Rescue efforts resume at the site of the collapse; planned demolition



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SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – Rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed condominium building in Florida resumed Thursday evening after a 3-hour break for safety reasons, and officials said they had started planning for the probable demolition of the remaining structure.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the demolition decision should be made “with extreme caution and method,” given the potential impact on the debris pile and the effect on search and rescue operations. An engineer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would likely take weeks before authorities schedule the demolition.

Rescue work was halted shortly after 2 a.m. due to concerns about the stability of the part of the tower still standing. The crews noticed a widening of the cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column.

Work resumed shortly before 5 p.m. after the site was assessed by structural engineers, Cava said, describing firefighters as “really, really excited over there.”

“We will continue to search feverishly, as we have done from the start in the parts of the collapse to which we currently have access,” she said.

Scott Nacheman, a FEMA structures specialist, said operations were halted after sensors detected movement. It was later determined that the building itself had not moved, but there was movement in the pile of debris below and in the debris on the “sizeable” building, Nacheman said Thursday.

Nacheman said additional sensors have been added to the site.

“Right now, we are in a position where we believe it is safe to continue operations. We have done so and the surveillance will continue indefinitely until the end of operations, ”he said.

The shutdown had threatened to dampen hopes of finding someone alive among the debris a week after the tower fell. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the shutdown was worrying because “minutes and hours count, lives are at stake.”

The rescue operations took place on the same day that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited the devastated community.

The collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South beachfront condominium killed at least 18 people and left 145 people missing. No one has been rescued for the first few hours after the collapse.

“It’s life or death,” Biden said at a briefing. “We can do it, the simple fact that everyone does what needs to be done makes a difference. “

“There is going to be a lot of pain, anxiety and suffering and even the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow,” he said. “And so, we’re not going anywhere.”

The crews noticed several expansions in the cracks they were monitoring. They also observed movement of 6 to 12 inches in a large column hanging from the structure “which could fall and damage the support columns” in the underground parking lot, said Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky.

Heavy equipment in the rubble pile caused vibrations, according to Nacheman. Rain also penetrated exposed parts of the building, saturating the elements and adding weight to the floors.

Peter Milián is a cousin of Marcus Guara, who died with his wife, Anaely Rodriguez, and their two children, Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4. Milián said he understood why the rescue work had to be temporarily halted.

“I mean, they did everything they could. But we trust the people who are on the ground. And obviously, they have to do what’s best for their people, right? Because it is a dangerous situation, ”he said.

In a private meeting with family members, Biden drew on his own experiences of grieving to try to comfort them. Biden lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car crash, and decades later, an adult son suffered from brain cancer.

“I just wish I could do something to ease the pain,” he said in a video posted to Instagram by Jacqueline Patoka, a woman close to a couple and their daughter who is still missing.

Biden has spoken of wanting to change places with a lost or missing loved one. “The wait, the wait is unbearable,” he said.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground floor pool deck sat on a concrete slab that exhibited “major structural damage” and needed major repairs. The report also found “extensive cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.

Just two months before the building fell, the chairman of his board wrote a letter to residents saying that the structural problems identified during the 2018 inspection had “worsened significantly” and that major repairs would cost at least $ 15.5 million. While bids for the work were still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.

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Associated Press editors Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale and Mark Kennedy in New York contributed to this report.

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