SURFSIDE, Fla.—Officials overseeing the search at the site of the Florida condominium collapse sounded increasingly somber Tuesday about the prospects for finding anyone alive, saying they have detected no new signs of life in the rubble as the death toll climbed to 36.
Crews in yellow helmets and blue jumpsuits searched the debris for a 13th day while wind and rain from the outer bands of Tropical Storm Elsa complicated their efforts. Video released by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department showed workers lugging pickaxes and power saws through piles of concrete rubble barbed with snapped steel rebar. Other searchers could be seen digging with gloved hands through pulverized concrete and dumping shovels of debris into large buckets.
Search-and-rescue workers continued to look for open spaces where people might be found alive nearly two weeks after the disaster struck at the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside.
“We’re actively searching as aggressively as we can,” Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said at a news conference. But he added: “Unfortunately, we are not seeing anything positive. The key things—void spaces, living spaces—we’re not seeing anything like that.”
Reporters got their closest look at the site Tuesday, though it was limited to the portion of the building that demolition workers tore down Sunday after the initial collapse left it standing but dangerously unstable. A pile of shattered concrete and twisted steel stood about 30 feet (9 meters) tall, topped by a couple of air conditioning units, and spanned roughly half the length of a football field. A pair of backhoes pulled rubble off the pile, which blocked any view of the search effort.
While officials still call the efforts a search-and-rescue operation, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said families of those still missing are preparing for news of “tragic loss.” She said President Joe Biden, who visited the area last week, called Tuesday to offer his continued support.
“I think everybody will be ready when it’s time to move to the next phase,” said Levine Cava, who stressed that crews would use the same care as they go through the rubble even after their focus shifts from searching for survivors to recovering the dead.
“Really, you will not see a difference,” she said. “We will carefully search for bodies and belongings, and to catalog and respectfully deal with any remains that we find.”
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse, which struck early on June 24, when many of the building’s residents were asleep.
Officials announced Tuesday that teams had recovered eight additional bodies—the highest one-day total since the collapse. More than 100 people remain unaccounted for.
Severe weather from Elsa threatened to hinder search efforts. Lightning forced rescuers to pause their work for two hours early Tuesday, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said. And stiff winds of 20 mph (32 kph), with stronger gusts, hampered efforts to move heavy debris with cranes, officials said.
However, the storm’s heaviest winds and rain were expected to bypass Surfside and neighboring Miami as Elsa strengthened before making landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend on a path across northern Florida.
“Active search and rescue continued throughout the night, and these teams continue through extremely adverse and challenging conditions,” Levine Cava said. “Through the rain and through the wind, they have continued searching.”
Crews have removed 124 tons (112 metric tonnes) of debris from the site, Cominsky said. The debris was being sorted and stored in a warehouse as potential evidence in the investigation into why the building collapsed, officials said.
Workers have been freed to search a broader area since the weekend demolition of the unstable remaining portion of the condo building. Officials said that gave rescuers access to spaces that were previously closed off, including bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping at the time of the disaster.
By Terry Spencer