SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Rescuers were given the all-clear to resume work looking for victims at a collapsed South Florida condo building after demolition crews set off a string of explosives that brought down the last of the building in a plume of dust.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the Associated Press that the demolition went “exactly as planned” around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
Crews immediately began clearing some of the new debris so rescuers could start making their way into parts of the underground garage that is of particular interest. Once there, they were hoping to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble and could possibly harbor the 121 people believed to be trapped under the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside that collapsed June 24.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse. On Sunday, Miami-Dade police identified David Epstein, 58, as one of the 24 people known to have perished in the fallen tower. His remains were recovered Friday.
Shortly after the demolition, cranes were again in motion at the site, suggesting that crews were back in place in the wee hours of Monday morning to sift through the rubble from above and below.
Rescuers are hoping the demolition will give them access for the first time to parts of the garage area. Once a new pathway into the initial rubble is secure, “we will go back to the debris pile, and we’ll begin our search and rescue efforts,” Miami-Dade Fire Chief Albert Cominsky said at a press conference several hours before the remaining wing of the residential high rise came tumbling down.
During the demolition, a loud rat-at-tat of explosions echoed from the structure. Then the building began to fall, one floor after another, cascading into an explosion of dust. Plumes billowed into the air, as crowds watched the scene from afar.
Some residents had pleaded to return to their homes one last time to retrieve belongings left in haste, but were denied.
Approaching Tropical Storm Elsa has added urgency to the demolition plans with forecasts suggesting there could be strong winds in the area by Monday. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida because of the storm, making federal aid possible.
The latest forecasts have moved the storm westward, mostly sparing South Florida, but National Hurricane Center meteorologist Robert Molleda said the area could still feel effects.