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Approach of Tropical Storm Elsa Complicates Search Efforts

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The grim and increasingly hopeless search amid the rubble of the collapsed condominium building in Surfside, Fla., was set to continue on Tuesday after the demolition of the unstable remainder of the building over the holiday weekend.

But the approach of Tropical Storm Elsa, whose strongest effects were expected to be felt in South Florida by midmorning on Tuesday, complicated search efforts, forcing search crews to pause their efforts at some points on Monday because of lightning near the site.

Still, crews made progress, searching parts of the collapse that had been inaccessible before the demolition. They found four more bodies, bringing the confirmed death toll to 28 as darkness fell on Monday, with more than 100 still missing in the wake of the collapse of Champlain Towers South on June 24.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County told reporters that the demolition of the condo’s remaining portion in a controlled explosion on Sunday night was “executed exactly as planned,” after officials raced over the weekend to demolish the building as Elsa approached.

“You wouldn’t even know if you hadn’t been aware that something had just come down in the last day,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said, describing the site after the demolition.

Although emergency teams have now searched the upper layers of all of the collapse site, officials said they haven’t given up on the possibility of finding survivors. “There is hope that there are voids that will allow us to continue the search-and-rescue operation,” Ms. Levine Cava said.

Despite earlier warnings that Elsa could bring tropical storm-force winds to the Miami area, meteorologists revised their forecasts on Monday, saying that Surfside would likely be spared the worst of the storm.

By Monday evening, the sky over the search site had darkened, and tornado warnings had been issued, with forecasters predicting several inches of rain in and around Miami on Tuesday.

Arielle Bader/Tampa Bay Times, via Associated Press

The heaviest winds from Tropical Storm Elsa, which was approaching the Florida Keys early Tuesday, were expected to hit South Florida around midmorning, according to the National Weather Service. But forecasts showed the site of the condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., missing the worst impacts of the storm.

Still, the search for victims has been complicated by Elsa’s approach, with rescue crews forced to temporarily pause their efforts on Monday because of lightning.

Concern over the storm’s potential impact helped drive officials to demolish the half of Champlain Towers South that had remained standing on Sunday night. The search effort had been halted for much of the weekend amid growing worries about the building’s stability as the storm approached, but it resumed on Monday, with four more bodies recovered from the rubble.

Downpours and winds of up to 25 miles per hour could be felt in the Miami area on Tuesday, the Weather Service said late Monday. Gusts in the Florida Keys could be stronger. The storm is expected to travel up Florida’s Gulf Coast on Tuesday and make landfall, likely somewhere north of Tampa, on Wednesday morning.

Elsa, which crossed Cuba on Monday, has been blamed for the deaths of at least three people in the Caribbean.

Champlain Towers North, second from right, among other high-rise condominiums in Surfside, Fla. Potential condo buyers are asking questions about the structural safety of units for sale following the collapse of its sister building, Champlain Towers South, last month.
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

The partial collapse on June 24 of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., has plunged older beachside condos and high-rise buildings like it into a swirl of uncertainty. Local government officials and condo associations are rushing inspections, some of them long overdue. Insurance companies are demanding proof that aging buildings have been evaluated or are threatening to cut off coverage.

And real estate agents across the region are bracing for how the disaster might ripple through an otherwise scorching housing market.

“No one ever asked about a 40-year recertification before,” Ines Hegedus-Garcia, a real estate agent with Avanti Way Realty in South Florida, said of the process of assessing the structural condition of buildings constructed decades ago. “Nobody ever did that, but buyers are now asking for that.”

Cordelia Anderson, a Miami real estate agent, said five clients who had been looking at units in older condo buildings asked for hefty discounts after the collapse, or abandoned the coast altogether and instead wanted to search farther inland.

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