Earlier in the day officials said there were concerns about the stability of the sections of the building that are still standing.
“Concern assessments included six to 12 inches of movement, and a large column hanging from the structure that could fall and cause damage to the support columns in the subterranean garage area,” Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Thursday morning that the President’s visit had no impact on the search and rescue operation.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden met with the search and rescue personnel, first responders and some the families of the victims and the 145 people still unaccounted for.
He added: “I walked away impressed by their strength.”
The Bidens later visited a memorial wall near the collapse site where the first lady laid a bouquet of flowers.
In the early hours after the collapse, search and rescue personnel could hear the voice of a female trapped in the rubble, Cominsky said. She was heard for hours, he said, but they couldn’t find her.
That emphasizes “the magnitude of what we’re going through,” the chief said.
Wednesday brought another harrowing reminder of the tragedy’s heartbreaking reckoning when the names of two more children were added to the list of victims.
“Any loss of life — especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event — is a tragedy, but the loss of our children is too great to bear,” she said.
Exhausting work sends rescuer to the hospital
One of the girls was a student of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the school district’s superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. In total, 17 of Carvalho’s students lived in the building; he has made contact with 15, and one remains unaccounted for, he said.
Now, he says he prays their district won’t have to mourn another student. “The weight in my heart is unbearable,” Carvalho told Asia Despatch.
Hoping to bring answers to the families of the missing, rescue teams have been working endlessly to break through 13 to 16 feet of the concrete that came crashing down as many residents slept.
Almost 1,400 tons of building material has been removed from the site, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.
Those at the Champlain Towers South site have been exerting so much effort that one member of a fire rescue team had to go to the hospital for treatment for exhaustion, Florida State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis told Asia Despatch.
The search, in the dangerous and unstable rubble, is challenging, Cominsky told reporters Wednesday, but officials are bringing in more resources to ensure that the work gets done and responders can get rest.
“We are not expecting any impacts through Saturday,” DeSantis said at the news briefing.
Stories emerge of precious moments to escape
The collapse happened in the early morning hours of June 24, and while some families have told miraculous stories of the mere seconds they had to process what was happening and escape, others spoke of the terror.
Ashley Dean’s sister, Cassie Stratton, is among the missing. Stratton called her husband to say the pool was collapsing and the ground was shaking, Dean told Asia Despatch.
Stratton began to scream loudly, and then the phone went dead, Dean said.
“It was very hard to know that that was my sister’s last words and just the terrifying moments that she endured in those last moments before, you know, before and while it was collapsing,” Dean said.
“Something inside of me said run,” she said. “You have to run and save your life.”
The couple watched as people in the building rushed to their balconies, confused about the sound. Sarmiento and Castillero scrambled into the street, trying to wave for residents to evacuate, but they couldn’t understand her, she said.
Video they recorded after the collapse showed rubble and debris even as far as where they were standing after running back toward their hotel.
They were in disbelief.
“I said, ‘Where are the people on the balcony?’” Castillero said. “I did not realize that the balcony was not there.”
Residents offered full policy from insurance
Meanwhile, officials, investigators and community members have been asking about the building’s structural integrity and if more could have been done to prevent the horror.
In response to a suit last week, a lawyer for an insurance company for the condo association said Tuesday that the company would make its entire million-dollar policy available to claimants.
In a letter filed before a Florida judge overseeing the suit, lawyer Sina Bahadoran wrote that James River Insurance Company, the commercial general liability insurer for the association, “has made the decision to voluntarily tender its entire limit from the enclosed policy towards attempting to resolve all the claims in this matter.”
A National Construction Safety Team has been established to investigate the collapse, James Olthoff, the National Institute of Standards and Technology director, said Wednesday at a news conference.
“Based on the information that we have collected, we are able to recommend a full technical investigation under the National Construction Safety Team Act. We will now establish a team to begin the painstaking process of collecting and analyzing any and all information that might help us determine the technical cause of failure,” said Judith Mitrani-Reiser, who is leading the NIST team on site.
The inquiry will be a fact-finding — not fault-finding — technical investigation and will not interfere with any ongoing search and rescue operations, Olthoff said.
Some reports suggest damage to the building was made clear to the board before the collapse.
“The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated,” the letter from board President Jean Wodnicki reads.
“We have months and years to dig into what happened, and we’re going to. The board is already in the process of hiring an engineer to also try to figure out what happened, and they will be evaluating who’s responsible.”
Asia Despatch has reached out to representatives of the condominium association for further comment.
Condo association board member resignations
The majority of the Champlain Towers board decided to quit following disputes over the lackluster response in tackling the repairs needed in the condominium complex, the paper reported.
“We work for months to go in one direction and at the very last minute objections are raised that should have been discussed and resolved right in the beginning,” Goldstein wrote in her September 2019 resignation letter that was obtained by the Post.
Goldstein and some of the others would later return to the board — one of the members just three weeks after stepping down — documents indicate, the Post reported.
The paper said its efforts to reach almost everyone who had served on the board since 2018 were unsuccessful. Two of them are reported to be missing, according to the Post.
Asia Despatch’s Rosa Flores, Dave Shortell, Chris Boyette, Rebekah Riess, Boris Sanchez and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.