Another four bodies were found overnight in the shattered ruins of a collapsed Miami-area condominium tower, the mayor of Miami-Dade County said on Wednesday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 16 nearly a week after the building fell.
Nobody has been pulled alive from the mounds of pulverised concrete, splintered lumber and twisted metal since the early hours of the disaster, with 147 people still unaccounted for.
Officials have said they still harbour hope of finding survivors.
“We are doing everything humanly possible, and then some, to get through this tragedy and we are doing it together,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference on Wednesday where she was joined by Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
Investigators have not concluded what caused nearly half of the 40-year-old Champlain Towers South condo to crumple as residents slept in the early hours of last Thursday.
But a 2018 engineer’s report on the 12-floor, 136-unit complex, prepared ahead of a building safety recertification process, found structural deficiencies that are now the focus of inquiries.
As recently as April, the condo association’s president warned residents in a letter that severe concrete damage identified by the engineer around the base of the building had since grown “significantly worse”.
The commander of an Israeli team helping with the rescue efforts said in an interview with CNN crews were working in the space between collapsed balconies. Col Golan Vach, commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, said they had discovered some tunnels large enough for a person, though most of the debris is “very, very tight”.
Miami-Dade County state attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she would convene a special grand jury, apart from any potential criminal investigation, to examine building safety and “what steps we can take to safeguard our residents” from similar disasters in the future.
The victims include a father whose wife and children are also missing, a Puerto Rican artist who never let his disability hamper his spirits and a devoted couple of nearly 60 years.
On Wednesday morning, the city of North Bay Village, about 6½km south of Surfside, released a statement identifying another victim as Hilda Noriega, the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega, calling her the “heart and soul” of his family.
No confirmed signs of life have been detected in the wreckage since last Thursday.
Fire officials have spoken of hearing faint sounds from inside the rubble pile – they acknowledged such noises could come from settling of the ruins – and finding voids deep in the debris large enough to possibly sustain life.
But Miami-Dade Fire Rescue chief Alan Cominsky said on Tuesday that search personnel faced a daunting task while working in 12-hour shifts in the heat and humidity, hampered by intermittent showers and thunderstorms.
“That building collapsed almost in a footprint of where that building stood – we’re talking about 12 storeys, with subterranean garages all within that same footprint,” Cominsky said. – Reuters