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Death toll in Florida condo building collapse rises to 95

Death toll in Florida condo building collapse rises to 95

The death toll in the Miami-area condominium building collapse has climbed to 95 as crews worked for a 20th day to find victims in the rubbleBy BOBBY CAINA CALVAN Associated PressJuly 13, 2021, 7:26 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — Exhausted crews neared the end of their search for victims of a Miami-area condominium tower collapse Tuesday as the death toll reached 95 with just a handful of people still unaccounted for.Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference that the number of people considered missing has dwindled as authorities work to identify everyone connected to the building. The mayor said 14 people remain unaccounted for, which includes 10 victims whose bodies have been recovered but not yet identified — leaving potentially four more victims to be found.“It’s a scientific, methodical process to identify human remains. As we’ve said, this work is becoming more difficult with the passage of time,” Levine Cava said, adding that it is “truly a fluid situation.”Of the 14 people considered not accounted for, the mayor said 12 are the subject of missing persons reports and detectives are trying to verify information about the other two.Twenty days after the disaster, Levine Cava said crews had removed 18 million pounds (8 million kilograms) of rubble from the site. Search crews were taking great care to identify and preserve any personal property recovered, the mayor added.“They have given of their heart and soul,” Levine Cava said of the crews that have worked around the clock for nearly three weeks. “We are totally walking among superheroes.”It will take much longer for experts to figure out what caused the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium to fall into a tangled heap of concrete and steel on June 24. The building was set for its four-decade recertification review when it collapsed.Engineers and others investigating the cause of the collapse have been identifying key pieces of the 40-year-old building to determine what happened, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.“We’re looking at how the building lines up with what the plans say,” he said.The search for answers includes an engineer hired by the town of Surfside, a team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, experts hired by lawyers representing families and others.Part of the investigation will include what decisions were made by government building officials and the condominium board, which knew of serious structural problems with the tower as early as fall 2018. Some residents were reluctant to pay assessments in the tens of thousands of dollars for the repairs, leading to acrimonious board meetings.There is also concern about the stability of Champlain Towers North, a nearly identical building next door built at the same time and by the same developer as its doomed sister structure. So far, no mandatory evacuation order has been given for that building.“If there were a need to make any changes, they would,” Levine Cava said of the north tower.Discussions continue about what to do with the collapse site with families of the victims, Burkett said. Some residents who escaped the disaster want the tower rebuilt so they can move back in. Others want some kind of memorial site.“We want the families to tell us what they want to see,” Burkett said. “I’m looking forward to having those discussions.”—————Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg and Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this story.———The spelling of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s name has been corrected in the sixth paragraph.

Collapsed condo: Weighing how to honor dead at 'holy site'

Collapsed condo: Weighing how to honor dead at 'holy site'

