Florida building collapse: Search operation suspended due to safety fears

Joe Biden visits scene near Miami as some 145 missing people feared buried in rubble

Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida. Photograph: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images

Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida. Photograph: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images

 

US president Joe Biden visited Florida on Thursday to comfort the families of those killed and missing in last week’s 12-storey condominium collapse, as the search-and-rescue operation was temporarily suspended due to concerns about the stability of the remaining structure.

The confirmed death toll remained at 18, after the discovery of six more bodies in the ruins of the Champlain Towers South condo, including two children, aged 4 and 10. Another 145 people are missing and feared buried in the rubble, with hopes of finding any survivors dimming with each passing day.

After arriving in Miami, Mr Biden attended a briefing with local officials, including governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024.

Mr Biden told them he would deliver “whatever you need” and said he expected the federal government would cover the full costs for the county and state.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “This is life or death.”

The search for more than 140 people unaccounted for has entered its seventh day. Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images.
The search for more than 140 people unaccounted for has entered its seventh day. Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images.

Workers at the site were instructed to stop just after 2am on Thursday, when movement in the debris raised concerns that the part of the building still standing could collapse, officials said.

“The search-and-rescue operation will continue as soon as it is safe to do so,” Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news briefing. Officials said they were unsure when that would happen.

Authorities said they have not given up on locating survivors. But nobody has been pulled alive from the wreckage since the early hours of the disaster in the oceanfront town of Surfside, adjacent to Miami Beach.

Miami-Dade County Fire chief Alan Cominsky said rescuers did hear signs of life during their initial efforts last week.

“They were searching for a female voice, is what we heard for several hours,” he said. “Eventually, we didn’t hear her voice anymore.”

Officials are also keeping a watchful eye on Tropical Storm Elsa, which formed over the Atlantic and could reach south Florida by Monday, potentially hampering search operations.

The federal emergency body Fema has dispatched five urban search-and-rescue teams – each comprised of 80 members – to assist in sifting through the rubble, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Investigators have not determined what caused nearly half of the 40-year-old condo complex to crumble in one of the deadliest building collapses in US history.

But a 2018 report prepared by engineering firm Morabito Consultants ahead of a building safety recertification process found structural deficiencies in the 136-unit complex that are now the focus of inquiries.

The Washington Post reported late on Wednesday that the majority of the board of the Surfside condominium, including its president, resigned in 2019, partly in frustration over what was seen as the sluggish response to the report. – Reuters