Death Toll Rises To 18, Includes Children Ages 4 And 10 – The Washington Post

“Any loss of life — especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event — is a tragedy,” she said. “But the loss of our children is too great to bear.”

The mayor said 145 people are still missing. Officials continued to express hope, and one rescuer said earlier in the day that new openings in the debris were detected.

Here are some significant developments

The Miami-Dade Police Department released the names of five additional victims on Wednesday: Hilda Noriega, 92; Anaely Rodriguez, 42; Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21; and sisters Lucia and Emma Guara, 10 and 4, respectively.President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will visit the site of the collapse on Thursday.Amid contentious debate about multimillion-dollar repairs to Champlain Towers South in 2019, five of the seven condominium board members resigned. One left frustrated about what she said was a sluggish response to structural damage in the building.Months before the collapse, the condo board leader warned that damage to the structure’s concrete support system was “accelerating.”Husband, friend pay tribute to missing Surfside condo resident Michael Stratton, husband of Cassondra Stratton, a resident of the Surfside condominium, said Wednesday that with “each excruciating day,” his hope of finding his wife alive “dims.”

From her fourth-floor balcony, Cassondra Stratton felt a tremor and saw the deck of the swimming pool cave in last Thursday, moments before Champlain Towers South went down.

She immediately called Michael, who was in Denver, 2,000 miles away, he would later recall.

In a heart-wrenching statement, Michael paid tribute to his wife, who is one of 145 people still missing in the collapsed building, describing her as someone whose passion for life “would light up every room.”

“Cassie’s life was filled with love, friendship and adventure,” he wrote.

“Her interest in everyone she met made them feel important and noticed. The love she gave to so many reverberates around the world in a chorus of hopes and prayers that I know she can feel,” he added.

His thoughts were echoed by Crystal Clark, who was standing at a memorial wall for the dead and missing in Surfside on Wednesday, placing flowers next to a photo of Cassondra.

The friends had last exchanged text messages the day before the building fell, Clark said.

They were setting up a lunch date and Clark never had the chance to text her back.

“It’s a missed opportunity,” she said through tears.

On Thursday morning, she saw the news and realized she knew the building that had crumbled — the same place she would cat sit for Cassondra, where her friend would cook them dinner and they’d swap stories, talking about their dreams. She called and called her friend’s phone, but it went to voice mail each time.

“She was so full of life, absolutely full of life,” Clark said. “I love her. I’m not giving up hope, I can’t give up hope.”

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Want to help the Surfside condo collapse victims? Here’s how.Hours after the Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, Fla., the community was inundated by hundreds of acts of kindness. Food, blankets, toiletries and clothes quickly poured in — so many that officials asked people to refrain from sending these items. Instead, they encouraged monetary donations.

Although most volunteer spots have been filled and organizations are overwhelmed with donated items, people can still help the Surfside collapse victims.

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Majority of Florida condo board quit in 2019 as squabbling residents dragged out plans for repairs The president of the board of the Florida condominium that collapsed last week resigned in 2019, partly in frustration over what she saw as the sluggish response to an engineer’s report that identified major structural damage the previous year.

Anette Goldstein was among five members of the seven-member board to resign in two weeks that fall, according to minutes from an Oct. 3 meeting, at a time when the condo association in Surfside was consumed by contentious debate about the multimillion-dollar repairs.

“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 a September 2019 resignation letter. “This pattern has repeated itself over and over, ego battles, undermining the roles of fellow board members, circulation of gossip and mistruths. I am not presenting a very pretty picture of the functioning of our board and many before us, but it describes a board that works very hard but cannot for the reasons above accomplish the goals we set out to accomplish.”

Debate over the cost and scope of the work, along with turnover on the volunteer board, dragged out preparations for the repairs for three years, according to previously unpublished correspondence, condo board minutes and other records kept by the homeowners association.

Concrete restoration work had not yet begun when the building partially collapsed Thursday. Identifying the cause of the catastrophe is expected to take many months, and it is not clear whether the problems identified in 2018 played a role.

