Rescue Effort Resumes At Florida Condo Collapse Site; Demolition Of Remaining Building ‘likely’ – USA TODAY

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Rescue efforts at the site of the collapsed condo building near Miami resumed Thursday afternoon after being suspended around 2 a.m. over concerns about the stability of the remaining tower, officials said.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue tweeted that work continued “after the recommendation of structural engineers who inspected the remaining structure.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said work restarted at 4:45 p.m. EDT, and added that plans are underway for the “likely” demolition of the remaining building.

“This is a decision that we need to make extremely carefully and methodically as we consider all the possible impacts to the pile of debris and to our search-and-rescue operation,” Levine Cava said.

Scott Nachman, structure specialist with FEMA’s search and rescue incident support team, said his team and local officials have looked at different plans over the last 24 hours for demolishing the remaining structure. 

“We are currently looking at several different methodologies and as we get technical data, as we get stakeholder information, those decisions will be made,” Nachman said. 

In a “best-case scenario,” Nachman said it would take weeks to establish a demolition timeline.

Hopes of finding any survivors had dimmed when the search was halted early in the day after on-site engineers identified one column that had shifted 6 to 12 inches and three cracks were expanding.

The pause took place hours before President Joe Biden met with first responders and families of the victims and missing. Levine Cava emphasized the temporary halt had nothing to do with Biden’s visit, and said search-and-rescue teams will continue as soon as it is safe to do so.

“We’ve been forced to halt operations … in early hours of the morning due to structural concerns about the standing structure,” Levine Cava said. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our first responders.”

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah voiced concerns about the stability of the remaining portion of the building during a meeting with families Wednesday.

“What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are kind of, of concern, not compromised, but just right now of concern,” Jadallah said. “Hypothetically, worst-case scenario: If these columns are truly really bad, we are worried they could collapse right back into the parking garage.”

Family members asked whether crews could add tension rods, but Jadallah said engineers said that wouldn’t be possible.

Levine Cava announced that two of the six bodies found in the rubble Wednesday were children, ages 4 and 10. This raises the death toll to 18; 145 people are missing.

As families grow weary of waiting for news of their loved ones, Tropical Storm Elsa formed overnight, threatening further delays in the search. Crews kept a close eye on the progression of the storm as it moved quickly toward the Caribbean.

The president and first lady Jill Biden met with local officials, including Levine Cava and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Here’s what we know Thursday:

The victims: Remembering those who died in the condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida

Workers discovered extensive concrete damage and suspended a repair effort last fall at collapsed Florida condoDocuments obtained exclusively by USA TODAY reveal new clues about the building’s dramatic state of disrepair, which may have been one of the causes of the collapse.

The nine-page report obtained from a family member of a missing resident in the building suggests information was reported incrementally rather than comprehensively to building owners, making it harder to recognize the severity of the problems. 

This report outlined five areas an engineering team had recommended for repair. They included issues with the wall and edge of the swimming pool, a deteriorated stair column, core samples of the building’s structural concrete slab, holes cut to investigate problems with soffits over the garage and demolition of deteriorated concrete in balcony soffits and stucco. But of these, only two actual repairs were done, of the deteriorating stair column and removal of deteriorated concrete and stucco from the balconies.

Experts caution that it’s unlikely the findings in the report reveal the root cause of the building collapse, which remains unknown. 

Still, like many of the other documents about the doomed building that are now coming to light, potentially major issues appear to have been downplayed, put off or ignored. 

Read the full story.

Surfside mayor shares ‘best part’ of President Joe Biden’s visitSurfside Mayor Charles Burkett shared Thursday that a 12-year-old girl he had encountered praying at the site of the collapsed condo building had met and been comforted by President Joe Biden. 

Burkett called it the “best part” of the meeting Biden had with families affected by last week’s disaster. 

Burkett had previously described meeting with the girl who was awaiting news on her father, who was inside the building at the time of the collapse. The mayor said she wasn’t crying, but reading a Jewish prayer to herself and “just lost.” Burkett said he shared the same story with Biden on behalf of the young girl, who wanted to meet with the president. 

“When I passed him the picture of the 12-year-old girl, he immediately said, ‘Bring her to me,'” Burkett said. 

Burkett said Biden was “grandfatherly and wonderful” and that the visit made the girl’s day. 

President Joe Biden: Victims’ families are ‘going through hell’President Joe Biden drew on his own considerable experience with mourning in a nearly three-hour meeting with the relatives of those who have died or are missing in the Surfside condo tragedy. First lady Jill Biden accompanied him on the trip and on a stop at the memorial for the victims near the site of the building collapse.

“They’re going through hell, those who survived the collapse as well as those who are missing loved ones,’’ the president said. “Jill and I wanted them to know that we’re with them, and the country’s with them. Our message today is that we’re here for you as one nation.’’

