(CNN) – Rescue teams have arrived in the coastal city of Surfside, Florida, as families await news of their loved ones after the collapse of a condo building Thursday.
At least nine people died, 152 are missing and 134 were accounted for in the Champlain Towers South collapse Sunday night, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference.
The disappeared come from at least nine countries, the majority from Latin American countries, as well as from multiple religious communities.
Israeli rescuers have arrived in the coastal city to assist local, state and federal agencies in their search efforts. Rescuers from Mexico are expected to arrive this Monday. Over the weekend, crews were able to dig trenches, contain a deep-rooted fire and excavate at the collapse site to remove victims while crews on the ground used dogs, sonars and heavy equipment to locate the missing.
On Sunday, relatives were taken by bus from the reunification center to the site of the collapse to pay their respects and witness the efforts that rescuers are making to find their relatives.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on the Newsroom show that he will continue to support search and rescue operations until everyone is pulled from the rubble. I hope there are miracles. I am expecting many miracles, “he said.
Meanwhile, the collapse has prompted other cities to reconsider their certification and recertification processes, with one city less than miles from the collapse beginning new inspections on Monday.
The victims of the collapsed building
So far, at least nine people have been confirmed dead after the collapse, eight of them identified by authorities as of Sunday night.
The first victim was identified Friday as 54-year-old Stacie Fang. She is the mother of Jonah Handler, the boy who was pulled alive from the rubble, his family said in a statement.
“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” said the family. “The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much-needed source of strength during this devastating time.”
Authorities identified three more victims Saturday as Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79, and Manuel LaFont, 54.
On Sunday they released the identities of four more victims: Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermúdez, 26 years old; Anna Ortiz, 46 years old; and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74. One victim has not yet been identified by the authorities.
“The process of identifying these victims is very difficult,” Levine Cava said Saturday. “We are going to depend on DNA tests. And that’s why we’ve already been collecting DNA samples from family members, so everyone participated and provided DNA to help us with the research.
“This allows us to do rapid DNA testing on site to detect bodies,” he explained.
But the wait becomes even more excruciating for some, as burials, traditionally done a few days after death in Jewish tradition, cannot occur until the dead are recovered. The Jewish Federation of Greater Miami volunteered to help community members organize funeral and burial services.
Latin American missing
31 people from six Latin American countries are missing, according to authorities.
Argentina: 9 missing.
Paraguay: 6 missing.
Colombia: 6 missing.
Venezuela: 6 missing.
Uruguay: 3 missing.
Chile: a disappeared person.
Search and rescue teams
Rescue teams from other countries are traveling to Florida to assist locals with rescue operations as the scene continues to be a challenging situation.
A team of 10 rescuers from Israel arrived Sunday morning, Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told CNN.
They went to the scene of the collapse and “were at the scene most of the day,” Guthrie said.
Burkett said a rescue team from Mexico is expected to arrive on Monday.
Crews have been working non-stop since the collapse early Thursday morning, and rescuers changed shifts as weather and fires complicated their efforts.
Smoke from a deep fire made the first days of the rescue operation difficult, as visibility was poor and temperatures high, according to Burkett.
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky called conditions at the site “horrible.”
«It is difficult to describe. We don’t have the gaps we expect, ”Cominsky said Sunday. We’re still looking. So that’s what I mean by horrible. It’s just a difficult, difficult situation.
Levine Cava said rescuers are using a grid search approach in the debris pile and continue to use sonar, cameras and K9 assets.
The problem is not resources, but luck, according to Burkett.
“We have a full team of highly experienced search and rescue people. We have waves of them going over that pile of rubble right now, ”Burkett told CNN on Sunday.
“We have everything we need and more, we just need a little luck and we did,” he explained.
“We were having the rains, we were having the fire. Both have decreased and now he is 100% focused on getting people out of there, ”Burkett said. “We are doing exactly that. We have armies ready to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It won’t stop until we get everyone out.
The structural report showed major problems in 2018
While rescuers are continuing their efforts at the scene of the collapse, new details are emerging about the integrity of the structure noted in an engineering report more than two years ago.
