SURFSIDE, Fla. – The death toll in the condominium collapse rose to 27 on Monday with the discovery of three more bodies as the desperate search resumed hours after the remaining sections of the building were brought down by controlled implosion.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said 118 people remained missing since the Champlain Towers South collapsed June 24. Authorities took down the remaining sections of the building Sunday, concerned that winds from approaching Tropical Storm Elsa would topple the structure and further endanger those hunting for survivors.
"Since first responders were able to resume their work on the collapse, we have very sadly recovered three additional victims," Levine Cava said Monday.
She said part of the initial pile of rubble had been holding up the remaining building. Crews had also avoided much of the search area in the shadow of the still-standing portion because of the fear of falling debris and the instability of the building.
"Only dust landed on the existing pile," she said.
The complex perched on the ocean's edge has been reduced to a jagged pile of debris at least two stories tall, topped by a jumble of air conditioners, twisted rebar and snapped concrete columns. When the implosion was completed, heavy equipment roared at the scene. Dump trucks hauling away hundreds of tons of debris.
Florida condo building: Controlled explosions take down what was left of collapsed condo
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett had labeled Tropical Storm Elsa’s trek toward Florida “a blessing in disguise” because it accelerated the demolition plan, which was initially forecast to take weeks. He also said emergency officials, rather than Elsa’s gusts, were able to control the direction the structure falls to the ground.
“It’s eliminated a looming threat, a dangerous threat for our rescue workers,” he said.
The most recent forecasts have the storm's primary impact on the state's Gulf Coast, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will be signing a revised executive order likely removing Miami-Dade from those counties under a state of emergency. Still, heavy rain and wind are in the forecast. And DeSantis said the newly accessible area include master bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping when the building collapsed.
“We will be able to access every part of that pile, which they hadn’t been able to do up to this point,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s going to move the pace. I think the momentum is very strong.”
Levine Cava said the investigation into the cause of the collapse is underway. And she declined to change the effort from search and rescue to recovery.
“The world is mourning those who lost their loved ones and those who are waiting for news," Levine Cava said. "My hearts go out to all of the families that have had this tragedy.”
She stressed that Miami-Dade Fire Rescue conducted three full sweeps of the building searching for pets before taking the building down. Firefighters searched in closets and under beds. Drones were even deployed with thermal-imaging technology.
“We went truly to great lengths to take every step that we could, at great risk to our first responders, (to ensure no pets) were left in the building prior to demolition," she said.
Surfside condo collapse: Demolition means a more complete search mission begins
An agonizing decision looms: How long to search for survivors?
At about 10:15 p.m. Sunday, as fireworks displays exploded across the nation, police cruisers with loudspeakers drove through the shelter-in-place zone surrounding the condominium site here, advising all residents to remain inside their homes. Minutes later, three horns in succession were sounded. About a minute later, there was the sound of loud cracking explosives. And then, as planned, the building collapsed in on itself.
Dan Stankovic, who lives near the site, washed a layer of dust from his Porsche on Monday. He said he knew people who lived in the collapsed building – and a couple of people who are believed to remain in the rubble.
“You have all these personal belongings, memories, pictures, all that stuff – gone," he said. "And these people that survived, that managed to get out, are going to be devastated, piecing their lives back together."
Eric Morales hosed off a white dust coating from his Ford F-250 truck before heading to work as a wastewater contractor. He said he has lived within view of Champlain Towers South for 15 years.
“Oh my God, it’s devastating. There’s no words for it. What can you say?” Morales said. “It’s sad. And I unfortunately can’t unplug from it because it’s right here in front of the house. I have to deal with it every day."
Contributing: The Associated Press
'It would take a miracle': Victims' families, survivors lose hope as rescue efforts stall in Surfside building collapse
Search and rescue crews work on top of the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Florida July 5, 2021 after the remaining portions of the collapsed condo was leveled by controlled implosion Sunday night.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Miami condo collapse demolition: 3 more bodies found, death toll at 27