Surfside condo collapse: Search efforts paused amid safety concerns

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Officials in Florida halted the search for survivors in the rubble of the Champlain Tower South building early Thursday due to concerns over the remaining building’s stability, interim Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said.

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Crews have been working through inclement weather, fire within the debris and other conditions which Cominsky described as “very, very unsafe” since the 12-story condo building partially collapsed early on the morning of June 24. Around 2:10 a.m. Thursday, authorities halted work after officials learned a crack that was being monitored had begun to shift.

“The stop in operations was based on the subject matter (expertise) of several on-site structural engineers,” Cominsky said.

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The fire chief said authorities couldn’t “pinpoint (the cause of the issues) to one specific incident.” Among other concerns, he said officials noted 6 to 12 inches of movement in “a large column hanging from the structure” which could damage support columns keeping the remaining building standing if it falls. He said authorities also found “slight movement in the concrete floor slabs on the south side of the structure … that could cause additional failure of the building.”

As of Thursday morning, authorities were working with structural engineers to determine when it will be safe to resume the search through the rubble.

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“Right now, our primary focus, you know, obviously, is rescuing our victims as well as protecting our fire personnel that are life-saving as well,” Cominsky said. “So, we’ll evaluate, and my primary focus will be to see how we can get back out there and continue our search and rescue efforts.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said crews have so far removed almost 1,400 tons of building material from the site.

Officials said that as of Thursday morning, 18 people were confirmed dead, and 145 others were unaccounted for in connection with the Champlain Towers South collapse. The deceased have been identified as Hilda Noriega, 92; Antonio Lozano, 83; Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Gladys Lozano, 79; Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74; Frank Kleiman, 55; Stacie Dawn Fang, 54; Manuel LaFont, 54; Marcus Joseph Guara, 52; Michael Davis, 50; Anna Ortiz, 46; Anaely Rodriguez, 42; Luis Bermudez, 26; Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21; Lucia Guara, 10; and Emma Guara, 4.

>> Related: Surfside condo collapse: Death toll rises to 18; 2 children identified

Authorities continue to investigate the cause of the collapse. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.

Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.