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Too early to tell if storm will affect Florida, but preparations are underway, officials sayOfficials on Wednesday said they are watching a developing storm as recovery efforts at Champlain Towers South continue.

The National Hurricane Center issued advisories on a potential tropical cyclone five in the Atlantic. It is expected to become a tropical storm, but the center said it was “too soon to determine what if any impacts could occur [in Florida] next week given the uncertainty in long-range forecasts.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news briefing that “we are closely monitoring its trajectory and progress” and that the county has added resources to its operations in case of a storm.

Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said the system was moving fast to the west, northwest across the Caribbean Sea, but “it is too soon to make any determination which way it is going to go.”

“At this time, impacts to Florida from this system are not expected through Saturday,” he said.

Asked what he would do if the storm gets closer, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said it would surely affect the recovery work.

“It just compounds and makes it more difficult,” Cominsky said. “But we are still definitely moving forward.”

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Israeli rescuers work in 12-hour shifts: ‘This is our duty’A commander of the Israeli rescue team working at the collapsed condominium site in Surfside, Fla., said Wednesday that the devastation is like nothing he had encountered before.

Lt. Col. Oz Gino of the Israel Defense Forces described the excruciating work its search-and-rescue team is doing in 12-hour shifts, battling dehydration and exhaustion, and stressed the importance of working speedily and accurately.

“Time is everything,” he said during a media briefing. “We are working with the mind-set that every single person in the site is alive.”

No matter how hard the conditions are, Gino said, their mission to attempt to save lives is clear.

“As an Israeli, it doesn’t matter to me who is there; peoples’ lives is a matter of Judaism, no matter who you are or where you come from, this is our duty,” he said, adding that hundreds more rescuers from Israel will join the efforts in coming days.

Divided into three groups, the Israeli team of engineers and rescue specialists has done 3-D modeling with information gathered from victims’ families and residents, as well as from artifacts and personal items found at the site, which has allowed them to place accurate locations and to focus the efforts of the tactical teams accordingly, Capt. Uri Jospe, another member of the rescue team, said Wednesday.

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Collapse death toll increases to 18, with two children among the dead — a loss ‘too great to bear’Rescue workers pulled two more bodies from the wreckage of the Surfside condo on Wednesday — a 4-year-old and a 10-year-old, the youngest known victims among a steadily growing death toll.

The total number of confirmed fatalities rose to 18 on Wednesday, with the announcement of six new deaths representing the largest single-day increase in the toll since the building collapsed last week.

“It is with great sorrow, real pain, that I have to share with you that two of these were children,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news briefing. “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.”

Levine Cava said that 139 people have been accounted for but 145 remain missing.

She declined to say more about the young victims, and Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said he could not say whether they were related.

“Our community, our nation and the world, we’re all mourning with these families who have lost loved ones,” Levine Cava said.

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Full federal investigation to be opened by group that probed Missouri tornado, World Trade CenterThe federal National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will open a full investigation of the Surfside collapse, its director said Wednesday, joining the other inquiries that will attempt to understand what happened last week.

James Olthoff, the director of NIST, said he is establishing a team under a federal law signed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that allows the institute to deploy teams of experts to investigate failures of a building or buildings.

“This will be a fact-finding, not faultfinding, technical investigation,” he said at a briefing Wednesday evening. “It will take time, possibly a couple of years. But we will not stop until we’ve determined the likely cause of this tragedy.”

This team, when it is fully established, will be the fifth set up under the post-9/11 law. Previous teams established by NIST under the law have investigated the World Trade Center collapse on 9/11; a Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003; the tornado in Joplin, Mo., in 2011; and a still-ongoing study of Hurricane Maria striking Puerto Rico in 2017. The completed investigations have lasted for more than two years.

Judith Mitrani-Reiser, a NIST official who has been co-leading the team of scientists conducting a preliminary investigation in Surfside, said at the same briefing that this group had recommended the full inquiry.

She said officials were still collecting evidence and determining the investigation’s scope, and had not yet established who would be on the team, although it would combine NIST staff members and outside experts.

The institute noted Wednesday that this investigation is aimed at determining the cause of the Surfside collapse but could also identify possible issues nearby or across the country.

