rescue workers search debris at the 12-story oceanfront condo
Credit: Miami Herald