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Surfside building collapse latest: Rescuers brave the elements as Tropical Storm Elsa approaches

Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 28 people, including three children, have been confirmed dead and 117 others remain unaccounted for since a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last month.

The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to officials. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through the pancaked layers of debris in hopes of finding survivors.

The part of the building that remained standing was cleared of any people or pets before it was demolished on Sunday night, due to concerns about its structural integrity. However, it was too dangerous for surviving residents to enter the building to retrieve their belongings, officials said.

“Obviously it wasn’t worth that risk,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a press conference in Surfside on Monday. “We cannot lose any more people.”

The massive search and rescue mission is now in its 13th day, as teams are able to operate at full capacity and search in areas that were previously inaccessible. At least four more bodies have been recovered from the wreckage since the demolition.

“The heavy equipment is now able to move around the site as needed,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said at the press conference. “The looming threat of that building, the dangerous situation where debris could fall down is now eliminated.”

Burkett told reporters that the search and rescue operation will continue 24 hours a day until everyone is pulled from the rubble. But the hope that more people would be found alive appeared to be fading, as no survivors have been discovered in the debris since the morning of the partial collapse. Among those recently found dead was the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter.

Meanwhile, 190 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who has stressed that the figures are “very fluid.”

Video released by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue on Monday night showed crews working atop the pile, braving the elements as Tropical Storm Elsa approached the Sunshine State.

The incoming storm, which has weakened from a hurricane, initiated the discussion about demolishing the rest of the building and fast-tracked the process, according to Burkett. Elsa made landfall in Cuba on Monday and by early Tuesday, the storm’s center was about 50 miles west of Key West, according to the National Weather Service.

The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation.

Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.

A structural field survey report from October 2018, which was among hundreds of pages of public documents released by the town of Surfside late Sunday, said the waterproofing below the condominium’s pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”

A slew of lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging the partial collapse could have been avoided and that the association knew or should have known about the structural damage. A spokesperson for the association told ABC News they cannot comment on pending litigation but that their “focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”

The association’s board released a statement last Friday saying its surviving members “have concluded that, in the best interest of all concerned parties, an independent Receiver should be appointed to oversee the legal and claims process.”

“We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation,” the statement continued, “and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy.”

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