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Rescue worker opens up about searching for survivors


By Ralph Ellis, Hollie Silverman, Melissa Alonso and Kay Jones, CNN

The death toll has reached 94 as recovery operations at the Surfside condo collapse site continue, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a Monday morning news conference.

Of the 94 victims, 83 have been identified and 80 families of the deceased have been notified, according to Levine Cava.

The mayor said 22 people remain “potentially unaccounted” for, while 222 have been accounted for. “The process of making identifications has become more difficult as time goes on,” she said.

“We must rely heavily on the work of the medical examiner’s office … to identify human remains. The process is very methodical and it’s careful and it does take time.”

She said there may be people who are deceased who remain on the unaccounted list until a positive identification has been made.

“The numbers are fluid and will continue to change,” she said.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Monday that debris removal teams at Champlain Towers South have reached the parking lot in several locations and have started pulling out vehicles.

“Those vehicles are mostly terribly damaged, evidencing the violence of the collapse,” Burkett said.

One search team found a business card identifying a person as an artist, he said. “As a result of that clue they began looking around and found paintings in the area that they were able to pull out of the rubble and reserve for the family,” he said.

Officials will begin implementing tighter security measures so that only authorized personnel will be allowed at the collapse site, Burkett said.

“It is the right thing to do because it is obvious that this has become more than a collapsed building site, it’s a holy site,” he said.

Video from the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South taken Sunday night showed crews still digging through the debris, with spotlights illuminating their work.

The efforts of search and rescue crews have been applauded by members of the community who are awaiting any news.

On Saturday night, local clergy, elected officials, first responders and families of victims and survivors along with members of Hatzalah, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Israeli Consulate gathered for a ceremony and commemorative walk to thank rescue workers for their efforts.

Members of the IDF, who have been on scene assisting with the collapse efforts, were given a send-off during the walk.

Crews have been working around the clock since the collapse on June 24 to recover the victims, pausing only due to safety concerns such as a shifting debris pile, dangerous winds and lightning.

Those efforts helped bring closure for Pablo Rodriguez, who said he’s relieved to know what happened to his mother and grandmother weeks after they had gone missing in the collapse.

“Last night was (the) first night since this nightmare started that I was able to get a little bit of sleep,” said Rodriguez in a tweet on Saturday, after authorities identified Elena Chavez, 87, and Elena Blasser, 64, as two of the victims.

“The thought they suffered was weighing on me heavily & confirmation that they did not was a ‘relief,'” he said. “It was the best bad news I could receive in this situation. Only hope I had.”

Youngest victims

Officials identified three of the youngest collapse victims Sunday, including 5-year-old Lorenzo De Oliveira Leone.

Anna Sophia Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 6, and her sister Alexia Maria Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 9, were both recovered on July 7 and identified publicly Sunday. The girls were the last two members of their family to be identified.

Their brother, 3-year-old Luis Vicente Pettengill Lopez Moreira III — the youngest victim in the collapse — was recovered on July 7 and identified Friday.

Sophia López Moreira, the children’s mother, was the sister of Paraguay’s first lady and lived with her husband, three children and nanny on the 10th floor of the Champlain Towers South.

She and her husband Luis Pettengill, 36, along with family nanny Leidy Vanessa Luna Villalba, 23, were identified in an earlier release.

The Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez arrived in the US on Friday after learning his wife’s family had died in the collapse.

“I regret and sadly have to report the discovery of the lifeless bodies of Sophia López Moreira, Luis Pettengil and the youngest of their children,” the foreign minister of Paraguay, Euclides Acevedo, told Paraguayan television network Telefuturo last week.

Four other children ages 4 to 11 have been identified over the last few weeks, including sisters Emma Guara, 4, and Lucia Guara, 11 who were buried in the same casket last week. They were recovered and identified on June 30.

Safety concerns for other buildings

While the collapse has prompted inspections of buildings throughout Miami-Dade County, concerns about the sister building of the collapsed Champlain Towers South have been allayed by recent inspections.

Burkett said inspections of the Champlain Towers North — where a voluntary evacuation was issued following the collapse — has yielded positive results so far.

“Early results on the concrete is that the concrete strength is very good,” Burkett said Sunday. “At or beyond the levels at which it should be.”

In the days immediately following the collapse, the county and nearby towns began asking building owners to inspect their buildings and submit recertifications for buildings over a certain height and age.

The push has already resulted in the evacuation of one condo building in North Miami Beach and the closure of a 1920s courthouse in downtown Miami.

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

CNN’s Tina Burnside, Natasha Chen, Kevin Conlon, Deanna Hackney, and CNNe’s Sanie López Garelli and Marlon Sorto contributed to this report.

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