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Crews Demolish Remaining Section Of Florida Condo As Storm Nears

Jul 5, 2021
Originally published on July 5, 2021 8:17 am

Updated July 4, 2021 at 10:53 PM ET

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Crews used explosives late Sunday night to demolish the remaining structure at Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla.

The heavily damaged condo building was knocked down at about 10:30 p.m. Eastern time.

The targeted blast caused the tower to fold and crumble, sending a large plume of dust and debris over a section of the beachside community. A crowd watching from a distance prayed as the building came down.

Before the structure was leveled, Miami-Dade County police urged residents who live nearby to remain indoors and shelter in place.

Miami-Dade County officials said removing the tower was an essential step so search and rescue teams could resume scouring the rubble pile for victims of the disaster.

Officials suspended recovery efforts on Saturday because of concerns about the danger posed by the unstable building.

"It will be safe to resume the search activities very shortly after the blast and that's when we'll resume it," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava at a press conference Sunday evening.

Demolition of the tower was also accelerated because of Tropical Storm Elsa, which could hit South Florida with high winds and heavy rains as early as Monday.

Search efforts had been ongoing since the morning of June 24, when much of the 12-story condo complex suffered a "progressive collapse" and dozens of apartments were reduced to rubble in a matter of seconds.

The number of confirmed dead from the disaster remains at 24, with the number of people unaccounted for at 121.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., told reporters Sunday the demolition of the remaining tower added to the sorrow for families who lived in the complex, destroying homes and possessions.

"So often demolitions of buildings are a spectacle, it's almost like a show," Schultz said. "This demolition is a tragic situation."

Local officials assured former residents and the public that everything possible had been done to rescue pets left behind in the structure.

"Folks can be comfortable we're not leaving anyone behind, including our beloved pets," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told reporters.

Multiple investigations are already underway into the cause of the collapse.

Documents acquired by NPR from an anonymous source show the condo association's board received warnings from an engineering firm beginning in 2018 that the structure needed extensive repairs.

A memo sent by the association to Champlain Towers South residents ahead of a May 2021 board meeting acknowledged the "desperate needs of the building."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Last night, just after 10:30 p.m., demolition experts used explosives to bring down the rest of the Champlain Towers South that remained after the deadly condo collapse in Surfside, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

FADEL: The number of confirmed dead from the disaster remains at 24; 121 people are still unaccounted for. NPR's Brian Mann joins us now from Miami Beach. Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Brian, can you tell us about the demolition last night?

MANN: Yeah. So you could hear there - there was that quick burst of rapid, powerful detonations, and in just a few seconds, those explosives undercut the structure. It sort of rippled, then folded. All that concrete came down in a rush, and there was a huge cloud of dust and debris. Stephanie Rioja is a parishioner at St. Joseph's Church, which is nearby. Her congregation lost people in the condo collapse. And she came last night to watch and pray and hold a candle.

STEPHANIE RIOJA: They're in peace now. They are in peace. It's over now. Thank you, Lord. We lost people from our church and from my kids' school, St. Patrick's.

MANN: So this moment brought some closure for some people. Officials say it's also going to make the disaster site safer so search and rescue teams can be back at work. They had halted recovery efforts because that tower was so unstable.

FADEL: What will happen to the families who lived in that tower?

MANN: Yeah, this part is complicated. You know, last night a lot of people lost their homes. FEMA and other agencies are helping to relocate survivors from the structure that collapsed and also people forced to evacuate this remaining tower that was demolished. But, you know, these families lost possessions and furniture. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents this area, she spoke about this at a press conference last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And we need to think about the loss, the further loss that the demolition of this building means for all of these families. And so I hope you keep them in your hearts. The initial collapse was certainly devastating; the demolition is going to add to that sadness and sorrow.

MANN: One bit of comfort is all the generosity. So many donations have poured in to help people restart their lives. But, you know, this is still a tough moment - a lot of grieving.

FADEL: I understand there was also a lot of concern among residents in the community about people's pets, pets that were left behind in those apartments. What happened to the animals?

MANN: You know, sadly, we haven't heard of animals being rescued. But Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava spoke about this last night. She said rescue teams did work hard to make sure there were no pets still in there. And officials said they just had to move forward with last night's demolition because of Tropical Storm Elsa, which is expected to move into the area or at least could bring high winds and rain to this part of south Florida later today.

FADEL: So what happens next?

MANN: Well, a lot of that will depend on the storm and what weather comes here. The crews will keep working in rotating shifts as long as it's safe, looking for victims and recovering bodies. It's slow and painstaking and risky. Forensic teams are also working to identify those who have been found. Meanwhile, of course, there are investigations underway to find out how this devastating condo collapse could have happened.

FADEL: NPR's Brian Mann in Miami Beach. Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.