Even as crews are continuing their search for the last remaining souls that perished in the collapse of condominium town in Surfside, Florida, questions are swirling across the community about what to do with the propertyBy BOBBY CAINA CALVAN Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 9:02 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — As crews keep searching for the last missing remains of the souls who perished in their collapsing beachfront condos nearly three weeks ago, the question is swirling across the ruins of the Champlain Towers South: What will become of the ground that bears so much pain?“There’s a lot of emotion. People talk about it as a holy site,” said Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez. “People want some sort of connection with their family member.”Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett suggested Monday that with scores of families still processing their losses, it’s too soon to come up with anything specific. But he said the tragedy — now with 94 people confirmed dead and 22 others still missing — compels that something be placed on the site to remember them.“I think the first thing we need to do is get the families situated, so they have a semblance of their life back — get them to the point where they aren’t burdened by the grief and emotion that they’re going through right now,” Burkett said.“It’s obvious that this has become much more than a collapsed building site,” the mayor said. “It has become a holy site.”An impromptu memorial sprung up along a nearby tennis court, soon after the collapse. Its fence is now festooned with drying bouquets and fading photographs of those confirmed dead and those yet to be found. Crosses and candles line the street, and stars of David are interspersed throughout the scene. There are teddy bears, toys, shoes — all in tribute to the scores of victims.Within the rubble, personal items are being collected and will eventually be returned to their owners or next of kin. The twisted steel rebar and shards of concrete that have been hauled away, under the escort of police, are being kept in storage for investigators who are gathering clues as to what made 12 stories plunge to the ground on June 24.In time, all of it will be cleared away. What then?Memorials are not unusual after a tragedy, of course. Monuments were erected at the site of the World Trade Center after its twin towers were felled by terrorists, as was a memorial in Oklahoma City. After 1989’s Loma Prieta Earthquake in Northern California, memorials popped up across the San Francisco Bay Area.It’s a human act to want to remember, said Dovy Ainsworth, whose parents, Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth, died in the Surfside tragedy.“It provides comfort for the families and community while also serving as a reminder ensuring it never happens again,” Ainsworth said, suggesting that it might be inappropriate to rebuild because “so many lost their lives.”Soraya Cohen, the wife of Brad Cohen, who is unaccounted for, wants the government to step in to buy the property so it can be preserved as a memorial. She said his remains are now part of what she and others call hallowed ground.“The earth is soaked with the blood and tissue and other parts of the body of our loved ones, and to think that this area will just be looked at as a commercial development opportunity is quite frankly sickening,” she said. “It is a sacred cemetery for Jewish and non-Jewish people alike, because they died there together in a horrible way.”Owners of the demolished complex and its board of directors have yet to formally weigh in on the discussion. Survivors and family members are already suing for civil damages. The beachfront property sits atop valued real estate, which could complicate how things proceed.“It seems indelicate and insensitive to talk about the use of the property other than a memorial,” said state Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat whose district includes Surfside. “It’s an incredibly complicated balance to be respectful and honor the memory of those we’ve lost, while also being diligent to ensure that we help people rebuild their lives (and) to get the greatest value for their homes.”Authorities on Monday said they are increasing security along the perimeter to preserve potential evidence and to keep people off the property, however well-intentioned their interests might be, as they continue the search for those unaccounted for.“This is one of those situations where you have the connections of the investigation and a lot of hurt, a lot of pain,” said Ramirez, the police director.

Death toll at Miami-area condo collapse site climbs to 94

Death toll at Miami-area condo collapse site climbs to 94

The death toll in the Miami-area condominium collapse has climbed to 94By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 5:31 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMIAMI — The death toll in the Miami-area condominium collapse climbed to 94 Monday as officials planned to step up security at the site to make sure the personal possessions of the victims are preserved for their families.Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said 22 people remain unaccounted for in the June 24 collapse of Champlain Towers South, an oceanside condo building in Surfside. Levine Cava said 83 of the victims have been identified but “the process of making identifications has been made more difficult as time goes on.”Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said officials have decided to increase security around the debris pile to ensure that the site is preserved. Only authorized personnel will be allowed.“It’s obvious that this has become much more than a collapsed building site,” Burkett said. “It has become a holy site.”Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo Ramirez III said there has been “no criminality” at the site, but officials want to make sure the area is secure so crews can continue to preserve personal items found in the rubble.“As families are being notified about their family members, the ask is always about property. People want some sort of connection to their family member, so it’s very important that our process that we have in place continues to flow uninterrupted,” Ramirez said during a morning news conference.“It’s just part of the process. This is a long, painful, hurtful process,” he said.Burkett said work crews recently found a business card for an artist and then found several paintings they carefully pulled out of the debris pile to preserve for family members.Levine Cava also addressed the announcement Sunday that a vaccinated Miami-Dade county commissioner who helped other local officials in Surfside has tested positive for COVID-19. The news release from Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz said he and his chief of staff, Isidoro Lopez, who also received a vaccine against COVID-19, came down with flu-like symptoms earlier in the day and later tested positive for the virus.Levine Cava said officials who were in close proximity to Diaz and Lopez have been tested and all have come back negative. Levine Cava and other officials who spoke at Monday’s news conference did not wear face masks.Diaz had participated in news conferences and meetings with other officials in Surfside, the Miami Herald reported.“Breakthrough” infections — fully vaccinated individuals who contract the coronavirus — do happen, although they are very rare. An Associated Press analysis of government data in May showed only about 1% of such cases resulted in hospitalization or death. The analysis suggested that nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. recently have been in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths could approach zero if every eligible person gets the vaccine.Last week, Florida health officials reported an increase in COVID-19 cases and a higher positive test rate compared with other recent weeks.

