Search and rescue teams at a collapsed apartment block in Miami are facing an increasingly difficult battle with the weather, as the deadly Storm Elsa approaches and parts of Florida are put on hurricane watch.
The remaining structure that did not fall down 12 days ago was demolished on Sunday as local officials and engineers feared that a storm surge could force it to topple over.
Lightning forced crews to pause their search for the 113 people still unaccounted for, as the death toll rose to 32 on Tuesday.
The latest forecast shows Tropical Storm Elsa moving westward, mostly sparing South Florida, but the area near the collapsed building experienced thunderstorms and more unsettled weather is expected.
“These are extremely adverse and challenging conditions,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Rescue teams on the debris of the collapsed Champlain Towers South building
Credit: MIAMI-DADE FIRE DEPARTMENT
“Through the wind and the rain, they have continued,” only stopping when legally obliged because of lightning, she said on Tuesday.
Footage from the collapse site shows palm trees shaking int he wind as rescuers are battered by rain.
In an appeal for more information on the people who were in the building when it came down on June 24, Ms Levine Cava said that of the 113 still thought to be missing, only around 70 of them have been confirmed to have been on site at the time.
“We want to confirm every single account,” she said.
The demolition of the remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South building has allowed rescuers into previously inaccessible places, including bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping at the time of the disaster, officials said.
Rescue efforts have been hampered by poor weather
Credit: Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP
"The site is busier and more active now than I’ve seen it since we began, now that the damaged building is down," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said, adding that heavy equipment was now able to move freely around the site.
Rescuers hoped to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for anyone still trapped under the fallen wing of the building, but they found very few voids, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members late on Monday.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse, but rescuers were still holding out hope of reuniting loved ones.
"We continue to remain focused on our primary mission, and that is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them," City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said.
Elsa was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season until Saturday morning and caused widespread damage on several eastern Caribbean islands on Friday. As a tropical storm, it resulted in the deaths of one person on St. Lucia and of a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman in the Dominican Republic.
Cuban officials evacuated 180,000 people in advance of the possibility of heavy flooding, but the storm system mostly skirted the island.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis expanded a state of emergency to cover a dozen counties where Elsa was expected to make a swift passage on Wednesday, and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state ahead of the storm.
Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez told Floridians to prepare for storm surges and that they could be left without power for a number of days.
Three to 5 inches of rainfall is expected through Wednesday across the Florida Keys and into southwest and western portions of the state’s Peninsula.
The forecast includes the possibility of tornadoes across South Florida this morning and across the upper peninsula later in the day.
Flights in and out of Tampa airport have been suspended.