The discovery of four more victims in the rubble of a collapsed Florida condominium building raised the death toll to 32, officials said Tuesday as a ramped-up search effort faced new threats from severe weather with Tropical Storm Elsa.
Lightning forced rescuers to pause their work for two hours early Tuesday, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said. And stiff winds of 20 mph (32 kph) with stronger gusts hampered efforts to move heavy debris with cranes, officials said at a morning news conference.
“Active search and rescue continued throughout the night, and these teams continue through extremely adverse and challenging conditions,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters. “Through the rain and through the wind they have continued searching.”
Up to 113 people remain unaccounted for, though only 70 of those are confirmed to have been inside the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside when it collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24, she said.
At the disaster site Tuesday morning, power saws and backhoes could be heard as workers in yellow helmets and blue jumpsuits searched the rubble for a 13th day. Gray clouds from Elsa’s outer bands swirled above.
The storm’s worst weather was expected to bypass Surfside and neighbouring Miami as Elsa strengthened before making landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend and crossing northern Florida. Heavy rain from the storm was still possible.
Search crews can work through rain, but lightning from unrelated thunderstorms has forced them to pause at times, and a garage area in the rubble has filled with water, officials said.
“We’re actively searching as aggressively as we can,” Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said.
Crews have removed 112 metric tonnes of debris from the collapse site. As search crews have pulled more bodies from the rubble, they have detected no new signs of survivors, Cominsky said.
“We are not seeing anything positive,” he said.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse.
Workers have been freed to search a broader area since the unstable remaining portion of the condo building was demolished Sunday amid fears that the structure could fall. Officials said the demolition gave rescuers access to previously inaccessible places, including bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping at the time of the disaster.
While officials are still calling their efforts a search and rescue operation, Cava said families of those still missing are preparing for news of “tragic loss.”
“I think everybody will be ready when it’s time to move to the next phase,” the mayor said.