Search at collapse site revives memories of past tragedies

Search at collapse site revives memories of past tragedies

SURFSIDE, Fla. — The mangled concrete and twisted rebar from the collapsed high-rise near Miami triggered flashbacks for retired Oklahoma City Fire Chief Greg Marrs, who spent weeks with his crew digging through the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in 1995.From afar, Marrs empathized with the Florida teams searching the debris that was once the 12-story Champlain Tower South condominium complex. The scenes in Surfside brought back memories of the urgent search for survivors after the Oklahoma City bombing, followed by the heartbreak of pulling out nothing but bodies, he said.It was the same for other rescuers who responded to past tragedies. They say the crews in Surfside will carry on with the same commitment and care, even though authorities this past week officially gave up on finding any survivors.Joseph Pfeifer, former counterterrorism and emergency preparedness chief for the New York Fire Department, was one of the first commanders on the scene after the World Trade Center towers came down in 2001. He said the Florida crews will preserve any human remains and separate any building pieces that provide clues to the cause of the collapse.“They are literally going to peel off every layer. They will clean the site right to the very last piece,” said Pfeifer, who teaches crisis leadership at Harvard and Columbia universities and has a 9/11 memoir, “Ordinary Heroes,” set for publication Sept. 7.When Marrs first saw photos of the Florida collapse, he said, the images were reminiscent of the destruction at the federal building after a truck filled with explosives was detonated outside. The blast killed 168 people.In the aftermath, the shells of both buildings were still standing, or teetering, above mounds of broken concrete and twisted metal, with the interiors exposed.The confirmed death toll from the tragedy in South Florida stood Saturday at 86, with another 43 people still missing. Authorities concluded that there was “no chance of life” in the remaining rubble, but the pressure has not waned for the crews to find victims so families can lay their loved ones to rest.Recalling his own experience, Marrs was sure the Florida crews would be just as respectful in searching for the dead as they had been in looking for the living.“They’re certainly not going in there with bulldozers and moving that stuff out, you know, not caring about whether they run across a body or not — that’s not something that’s even considered,” Marrs said.The shift from a rescue mission to a recovery effort does not ease the urgency, Marrs said.“They’re just doing it in a way that is more cautious” and safer because there is no longer a race against time, he said. Crews are likely being encouraged to take fewer risks.Pfeifer agreed: “It’s a difficult task. First responders know this is something very important to the families. They want to do the job even though it’s a difficult job.”Sometimes no identifiable remains are found. About 40% of the more than 2,600 people killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 still have not been physically identified, Pfeifer said.Crews in Florida, using their hands with help from heavy machinery, have removed 13 million pounds of concrete and debris from the site.Heavier equipment has rolled in, making it easier to remove layers of debris, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said.“We are expecting the progress to move at a faster pace with our recovery efforts,” Cominsky said. He has said that recovering all the victims could take weeks.Retired Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Dave Downey was part of a crew from South Florida that was dispatched to help in Oklahoma City — perhaps crossing paths with Marrs. He also rushed to the World Trade Center after terrorists attacked.“Every disaster is different. Every disaster has its unique wrinkle,” Downey said.For the past two weeks, Downey has been in Surfside to help coordinate the rescue mission and now the recovery operation.“What happens now is that you change your mindset,” Downey said, describing the transition from seeking survivors to “knowing that we’re going to bring closure to these families, but not in a positive way that we had all hoped.”“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to work as hard as we can,” he said.———Associated Press Writer Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this story.

