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Florida tower collapse: Toll rises to 18 as latest victims include two children; Biden offers support

Miami-Dade police later identified the children as 10-year-old Lucia Guara and 4-year-old Emma Guara.

Published: 01st July 2021 10:04 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st July 2021 10:07 PM   |  A+A-

Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of people remain missing almost a week after it partially collapsed in Florida. (Photo | AP)

Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of people remain missing almost a week after it partially collapsed in Florida. (Photo | AP)

By Associated Press

FLORIDA: As more human remains emerged Wednesday from the rubble of the collapsed Florida condo tower, the dead this time included the first children, ages 4 and 10, a loss that the Miami-Dade mayor called “too great to bear.”

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava made the announcement nearly a week after the Florida building came crashing down. After some preliminary remarks at a media briefing, she took a deep breath to gather herself and stared down at her notes. She spoke haltingly and said the disclosure came with “great sorrow, real pain.”

“So any loss of life, especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event, is a tragedy," she said. But the loss of children was an even heavier burden.

Miami-Dade police later identified the children as 10-year-old Lucia Guara and 4-year-old Emma Guara. The remains of their father, Marcus Guara, 52, were pulled from the rubble Saturday and identified Monday. The girls and their mother, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, were recovered Wednesday.

Search crews going through the ruins found the remains of a total of six people Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 18. It was the highest one-day toll since the building collapsed last Thursday into a heap of broken concrete. The number of residents unaccounted for stands at 145.

Earlier in the day, crews searching for survivors built a ramp that should allow the use of heavier equipment, potentially accelerating the removal of concrete that “could lead to incredibly good news events,” the state fire marshal said.

ALSO READ | Report showed major damage before Florida condo collapse

Since the sudden collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South last week in Surfside, rescuers have been working to peel back layers of concrete on the pancaked building without disturbing the unstable pile of debris.

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members of those missing that the ramp allowed rescuers to use a crane on sections that were not previously accessible. He said that improves the chances of finding new pockets of space in the urgent search for survivors.

“We hope to start seeing some significant improvement in regards to the possibility of (finding) any voids that we cannot see," Jadallah said.

In an interview with Miami television station WSVN, state Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis described the ramp as “a Herculean effort” that would allow crews “to leverage massive equipment to remove mass pieces of concrete,” which could lead to good results.

Patronis told The Associated Press that the ramp will permit heavy equipment to get closer to areas where debris needs to be cleared. The new equipment includes a so-called nibbler, a massive machine that has a scissors-like tool at the end of a long arm to cut through concrete and rebar.

Officials have been concerned an underground parking garage could collapse under the weight of heavy equipment, so they decided to build the makeshift limestone ramp, Patronis said. He said dogs are used to check for survivors in the area where the machine works, and then the nibbler is sent in.

“So you can really make some serious rapid headway just because of the sheer hydraulic forces this thing can exert versus a human being with hand tools," Patronis said.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building's ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking" of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.

Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.

Rescuers still faced enormous obstacles as they spent a seventh day searching for survivors. The pancake collapse of the building has frustrated efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space.

Officials were also worried about the possibility of severe weather interfering with search efforts. Crews have already had to deal with intermittent bad weather that caused temporary delays in the work, and they are now keeping an eye on a potential tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said some of the resources in Surfside might have to be removed in case the storms hit any part of Florida. “'Tis the season and you’ve got to be ready,” he said.

The possibility of severe weather prompted state officials to ask the federal government for an additional search and rescue team. Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said the new team would be on hand if severe weather hits, allowing crews that have been working at the site for days to rotate out.

Authorities said it’s still a search-and-rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday.

President Biden offers support

US President Joe Biden on Thursday offered comfort to the grieving and federal support for the ongoing efforts to search for the missing and rebuild after last week's collapse of a high-rise condo building along the Florida coastline.

Biden, responding to what appeared to be the deadliest calamity of his young presidency, was to survey the devastation and meet with first responders hunting for survivors among the rubble in Surfside.

But underscoring the dangers still present in the search, work was halted before Biden arrived due to concerns about the stability of the section still standing.

Biden and his wife Jill arrived in Florida a week after the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South beachfront condominium killed at least 18 people and left 145 missing.

Hundreds of first responders and search-and-rescue personnel have been painstakingly searching the pancaked rubble for potential signs of life.

No one has been rescued since the first hours after the collapse.

"This is life and death," Biden said a briefing about the collapse.

"We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference."

The president said he believed the federal government has "the power to pick up 100% of the cost" of the search and cleanup and urged the local officials to turn to Washington for assistance.

"You all know it, because a lot of you have been through it as well," Biden said.

"There's gonna be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow. And so, we're not going anywhere."

 Biden was briefed on the situation with Florida Gov.

Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

The mayor saluted the efforts to cross party lines in a time of "an unprecedented devastating disaster" and added that the unified government and community response "is what gives us hope."

DeSantis, a rumoured Republican 2024 presidential candidate, said to Biden that the "cooperation has been great," declaring that the administration has "not only been supportive at the federal level, but we've had no bureaucracy.

As Biden pledged federal help, he touched DeSantis' hand to underscore the point.

Later, the president was expected to meet with first responders who have worked around the clock on a rescue effort that has stretched into its second week amid oppressive heat and humidity and frequent summer storms.

He was also expected to meet for several hours with family members of those affected by the collapse before delivering remarks Thursday afternoon.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden aimed to "offer up comfort and show unity" with his visit to the site.

Few public figures connect as powerfully on grief as Biden, who lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car collision and later an adult son to brain cancer.

In the first months of his term, he has drawn on that empathy to console those who have lost loved ones, including the more than 600,000 who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden has received regular updates on the building collapse.

He also sent FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to the area for a tour of the site earlier this week with DeSantis.

The White House emphasised that it was being careful to coordinate with officials on the ground to ensure that Biden's visit didn't do anything to distract from the search and rescue effort.

"They wanted us to come today," Jean-Pierre said.

Biden has supported an investigation into the cause of the collapse, and on Wednesday the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which sent a team of scientists and engineers to the site, launched an investigation.



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