This team, when it completes its work, will also recommend improvements needed to building standards and codes, although it cannot mandate any changes, the institute noted.

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Video appears to show water running from ceiling of condo garage, small pile of debris before collapseAdriana Sarmiento told ABC7 Chicago that she and her husband were swimming in the pool at Bluegreen Vacations Solara Surfside Resort not long after 1 a.m. when they heard a noise. The two got out of the pool, located directly across from the entrance to Champlain Towers South’s parking garage, and Sarmiento began filming.

The video appears to show water running from the ceiling of the garage and a small pile of debris on the garage’s floor at approximately 1:18 a.m., just two minutes before the first call from Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue for units to respond to a “Jefferson alarm ringing 87th and Collins Ave.” According to EMS audio, the building collapses roughly seven minutes later.

The video, first published to Sarmiento’s TikTok account June 29, comes as a Washington Post investigation raised additional questions about whether existing damage to a deck in the pool area contributed to the disaster. Most of the dozen experts The Post interviewed agreed that the collapse appeared to involve a failure at the lowest levels of the building or in the parking garage beneath it.

Sarmiento could not be immediately reached for comment.

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Inside the conference room where an engineer tries to solve the puzzle of the Surfside condo collapseFrom a conference room in the Surfside Town Hall, Allyn Kilsheimer sorted and resorted stacks of building plans.

“I’m playing a game of puzzle,” the veteran engineer said.

Town officials hired Kilsheimer, president of KCE Structural Engineers, to investigate the collapse of Champlain Towers South, but with the search-and-rescue mission still underway, he can’t spend much time on-site. So on Wednesday, he was alone at a table, surrounded by paper — including blueprints.

Kilsheimer was working unit-by-unit, floor-by-floor, organizing the drawings and comparing them with the collapsed structure’s sister buildings, looking for clues about what might have triggered the fall.

“I know nothing about the collapse,” he said. “I hear everybody telling me about the collapse, but we have to prove it from an engineering standpoint, not a hypothetical standpoint.”

He and his firm have helped investigate some of the country’s highest-profile disasters, including the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon. In a 2002 article, The Washington Post described him as “a profane, 61-year-old maverick” who was “more force of nature than human” on a construction site.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he met with Kilsheimer for an hour on Wednesday. There are multiple blueprints of Champlain Towers, Burkett said, and it wasn’t immediately clear which set was used in the construction.

“I’ve instructed our staff to pull every document and give it to him,” the mayor said of Kilsheimer.

But, Burkett emphasized, his priority was still the rescue operation.

Eventually, Kilsheimer will move his work to the debris pile, and he said he hopes to get an aboveground view using a crane. For now, though, he said he knows that job is secondary to the recovery effort.

“They’re going to do their job, and I’m not going to interfere with their job,” Kilsheimer said. “I have lots of things that I can do without doing some of the things that I want to do in the field.”

One of those things: He and his team are examining the stability of the still-standing portion of the building — a question that has become more urgent with tropical storms in the forecast. They are using computer modeling to determine the maximum wind speed the building can survive.

Kilsheimer said they have gotten a lot of unsolicited advice, dispatched via email from people across the state.

“I’m getting absurd things,” he said. “But I’m listening to what everybody says. These are people who have nothing better to do than to glom on to this. Have I run into this before? Yes. But nothing like this. But we’re in Florida, what do you expect?”

Surfside mayor says rescuers are finding ‘pockets of air,’ giving him hope of finding survivorsSurfside Mayor Charles Burkett said after visiting the collapse site Wednesday that there are no plans yet to change the focus of the search and rescue operation to a recovery operation.

“Frankly, I don’t think it’s ever going to be a recovery operation,” he said. “Philosophically, at least for me, it’s ‘leave no man behind.’”

Burkett noted that the pile of debris was getting smaller. The rescuers are finding “pockets of air,” which gives him hope of finding survivors, he said, adding, “We cannot stop until we pull everybody out of there.”

Former Surfside mayor Paul Novack also said that from his point of view, officials were still focused on saving survivors.

