Rescuers from Israel have come to the waterfront town to help local, state and federal agencies in their search efforts. Rescuers from Mexico are expected to arrive Monday. Over the weekend, crews were able to carve out trenches, contain a deep rooted fire, and burrow into the collapse site to pull victims out as crews above ground used K9s, sonar and heavy equipment to locate the missing.
On Sunday, some family members were bussed from the reunification center to the site of the collapse to pay their respects and witness the efforts rescuers are making to bring their family home.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told Asia Despatch’s Wolf Blitzer on Newsroom Sunday that he will continue to support search and rescue operations until everyone is pulled out of the rubble. “I expect miracles. I’m expecting many miracles,” he said.
Meanwhile, the collapse has prompted other cities to rethink their certification and recertification processes, with one city less than five miles away from the collapse starting new inspections Monday.
At least nine people are confirmed dead following the collapse, with eight of them identified by authorities as of Sunday night.
The first victim was identified Friday as Stacie Fang, 54. She is the mother of Jonah Handler, the boy who was pulled from the rubble alive, her family said in a statement.
“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” the family said. “The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time.”
Officials identified three more victims on Saturday as Antonio Lozano, 83, Gladys Lozano, 79, and Manuel LaFont, 54.
On Sunday, they released the identities of four more victims: Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermudez, 26; Anna Ortiz, 46; and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74. One victim has not yet been identified by authorities.
“The process of identifying these victims is very difficult,” Levine Cava said Saturday. “We’re going to be relying on DNA testing. And that is why we’ve already been gathering DNA samples from the family members, so they have all participated and provided DNA to assist us in the investigation.”
“This allows us to do rapid DNA testing on site for bodies,” she explained.
Search and Rescue teams
Rescue teams from other countries are traveling to Florida to assist locals with rescue operations as the scene continues to be a challenging situation.
A team of ten rescuers from Israel arrived Sunday morning, Kevin Guthrie, the director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told Asia Despatch.
They went to the collapse scene and “were on the pile almost all day,” Guthrie said
Burkett said a rescue team from Mexico is expected to arrive Monday.
Crews have been working non-stop since the collapse early Thursday morning, with rescuers switching out over different shifts as weather and fires complicated their efforts.
Smoke from a deep burning fire made the first days of the rescue operation difficult, as visibility was poor and temperatures were high, according to Burkett.
Alan Cominsky, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief, called conditions at the site “horrific.”
“It’s tough to describe. We don’t have the voids that we are hoping for,” Cominsky said Sunday. “We are still looking. So that’s what I mean by horrific. It’s just a difficult, difficult situation.”
Levine Cava said rescuers are using a grid search approach on the pile and continue to utilize sonar, cameras and K9 resources.
The issue isn’t resources but luck, according to Burkett.
“We have a full complement of very experienced search and rescue people. We have waves of them going over that rubble pile right now,” Burkett told Asia Despatch Sunday.
“We got everything we need and more, we just need some luck and we had it,” he explained.
“We were having the rains we were having the fire. Those have both subsided and now its 100% focus on getting the people out of there,” Burkett said. “We’re doing exactly that. We have armies ready to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s not going to stop until we pull everybody out.”
Structural report showed major issues in 2018
While rescuers continue their efforts on the scene of the collapse, new details are coming to light about the integrity of the structure noted in an engineering report more than two years ago.
A 2018 report completed by Morabito Consultants, a structural engineering firm, “detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete,” a statement from the firm said Saturday.
The group said it provided an estimate to “make the extensive and necessary repairs” to the condo association.
The report didn’t indicate whether the structure was at risk of collapse.
Morabito was again retained by the condominium association in June 2020 for the building’s 40-year repair and restoration process, according to the statement.
At the time of the collapse, there were roof repairs taking place, but concrete restoration had not started, the firm said, adding that it “exclusively provides” engineering consulting services and does not provide construction-related services.
“We are deeply troubled by this building collapse and are working closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed. As we do so, we also continue to pray for all those impacted by this tragic event,” the firm said in the statement.
Two days before the meeting, Mara Chouela, a member of the condo board, forwarded a copy of a structural engineer’s report to Prieto that warned of “major structural damage,” according to an email released by the town on Saturday.
“Structural engineer report was reviewed by Mr. Prieto,” the minutes cited by NPR said, in an apparent reference to the 2018 report from structural engineer Morabito Consultants. “It appears the building is in very good shape,” the minutes noted, according to NPR.
Residents raised concerns over tremors during construction of nearby building
Eliana Salzhauer, one of three town commissioners for Surfside, Florida, told Asia Despatch Sunday night that survivors of the collapse she encountered have said they felt shaking during construction on a nearby building in recent years.
Salzhauer said some of the survivors told her they were bothered by the shaking of their building that occurred while a high-rise was being constructed next door. They told her there was shaking, cracking and water leaking in the garage, she said.
“They were very traumatized and shook up,” Salzhauer said, adding she heard people saying the building “was shaking all the time,” during the construction.
Salzhauer also said the 2018 report completed by structural engineers was alarming.
“In hindsight, reading that report is very damning. You read that report you go, ‘My god. How could they miss this?’” Salzhauer said.
Magaly Ramsey, daughter of missing Magaly Delgado, told Asia Despatch’s Wolf Blitzer Saturday that her mother had been concerned about shaking from the nearby construction.
“When the other building beside it, which is relatively new, was being built, she did complain of a lot of tremors and things that were being done to the other building that she sometimes was concerned what may be happening to her building,” Ramsey explained.
Delgado wasn’t the only one to raise concern. In an email to Prieto in 2019, Chouela, the condo board member, said she was concerned the nearby construction was “digging too close to our property.”
“We have concerns regarding the structure of our building,” Chouela said.
Local leaders reviewing building protocols
The deadly collapse prompted nearby cities and towns to review their building recertifcation protocols.
Less than five miles north of Surfside, the city of Sunny Isles Beach will begin sending teams to inspect buildings Monday after announcing Saturday that they would modify the existing process for 40-year recertifications of buildings, Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin told Asia Despatch.
“The more the residents see what we’re doing, the better it is for everyone,” Svechin explained.
On Friday the city of Miami sent a letter urging buildings that are over six stories and more than 40 years old to get an inspection from a qualified structural engineer, Stephanie Severino, Director of Communication for the City of Miami told Asia Despatch. They are being asking to respond within 45 days with any potential structural concerns.
Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer told Asia Despatch in an email Sunday that his city is creating “more stringent standards for certifications of buildings” following the Surfside collapse.
“Our building staff has been working with other jurisdictions to determine the best practices,” Singer said in the email. “A number of our condos have been working on comprehensive restorations. We can expect more of these efforts and increased steps to ensure the safety and welfare of our residents.”
from Asia Despatch’s Brian Todd, Amanda Watts, Gregory Lemos, Ryan Young, Bonney Kapp, Carolyn Sung, Keith Allen, Chuck Johnston, Sara Weisfeldt, Rosa Flores, Pamela Kirkland, Isabel Rosales, Denise Royal, Casey Tolan, and Roxanne Garcia contributed to this report.