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Death toll in Surfside condo building collapse rises to 28

By Madeline Holcombe and Theresa Waldrop, CNN

Search and rescue crews have recovered another victim from the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South building, bringing the death toll to 28, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a Monday evening news conference.

That means 117 people are still unaccounted for, she said.

Earlier in the day, Levine Cava announced the recovery of three bodies after search efforts resumed around midnight following the demolition Sunday night of what had remained standing of the building.

The structure was demolished around 10:30 p.m. Sunday using a method Levine Cava called “energetic felling,” describing it as a process that “uses small, strategically placed explosives and relies on gravity to bring the building down in place.”

The demolition, planned because of approaching Tropical Storm Elsa, was carried out “exactly as planned,” the mayor said, and allowed the search to more safely expand to the area next to where the structure had been.

The pile of rubble next to the building was actually what had been holding up the structure, Levine Cava said, making it unsafe for crews to search there.

“Truly, we could not continue without bringing this building down,” she said.

The demolition allowed search crews to access the area closest to the building that they had not been able to access before. “And that was where we needed to go,” she said.

The demolition came after part of the building fell early in the morning on June 24, collapsing approximately 55 of the building’s 136 units. Crews immediately began digging through up to 16 feet of concrete.

With the threat of Elsa looming, officials and rescue crews were increasingly concerned about the safety of those searching the rubble and the potential the rest of the structure would collapse.

Now that the rest of the building is down, the “site is staffed with a tremendous amount of search and rescue workers,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Monday evening.

“The heavy equipment is now able to move around the site as needed,” he said. “The looming threat of that building, the dangerous situation where debris could fall down is now eliminated, so we are operating at 100% capacity. And I am very excited about that and I … sense that the families were too.”

Before the demolition, the equipment was limited as to where it could be used on the site.

“(The) operation seems to be moving much faster and will continue 24 hours a day for the indefinite future until everybody is pulled out of that site,” Burkett said.

The work resumed without five to seven members of the Israeli rescue team. Col. Elad Edri, Deputy Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, said earlier that the decision was made based on what capabilities of the team will be needed after the demolition.

Residents ordered to evacuate multiple buildings

Since the collapse, multiple Miami-area buildings have been evacuated.

Ahead of the demolition at the South tower, the condominium board for Champlain Towers East suggested residents evacuate, according to a letter from the condo association’s board of directors obtained by CNN.

The letter encouraged residents to evacuate in advance as streets nearby would be congested due to the demolition. The board also asked residents to take their pets and valuables, including passports and important documents, with them.

“Our building foundation has been checked multiple times, but we make this suggestion in an abundance of caution,” the letter reads. “We do not expect any impact to us but you can’t be too careful under the circumstances.”

On Saturday, the city of Miami Beach ordered the evacuation of a residential building out of an abundance of caution after a city inspector looked at an empty unit and flagged a “flooring system failure in that unit and excessive deflection on an exterior wall,” according to city spokesperson Melissa Berthier.

Miami Beach alone had 507 buildings subject to the 40-year recertification regulation, and the city “went through all of them within a week,” starting the day after Champlain Towers South collapsed, Mayor Dan Gelber told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Monday. None had structural issues, he said.

On Friday, North Miami Beach officials ordered the evacuation of the Crestview Towers, saying the building was delinquent with its 40-year recertification. Officials cited the late certification report to say the building was structurally and electrically unsafe.

Miami Beach isn’t going to assume that its building inspections and recertification processes are being done in the right way, Gelber said.

“We’re not going to let inertia be the organizing principle of our protection,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that what has been a once-in-a-lifetime incident has not got any implications systemwide.”

Many residents of Champlain Towers South whose condos didn’t collapse had to evacuate without many of their belongings, leaving behind clothes, valuables and family photographs.

On Sunday, Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez III said homicide detectives had been “collecting items that are retrievable, and are logging them and documenting them.”

Any type of heirloom that was safe to retrieve is being documented to “be addressed at a later date with family members,” he said.

Victims identified

Two of the three most recently recovered victims were identified as Ingrid Ainsworth, 66, and Tzvi Ainsworth, 68, according to Miami-Dade police.

David Epstein, 58, was identified on Sunday as the 24th victim confirmed to have died in the collapse. His body was recovered Friday, officials said.

The victims range in age from 4 to 92.

Those who died include 4- and 10-year-old sisters, an elderly couple and the daughter of a firefighter.

Nicole Mejias told CNN on Saturday that five of her family members were in the Champlain Towers South building when it collapsed, including 7-year-old Stella Cattarossi, the daughter of the Miami firefighter. Cattarossi’s body was found Thursday night.

“We just miss them so much already, we wish this tragedy didn’t happen, and will always remember them,” Mejias said.

Tropical Storm Elsa

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 15 counties Saturday — including Miami-Dade County — because of Tropical Storm Elsa.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for the Florida Keys and a tropical storm watch is in effect for parts of southwest Florida as far north as Tampa Bay.

Surfside is no longer in Elsa’s forecast cone, but the area could still receive some rain from the storm.

The governor expressed his support for the demolition plan ahead of Elsa’s impact and said Saturday he believed it would be best for the building to be down before the storm arrives. “With these gusts potentially, it would create a really big hazard.”

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Keith Allen, Melissa Alonso, Dakin Andone, Rosa Flores, Jason Morris, Hollie Silverman, Brian Todd and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.

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