“Quite a bit of the work is not visible from any vantage point,” he said after visiting the site Wednesday morning. “A very substantial amount of work is being done underneath the debris, in tunnels, in the parking garage.”

“The efforts and procedures — everything that is underway is still about search and rescue,” Novack said.

Florida’s state fire marshal will ask Biden for PTSD support for Surfside respondersFlorida State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis announced Wednesday that he will request mental health assistance for responders searching through the debris of the condominium building.

“We’re planning on appealing to @POTUS for the best PTSD support possible for the men and women who are working in conditions that resemble more of a war-zone than a normal search and rescue mission,” he tweeted.

Patronis has repeatedly mentioned his concerns about the mental health of crews working long hours and witnessing the horror of the collapse up close while potentially endangering themselves.

In an interview with NewsNation Now on Tuesday, Patronis cried while talking about the crews, which he said are wearing down boots and gloves that normally last six months. The teams are dedicated, exhausted but eager to get back to work as they continue searching for survivors as long as it takes, he told the outlet.

Patronis said Wednesday that mental health experts have already been deployed to assist responders but that he wants workers to have access to the nation’s best mental health experts. It “would go a long way in helping these officials cope with some of the horrible things they are having to see and deal with,” he said.

U.S. Postal Service safeguarding mail and packages of residents at the collapsed condo towerThe U.S. Postal Service will safeguard mail and packages destined for residents who lived at the Champlain Towers South condominium.

USPS South Florida district spokeswoman Debra J. Fetterly said in a statement that all mail and packages will be “secured and kept safe” at a nearby post office.

“We serve each and every community in the United States, and our employees grieve, along with the residential and business customers with which we do business every day,” Fetterly said.

The death toll in the Surfside, Fla., condominium collapse rose to 16 on Wednesday, with rescuers pulling four more bodies from the wreckage.

In addition to the mail, other belongings pertaining to those who lived in the building at the time of the collapse have also surfaced in recent days.

Neighbors and relatives have found mementos such as cards and photographs belonging to the missing in the surrounding area after the collapse.

Florida officials are preparing contingency plans for a storm response amid continued rescue effort Florida’s local leaders and emergency management officials are making contingency plans for severe weather as meteorologists track two disturbances in the Atlantic.

“This is hurricane season. There’s assets here that could be used in future disasters as those come. The state government’s monitoring all storms that are happening,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “We’ll take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we would be able to respond.”

Levine Cava, the Miami-Dade County mayor, said officials are monitoring two weather systems “in abundance of caution.” It is still too early to know whether there will be any impact for South Florida, according to the National Weather Service.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the agency is working with the Miami-Dade County emergency management to “develop contingency plans for severe weather, including tropical cyclones.”

Guthrie said the division requested a federal team to relieve state officials aiding efforts in Surfside to free up assets that would be able to help with any storm response.

“If a storm does develop, I want to assure you we have contingency plans, which include facility relocation, communications, back-up plans of how we will continue to respond here while responding to a hurricane,” he said.

DeSantis added: “’Tis the season and you’ve got to be ready.”

Police official: Biden’s visit will ‘bring some unity here for our community’Ahead of President Biden’s visit to Surfside on Thursday, officials were asked about how the logistics of the visit would affect operations on the ground.

Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez III, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said local authorities are “very grateful the president is coming.”

“We assure you we have plans in place with the Secret Service and our federal partners that this operation will continue,” Ramirez said at a news conference on Wednesday in response to a reporter’s question. “We have been resilient, we’ve had several challenges from weather, sorrow, pain, and I think the president coming will bring some unity here for our community.”

Ramirez said the visit will be a “great message” for the families.

“We’re going to get it done. That’s not going to be a problem,” he said.

First lady Jill Biden will accompany the president during the visit, the White House announced this week. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Bidens “want to thank the heroic first responders, search-and-rescue teams and everyone who has been working tirelessly around-the-clock, and meet with the families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy, waiting in anguish and heartbreak for word of their loved ones, to offer them comfort as search-and-rescue efforts continue.”