A 2018 report completed by Morabito Consultants, a structural engineering firm, “detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete,” a statement from the firm said Saturday.
The group said it provided a budget to “make extensive and necessary repairs” to the condo association.
The report did not indicate whether the structure was at risk of collapse.
Morabito was rehired by the condo association in June 2020 for the building’s 40-year repair and restoration process, according to the statement.
At the time of the collapse, roof repairs were underway, but concrete restoration had not begun, the firm said, adding that it “exclusively provides” engineering consulting services and does not provide construction-related services.
“We are deeply concerned about the collapse of this building and we are working closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed. As we do so, we also continue to pray for all those affected by this tragic event, ”the firm said in the statement.
According to an NPR report, Rosendo Prieto, who was working as a city construction official at the time, assured residents of Champlain Towers South that his building was “in very good condition” in a November 2018 meeting. NPR quoted the minutes of the meeting you obtained.
Two days before the meeting, Mara Chouela, a member of the condominium board, sent a copy of a structural engineer report to Prieto that warned of “significant structural damage,” according to an email released by the city on Saturday.
“The report of the structural engineer was reviewed by Mr. Prieto,” said the minutes cited by NPR, in an apparent reference to the 2018 report of the structural engineer Morabito Consultants. “It appears that the building is in very good condition,” says the minutes, according to NPR.
Prieto no longer works for Surfside and is currently serving as an interim construction official for Doral, another city in Miami-Dade County, according to the Doral website and a county document. Prieto has not responded to requests for comment from CNN.
Residents expressed concern about tremors during construction of a nearby building
Eliana Salzhauer, one of three Surfside, Florida city commissioners, told CNN Sunday night that survivors of the collapse she found have said they felt shaking during the construction of a nearby building in recent years.
Salzhauer said some of the survivors told him they were upset by the shaking of their building that occurred while a skyscraper was being built next door. They told him there were tremors, cracks and water leaks in the garage, he said.
“They were very traumatized and shocked,” Salzhauer said, adding that he heard people say that the building “shook all the time” during construction.
Salzhauer also said that the 2018 report completed by structural engineers was alarming.
“In retrospect, reading that report is very damning. If you read that report, you say, ‘Oh my God. How could they not realize this? ‘”Salzhauer said.
Magaly Ramsey, daughter of one of the missing, Magaly Delgado, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Saturday that her mother had been concerned about tremors at nearby construction.
“When the other adjoining building was being built, which is relatively new, he complained about a lot of tremors and things that were being done to the other building, that he sometimes worried about what might be happening in his building.” Ramsey explained.
Delgado was not the only one who expressed concern. In an email to Prieto in 2019, Chouela, a board member for the condo, said he was concerned that nearby construction was “digging too close to our property.”
“We have concerns regarding the structure of our building,” said Chouela.
Local leaders reviewing construction protocols
The deadly collapse prompted nearby cities and towns to review their building recertification protocols.
Less than 10 kilometers north of Surfside, the city of Sunny Isles Beach will begin dispatching teams to inspect buildings on Monday after announcing Saturday that they would modify the existing process for building recertification for 40 years, Deputy Mayor Larisa Svechin told CNN.
“The more residents see what we are doing, the better it is for everyone,” Svechin explained.
On Friday, the city of Miami sent a letter urging buildings that are more than six stories tall and more than 40 years old to get an inspection from a qualified structural engineer, Stephanie Severino, Miami’s director of communication, told CNN. They are asked to respond within 45 days with any possible structural concerns.
Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer told CNN in an email Sunday that his city is creating “stricter standards for building certifications” following the Surfside collapse.
“Our building staff have been working with other jurisdictions to determine best practices,” Singer said in the email. “Several of our condos have been working on comprehensive restorations. We can look forward to more from these efforts and further steps to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents.
– CNN’s Brian Todd, Amanda Watts, Gregory Lemos, Ryan Young, Bonney Kapp, Carolyn Sung, Keith Allen, Chuck Johnston, Sara Weisfeldt, Rosa Flores, Pamela Kirkland, Isabel Rosales, Denise Royal, Casey Tolan, and Roxanne Garcia contributed to this report.