Biden’s first wife and their infant daughter died in a vehicle accident when he was 29. The couple’s two young sons survived, but eldest son Beau Biden died of cancer at 46 in 2015.

The president said the families of those buried in the rubble of the doomed building are realistic about the slim chances of seeing their loved ones alive again, but they at least want to recover their bodies.

Spending time with them, Biden said, brought back memories of his own grief.

“It’s bad enough to lose somebody, but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ve survived or not,’’ he said.

Earlier on Thursday, the president and first lady met with about 50 first responders in a hotel ballroom after a roundtable gathering with state and local leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“I just wanted to come down and say thanks,” Biden told the first responders. “What you’re doing now is just hard as hell to deal with, even psychologically.”

DeSantis, a Republican and strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, praised the Biden administration’s response to the tragedy, saying he had encountered “no bureaucracy” in his dealings with the federal government.

“We’re literally getting requests routed from local to state to federal in no time and the approvals happening,” DeSantis said.

On first day, rescuers heard woman’s voice in rubble but couldn’t save her No survivors have been pulled out of the rubble since the first hours after the tower’s collapse, but at one point there appeared to be a chance of a rescue.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said Thursday that workers attempted to rescue a woman whose voice they heard in the debris shortly after the building plummeted.

“We were searching for a female voice … we heard for several hours, and eventually we didn’t hear her voice anymore,” he said. Cominsky said they continued searching, but, “unfortunately, we didn’t have success on that.”

Biden visits Florida: 5 things to watch as Biden visits, meet with victims’ families

Tropical Storm Elsa brewingRescue and recovery teams are monitoring Tropical Storm Elsa as it moves toward the Caribbean.

The National Hurricane Center’s cone of uncertainty puts all of South Florida in the storm’s potential path, and residents are encouraged to make necessary preparations. It is unclear how, if at all, the storm will affect Florida and other parts of the country.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday at a news conference that officials do not expect any impacts in the area through Saturday. AccuWeather meteorologists are concerned that Elsa could strengthen quickly into a hurricane as it approaches the Windward Islands.

Possible severe weather may further delay the search-and-rescue efforts, Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said Wednesday.

Guthrie said his team is working with the National Hurricane Center and state meteorologists to develop contingency plans for severe weather, including tropical cyclones, and they may need to free up state assets centered at the site of the collapse. Tuesday, Guthrie said the threat of severe weather prompted state officials to ask the federal government for the additional team.

Rescuers were already coping with near-daily thunderstorms and lightning, which forced suspensions of rescue efforts.

Remembering those who diedOf the 18 people confirmed dead, authorities released these names: Stacie Fang, 54; Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, his wife Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and their daughters Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4; Frank Kleiman, 55; Michael Davis Altman, 50; Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and his wife, Christina Beatriz Elvira de Oliwkowicz, 74; Luis Bermudez, 26, and his mother, Ana Ortiz, 46; Antonio Lozano, 83, and his wife Gladys Lozano, 79; Manuel LaFont, 54; and Hilda Noriega, 92. 

The first victim to be identified was Fang, whose 15-year-old son was pulled alive from the wreckage.

Vigil held for the dead, missing in Miami-area condo building collapse

A vigil was held near Miami, Florida for the dead and missing from last week’s condo building collapse.

USA TODAY, Associated Press

Agency that examines ‘disasters and failures’ to investigate cause of of collapseThe National Institute of Standards and Technology established a National Construction Safety Team to investigate the building collapse, director James Olthoff said Wednesday evening in Miami. 

Olthoff said it will be a “fact-finding, not a fault-finding technical investigation” that could take several years. It won’t end until the team finds the “likely cause” of the collapse. 

The NIST is a nonregulatory agency that looks at “disasters and failures” caused by earthquakes, fire and tornadoes. The team will include NIST staff members and outside experts.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden believes the reasons for the collapse need to be investigated, and various federal agencies are providing expertise. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she will pursue a grand jury investigation into what led to the collapse.

Officials ask for donations to support grieving familiesPeople can send donations to families affected by the condo collapse at supportsurfside.org. Officials cautioned that one fake donation website has been reported.

Over the course of two news conferences, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told the story of 12-year-old Ellie Shella, who lost her father and an uncle to the collapse and was praying when he met her at the site.

Tuesday evening, Burkett said Ellie’s mother is in financial distress, pointing out Ellie’s father was the provider for the family. Ellie’s mother asked for assistance for her family.

“It’s working, your donations are having an impact,” Burkett said.

Contributing: Jesse Mendoza, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Katherine Lewin, Florida Times-Union; Maya Lora, The Ledger; Elizabeth Weise, Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, Jennifer Sangalang, Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.