Artist uses his brush to turn Surfside's pain into hope

Artist uses his brush to turn Surfside's pain into hope

A Dallas artist was turned away last month when he offered to help dig for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed condo tower near MiamiBy BOBBY CAINA CALVAN Associated PressJuly 9, 2021, 11:23 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — Roberto Marquez flew from Dallas to Miami nearly two weeks ago, hoping to add his hands to those digging through the rubble of a fallen South Florida condo building. But once there, the muralist was disappointed to hear that his help was appreciated but not needed.An epic search for victims was already underway by an army of first responders, initially for survivors and now for bodies. As of Friday, at least 79 people had been confirmed dead and dozens remained missing.Still, the 59-year-old artist felt compelled to contribute to the cause, something that might uplift the Surfside community amid so much anguish. That’s when he decided he would use his art to help translate pain into hope and resilience.“What happened is a tragedy,” Marquez said Friday, as he brushed gray paint onto a canvass. “There is no way to get around this tragedy … but one thing we can grab on, I say, is hope.”His hands, one gripping a paintbrush, swept across a pair of giant canvasses he hung on a fence near the collapsed building that has become an impromptu memorial.Photos of those who have perished and those who remain missing hang from the fence among wilting bouquets and above a growing collection of items — candles, stuffed animals, a football and even shoes — that people have left to honor and remember the victims.In that memorial, Marquez sees a community in pain. Now and then, people come by to walk along the collection of memories. He sometimes sees people crying.He hopes his huge work of art — each of the two panels measures 8 feet (2.4 meters) high and nearly 12 feet (3.6 meters) wide — will evoke other sentiments and serve as a tribute to the victims and for the grieving community.Marquez said the painting was inspired by master cubists like Pablo Picasso and his masterpiece “Guernica,” which depicted a town in rubble after it was bombed during the Spanish Civil War.On one side of Marquez’s cubist painting, a first responder reaches upward for a victim. A fireman’s ladder symbolizes the crews risking their lives in their attempt to save others. There’s a woman being pulled out of the rubble. (She did not survive, Marquez explains.) A priest has his arms stretched out into the heavens, one hand clutching a cross.And then there are the clocks, one fixed to 1:30 a.m., the moment when Champlain Towers South collapsed into rubble and dust on June 24.Marquez at first thought about removing a dove — a symbol he used to depict the survivors waiting to be found — when officials announced earlier in the week that there was no hope anyone would be found alive. But upon reflection, he still thought it belonged.“The story is here, and I’m trying to bring it out,” he said. His painting uses broad brushstrokes, figuratively, and he wants to leave it to the viewer to interpret the work — and paint in their own details as they view the massive artwork.“Everyone is going to have their own different feelings,” Marquez said.When the painting is done, perhaps over the weekend, he plans to auction it off and donate the proceeds to a fund for victims.His painting is a gift to the city, he said.“It doesn’t belong to me,” he said. “I’m making it, but it’s for the victims and for the town.”—————AP journalist Stacey Plaisance in Sunrise, Florida, contributed to this story.

