SURFSIDE, Florida: Demolition crews set off explosives late on Sunday (Jul 4) to bring down the damaged remaining portion of a collapsed South Florida condominium building, a key step to resuming the search for victims as rescuers possibly gain access to new areas of the rubble.
Video footage showed the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside, outside Miami, being demolished 10 days after most of the building collapsed in the early hours of Jun 24. The confirmed death toll from the disaster is 24, with 121 people missing.
Crews were to begin clearing some of the new debris so rescuers could start making their way into parts of the underground garage that is of particular interest.
Once there, rescuers are hoping that they will gain access for the first time to parts of the garage area that are a focus of interest, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah has said.
That could give a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble and could possibly harbour survivors.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the Jun 24 collapse.
The precarious, still-standing portion of a collapsed South Florida condo building was rigged with explosive charges and set for demolition overnight, Miami-Dade County officials said late Sunday.
The search-and-rescue mission at the Surfside building was suspended on Saturday afternoon so workers could begin to drill holes for explosives.
Jadallah said the suspension was a necessary safety measure because the drilling could cause the structure to fail, but a family member could be heard calling that news “devastating".
Rescuers will await the “all-clear” after the demolition and then immediately dive back into the task of trying to locate any survivors buried under the rubble, County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. Officials had previously said that the search could resume from 15 minutes to an hour after the detonation.
“We are standing by. We are ready to go in, no matter the time of night,” Levine Cava told a news conference Sunday night.
Jadallah said earlier that up to 210 rescuers will be poised to restart the search as soon as the site is declared safe after the blast.
Officials had evacuated residents around the site ahead of the demolition and warned others to stay indoors and close windows, doors and any other openings that could allow dust in.
“Once this building is down, it’s going to be a green light, full speed ahead, maximum effort to pull these victims out and reunite them with their family,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CBS’ Face the Nation.
“There’s nobody in charge really talking about stopping this rescue effort ... This rescue effort as far as I’m concerned will go on until everybody is pulled out of that debris.”
Concerns had mounted that the damaged Champlain Towers South building in Surfside was at risk of falling on its own, endangering the crews below and preventing them from operating in some areas.
The approach of Tropical Storm Elsa added urgency to the demolition project. The latest forecasts have moved the storm westward, mostly sparing South Florida, but meteorologists have said the area could still feel effects starting Monday.
Investigators have not determined what caused the 40-year-old complex to collapse on Jun 24. A 2018 engineering report found structural deficiencies that are now the focus of inquiries that include a grand jury examination.