Surfside Florida condo collapse: Demolition could take place before Tropical Storm Elsa looms close, officials say


A controlled demolition would temporarily halt search and rescue operations in the rubble of already collapsed portions. But the researchers could then get back to work without worrying about the standing portions falling on them, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.

“I think by tomorrow (Sunday)” the standing portions could be demolished, Burkett said at a press conference on Saturday morning.

Nearly 55 of the 136 units at Champlain Towers South, in Surfside just north of Miami Beach, collapsed to the ground in the early hours of June 24. The death toll is 24 so far, and 124 people are missing on Saturday, Miami – Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

Elsa’s predicted path is uncertain, but even though it is centered well west of Surfside as expected, its windy outer bands could hit Surfside and Southeast Florida by Tuesday, forecasters said.

The demolition schedule was not finalized as engineers were still at the site doing their due diligence, Levine Cava said on Saturday morning.

But officials’ previous thinking about the timing – that it couldn’t be done until Elsa arrived – changed after speaking Friday evening with a demolition expert who indicated it could be done sooner, said Levine Cava.
Levine Cava signed an order on Friday allowing crews to demolish the remaining structure, but said at the time it could be weeks before demolition could take place.

Demolition plans were still underway, but they would aim to eliminate the permanent portions with charges, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said on Saturday.

The demolition would have “a very narrow footprint,” so evacuations in the area are not planned, in addition to temporarily relocating rescuers from the rubble, Levine Cava said. Areas already excavated from the rubble would be covered before demolition, Cominsky said.

Controlled Demolition Inc. would be in charge of the demolition and has done large demolitions in the past, said Levine Cava.

Search and rescue continued on Saturday morning at the site, where crews cleared concrete rubble up to 16 feet deep.

On Friday evening, a county attorney said in a court file that the remaining part of the building was not structurally sound and behaved in a way that indicated it could fall, a county attorney said in a court file on Friday evening. .

Search and rescue teams were under “immediate threat” due to building instability and Tropical Storm Elsa, which is currently in the Caribbean, said David Murray, Miami-Dade County attorney. .

Murray’s court record said a collapse of the remaining structure “would release hazardous household materials, particles and pose a fire hazard.”

“An uncontrolled collapse of the structure – which is surrounded by residential properties, and which is currently worked and secured by hundreds of firefighters, police and other government employees – poses a significant risk to human life and goods, ”Murray wrote on the record.

Firefighters confirm limb child found in rubble

A 7-year-old girl who died in the collapse was the daughter of a member of the Miami Fire and Rescue Department, officials said on Friday.

Miami firefighter's 7-year-old daughter among victims of building collapse in Surfside, Florida

Members of the Florida Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team recovered the girl’s body Thursday evening, Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban said in a statement.

The girl’s father has not found her body, officials said, adding that other members of the team alerted him Thursday evening.

A relative, Nicole Mejias, identified the girl as Stella Cattarossi, who, according to Mejias, was found dead in the rubble with her mother, Graciela Cattarossi.

Mejias said five members of his family were in the building when it collapsed and three others are still missing: Stella’s grandparents, Gino and Graciela Cattarossi – with whom Stella and her mother lived – And her aunt, Andrea Cattarossi. Mejias said Andrea is from Argentina, where she has three sons.

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

Florida Task Force 2 spokesperson Captain Ignatius Carroll told CNN in an interview on Saturday that it was “very difficult” to find the girl because she was the child of one of their “brother firefighters. “. But it gave the girl’s family “peace of mind,” he said.

“And that’s the goal we have with everyone out there on this pile, trying to do their best in this ongoing research effort to reunite families with loved ones,” Carroll said.

Authorities released the names of three people who died in the collapse on Friday. Bonnie Epstein, 56; Claudio Bonnefoy, 85, and Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69, have been recovered in the last two days.

Review of the former Surfside building manager

Amid the condominium board’s scrutiny and its response to a 2018 report citing “major structural damage,” the city’s actions are also gaining attention.
"Tragedy beyond tragedy": Champlain Towers South was a disaster in slow motion
Former Surfside Building Manager Rosendo “Ross” Prieto assured residents of Champlain Towers South their building was “in very good condition” in November 2018, although he received a report warning of “structural damage major “.

He worked for the City of Miami Beach as a Main Building Inspector from 2007 to 2013. In an April 2012 email, the Prieto boss expressed frustration with Prieto’s attendance issues.

“[I] I have problems with him because he arrived late, he did not call on time when he is sick, he forgot to clock in or go out, he did not not answered the phone, etc. Prieto missed the inspections that day.

Condominium residents saw the pool deck and garage collapse before the tower collapsed to the ground

Prieto had emailed his boss earlier in the afternoon telling him that he “had been battling a sinus infection for almost a year” and “had had a bad reaction to it. [his] drugs. “

He was suspended weeks later for being absent twice in a 12-month period without his supervisor’s permission on two occasions. A 2013 performance review said he was absent an excessive number of days and arrived late 22 times in a one-year period, according to documents that were first reported by the New York Times.

A 2007 memo about Prieto’s initial hiring in Miami Beach stated that he brought “extensive experience and training in the industry” to his job. A city spokesperson told CNN he quit his post in good standing.

Surfside's construction department was placed under administrative control in early 2019 before the condominium collapsed

Prieto did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CNN.

Prieto led the building department at Surfside in 2018 when it became the target of growing complaints from residents and contractors – so much so that the then city manager told CNN he had placed the office under administrative control.
The city of Doral, Florida said it has started reviewing eight projects Prieto has worked on since taking office in May “out of caution.”

“The internal review of the work carried out by Mr. Prieto is an ongoing process by our licensed experts,” a spokesperson for Doral said in a statement Friday.

The challenges of the co-ownership association

Max Friedman, a former member of the condominium association, told CNN on Friday that the board resigns – largely on how to find the $ 15 million needed to fix the many structural problems of the building – delayed essential repairs.

“I would never leave a board of directors – I think that’s terrible,” said Friedman, who was a member from 2011 to 2016 and lives in Manhattan. Asked about the general feeling of the residents, he said that “there was confusion” and that he personally felt that the resignations of the board members were “inappropriate”.

As the investigation continues into what led to the partial collapse, public scrutiny has turned to the condominium board.

Condominium residents saw the pool deck and garage collapse before the tower collapsed to the ground

“We know that responses will take time on a full investigation and we will continue to work with municipal, state, local and federal authorities in their rescue efforts and to understand the causes of this tragedy,” said Friday. board of directors. A declaration.

Still, Friedman was careful to note that he didn’t think the board could have known the building was in immediate danger.

“The township didn’t tell us,” Friedman said, referring to Prieto, who was the Surfside building manager at the time.

Friedman described the South Champlain Towers as a tight-knit community of residents from around the world. He said one of the residents he was close to was among the confirmed dead and other friends were missing.

“Every civil engineer by the moon is now drawing conclusions,” Friedman said. “Eventually we’ll determine what caused this.”

CNN’s Natasha Chen, Claudia Dominguez, David Shortell, Rosa Flores, Curt Devine and Daniel A. Medina contributed to this report

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