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'No chance of life': Search of collapsed Florida condominium shifts from rescue to recovery

Emergency workers gave up on Wednesday (Jul 7) on any hope of finding survivors in the rubble of a collapsed Florida condominium building and shifted their efforts to recovering more remains after authorities concluded that there was “no chance of life".

 'No chance of life': Search of collapsed Florida condominium shifts from rescue to recovery

A search and rescue team member moves through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condominium on Jul 7, 2021. (Photo: Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)

SURFSIDE, Florida: Emergency workers gave up on Wednesday (Jul 7) on any hope of finding survivors in the rubble of a collapsed Florida condominium building and shifted their efforts to recovering more remains after authorities concluded that there was “no chance of life".

The announcement followed increasingly sombre reports from emergency officials, who said they sought to prepare families for the worst.

"It is with profound sadness that I'm able to share that we made extremely difficult decision to shift from operation search and rescue to recovery," Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told an afternoon news conference.

"At this point, we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search and rescue mission. Nothing we can do can bring back those who are lost."

Earlier, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told families at a private briefing that crews would remove the rescue dogs and listening devices, but would continue to search for the remains of their relatives.

“Our sole responsibility at this point is to bring closure,” he said, as relatives sobbed in the background.

READ: Commentary: What do building collapses in the US have to do with climate change? Plenty

For two weeks, rescue crews have looked for spaces in the rubble large enough to harbour survivors. But they now say the likelihood of finding anyone alive is almost nil.

Jadallah said rescue officials told family members that the way the 12-storey building fell straight down, flattening the floors on top of each other, left almost no voids or spaces where a human being could have survived the impact.

“We noticed the stress, the force of the pressure of the walls and the floors just pretty much again sustained no chance of life,” Jadallah said.

A search and rescue team members climb the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condominium on Jul 7, 2021. (Photo: Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)

Some of those voids did exist, mostly in the basement and the parking garage, but no survivors emerged. Instead, teams recovered more than a dozen additional victims. Because the building fell in the early morning hours, many were found dead in their beds.

Jadallah suggested during the news conference that few intact bodies were being extricated, describing the recoveries instead as "human remains".

A total of 54 bodies have been recovered from the ruins of the Champlain Towers South building so far, with 86 people still unaccounted for. 

No one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the 12-storey building fell on Jun 24.

Twice during the search operation, rescuers had to suspend the mission because of the instability of the remaining part of the condominium building and the preparation for demolition.

On Tuesday officials said 124 tons of debris had been removed so far.

READ: Florida condominium collapse lawsuits seek to get answers, assign blame

After initially hoping for miraculous rescues, families have slowly braced themselves for the news that their relatives did not survive.

“For some, what they’re telling us, it’s almost a sense of relief when they already know (that someone has died) and they can just start to put an end to that chapter and start to move on,” said Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic Maggie Castro, who has updated families daily.

Authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse and at least six lawsuits have been filed by Champlain Towers families.

Survivors reported being awakened around 1.30am local time on Jun 24 by what sounded like cracks of thunder that shook their rooms.

"It was like an earthquake," Janette Aguero, who escaped from the tower's 11th floor with her family, told AFP.

A 2018 report released by city officials revealed fears of "major structural damage" in the complex, from the concrete slab under the pool deck to columns and beams in the parking garage.

In a letter to residents in April, Jean Wodnicki, chair of the condo association, described "accelerating" damage to the 40-year-old building since then, and repairs had been set to begin soon.

Local authorities have also ordered reviews of other nearby buildings.

A police officer walks past the collapsed and demolished Champlain Towers South condominium building on Jul 6, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. (Photo: AP/Lynne Sladky)

Naum Lusky, president of the Champlain Towers North condo association, said engineers hired by the city arrived Tuesday to conduct three days of tests at the building, which has a similar design and was built at about the same time as Champlain Towers South.

“They are checking from one end of the building to the other and everything is fine,” Lusky told The Associated Press.

Since the south building collapsed, he has insisted his tower is safe because his association kept up the maintenance and did not allow problems to fester.

Source: AGENCIES/ec/aj

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