Artist uses his brush to turn Surfside's pain into hope

Artist uses his brush to turn Surfside's pain into hope

A Dallas artist was turned away last month when he offered to help dig for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed condo tower near MiamiBy BOBBY CAINA CALVAN Associated PressJuly 10, 2021, 12:35 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — Roberto Marquez flew from Dallas to Miami nearly two weeks ago, hoping to add his hands to those digging through the rubble of a fallen South Florida condo building. But once there, the muralist was disappointed to hear that his help was appreciated but not needed.An epic search for victims was already underway by an army of first responders, initially for survivors and now for bodies. As of Friday, at least 79 people had been confirmed dead and dozens remained missing.Still, the 59-year-old artist felt compelled to contribute to the cause, something that might uplift the Surfside community amid so much anguish. That’s when he decided he would use his art to help translate pain into hope and resilience.“What happened is a tragedy,” Marquez said Friday, as he brushed gray paint onto a canvass. “There is no way to get around this tragedy … but one thing we can grab on, I say, is hope.”His hands, one gripping a paintbrush, swept across a pair of giant canvasses he hung on a fence near the collapsed building that has become an impromptu memorial.Photos of those who have perished and those who remain missing hang from the fence among wilting bouquets and above a growing collection of items — candles, stuffed animals, a football and even shoes — that people have left to honor and remember the victims.In that memorial, Marquez sees a community in pain. Now and then, people come by to walk along the collection of memories. He sometimes sees people crying.He hopes his huge work of art — each of the two panels measures 8 feet (2.4 meters) high and nearly 12 feet (3.6 meters) wide — will evoke other sentiments and serve as a tribute to the victims and for the grieving community.Marquez said the painting was inspired by master cubists like Pablo Picasso and his masterpiece “Guernica,” which depicted a town in rubble after it was bombed during the Spanish Civil War.On one side of Marquez’s cubist painting, a first responder reaches upward for a victim. A fireman’s ladder symbolizes the crews risking their lives in their attempt to save others. There’s a woman being pulled out of the rubble. (She did not survive, Marquez explains.) A priest has his arms stretched out into the heavens, one hand clutching a cross.And then there are the clocks, one fixed to 1:30 a.m., the moment when Champlain Towers South collapsed into rubble and dust on June 24.Marquez at first thought about removing a dove — a symbol he used to depict the survivors waiting to be found — when officials announced earlier in the week that there was no hope anyone would be found alive. But upon reflection, he still thought it belonged.“The story is here, and I’m trying to bring it out,” he said. His painting uses broad brushstrokes, figuratively, and he wants to leave it to the viewer to interpret the work — and paint in their own details as they view the massive artwork.“Everyone is going to have their own different feelings,” Marquez said.When the painting is done, perhaps over the weekend, he plans to auction it off and donate the proceeds to a fund for victims.His painting is a gift to the city, he said.“It doesn’t belong to me,” he said. “I’m making it, but it’s for the victims and for the town.”—————AP journalist Stacey Plaisance in Surfside, Florida, contributed to this story.

Mayor: Death toll in Florida condo collapse now 78

Mayor: Death toll in Florida condo collapse now 78

The death toll in the Florida condominium collapse has risen to 79 after 14 additional victims were pulled out of the rubbleBy BOBBY CAINA CALVAN Associated PressJuly 9, 2021, 9:43 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — The death toll in the collapse of a Miami-area condo building rose to 79 on Friday, a number the mayor called “heartbreaking” as recovery workers toiled for a 16th day to find victims in the rubble. Another 61 people remain unaccounted for.Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the work to recover victims was “moving forward with great urgency” in order to bring closure to the families of victims who have spent an agonizing two weeks waiting for news.“This is a staggering and heartbreaking number that affects all of us very deeply,” Levine Cava said of the latest death toll.“All those who have passed … are leaving behind loved ones. They’re leaving behind devastated families. The magnitude of this tragedy is growing each and every day,” she said.Rescue workers and emergency support teams from Florida and several other states have labored in 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day at the site of the devastated beachfront condominium in Surfside — physically and emotionally taxing work performed amid oppressive heat and in dangerous conditions.“We know that there will be long-term impacts for the teams on the front line,” Levine Cava said. “They have given so much of themselves in these first two weeks.”Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said taking care of the mental health and well-being of the first responders is a priority. He said it is critical that the first responders communicate with each other. “It’s important for us to talk,” he said.To that end, Levine Cava said officials have added peer support personnel at the fire stations.No one has been found alive since the first hours after a large section of the 12-story Champlain Towers South came crashing down on June 24.Hope of finding survivors was briefly rekindled after workers demolished the remainder of the building Sunday night, allowing access to new areas of debris. Some voids where survivors could have been trapped did exist, mostly in the basement and the parking garage, but no one was found alive. Instead, teams recovered more than a dozen additional victims.On Wednesday, workers shifted their mission from search and rescue to recovery after concluding that there was “no chance of life” in the rubble.Levine Cava said the deaths of so many is “an aching hole in the center of this close-knit family here in Surfside.”On Thursday, Paraguay’s foreign minister said in a radio report that the body of the sister of that country’s first lady was among those found. Several Latin American citizens were reported in the building when it collapsed. Rescue workers now focused on finding remains instead of survivors have pledged to keep up their search for victims until they clear all the debris at the site.State and local officials have pledged financial assistance to families of the victims, as well as to residents of the building who survived but lost all their possessions. Meanwhile, authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse. And at least six lawsuits have been filed by families.

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