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Death toll up to 32 in Miami Beach-area condo building collapse

The confirmed death toll in the partial collapse of a Miami Beach-area condo building rose to 32 on Tuesday, the 13th day of an ongoing search for victims.

Four additional bodies were recovered overnight, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during the morning news briefing. Twenty-six of the victims have been identified, she said.

While 113 people remain “potentially unaccounted for,” only 70 of those people are confirmed to have been in Champlain Towers South in Surfside when half of it crumbled in the early morning of June 24, Levine Cava said.

The number of accounted for people, which now stands at 191, and unaccounted for people has fluctuated as detectives work to audit a list of those reported missing since the collapse.

Levine Cava said reaching some family members who originally called to report someone missing has become a challenge, making “it very difficult to determine whether an individual was in fact in the building.”

She urged family members to reach back out with more information, if possible.

Rescue workers move a stretcher containing recovered remains at the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building, in Surfside, Fla., on July 5, 2021.Lynne Sladky / AP

Search efforts were paused briefly overnight due to lightning. Officials continue to monitor Tropical Storm Elsa.

“We do continue to expect gusts and strong showers today,” Levine Cava said.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the wind was already affecting large cranes hauling heavy debris.

While the wind is a “challenge they’re attempting to work around right now,” Burkett said for the most part, crews “are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, nonstop” in an effort to pull every victim out of the pile that was once a 12-story building.

He said he was working with Levine Cava to organize family visits to the site.

The standing portion of the 40-year-old building was demolished about 10:30 p.m. Sunday. That has allowed search and rescue teams to explore more of the debris without concerns that the unstable building would collapse on the crews, Levine Cava said.

The structure was too unstable for crews to work the debris pile, causing delays and intermittent pauses in work.

Search and rescue teams were able to go back to work within 20 minutes of the demolition, with heavy equipment now permitted to enter the site.

The collapse, the cause of which remains under investigation, has brought higher scrutiny of buildings in South Florida. Miami-area officials have begun a review of the structural integrity of all city condo high-rises above five stories.

As part of the audit, a North Miami condominium complex was evacuated Friday.

Meanwhile, a “deep-dive” inspection of sister building Champlain Towers North, which was built around the same time as the south building by the same developer and likely with the same materials, was underway, Burkett said.

Residents of that building have been offered alternative housing options should they choose to leave.

“We have deep concerns about that building especially since we don’t know what has happened here,” Burkett said.

Documents released by officials revealed previous concerns about the structural integrity of Champlain Towers South. The findings from an engineering consultant, Frank Morabito, showed that there was “abundant cracking” and crumbling in the underground parking garage of the building, according to a 2018 report.

Morabito recommended that concrete slabs, which were “showing distress” by the entrance and the pool deck, “be removed and replaced in their entirety.” He said the concrete deterioration should “be repaired in a timely fashion.”

The pool was swallowed into a massive sinkhole shortly before the collapse, Cassondra “Cassie” Billedeau-Stratton, who remains missing, told her husband on the phone before her line went dead.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology as well as local agencies are working together to investigate what caused half the building to flatten.

The findings will prompt “policy changes at every level,” Levine Cava said, “to ensure that this can never ever happen again.”

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