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US: Rest of collapsed Florida apartment block demolished as storm nears

AFP/Florida
Filed on July 5, 2021 | Last updated on July 5, 2021 at 07.19 am

The confirmed death toll from the disaster is 24, with 121 people missing.


A controlled explosion brought down the unstable remains of the collapsed apartment block in Florida late Sunday ahead of a threatening tropical storm as rescuers prepare to resume searching for victims.

Video footage showed the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside, outside Miami, being demolished 10 days after most of the building collapsed in the early hours of June 24. The confirmed death toll from the disaster is 24, with 121 people missing.

The search for victims was halted on Saturday as demolition crews prepared to bring down the rest of the building ahead of the possible arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa early next week.

Most of the 12-story Champlain Towers South building collapsed in the early hours of June 24, sending up a huge cloud of dust and rattling Americans unprepared for such a deadly urban disaster.

Authorities have said the unstable remaining structure poses a threat to search and rescue teams still at the scene, though hopes of finding anyone alive are fast diminishing.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the demolition schedule at a press conference, saying the operation would use "small, strategically placed explosives."

"The demolition itself is confined to the immediate area around the building," she said.

"However, there is dust and other particles that are an unavoidable byproduct of all types of demolition and, as a precautionary measure, we're urging residents in the immediate vicinity to stay indoors."

Storm threat

With Tropical Storm Elsa rumbling northward through the Caribbean, authorities accelerated the demolition schedule.

Levine Cava said "bringing the building down in a controlled manner is critical to expanding" the search operation as teams have been unable to delve further due to the risk of further collapses.

President Joe Biden last week visited the scene and met grieving relatives and rescue workers, hailing their resilience and strength.

The cave-in sparked a massive search-and-rescue effort involving engineers and specialists from across the United States and as far afield as Mexico and Israel.

Survivors reported being awakened around 1:30 am (0530 GMT) Thursday by what sounded like cracks of thunder that shook their rooms.

"It was like an earthquake," Janette Aguero, who escaped from the tower's 11th floor with her family, told AFP.

Rescuers who arrived in the moments after the tower came down helped evacuate dozens of residents, and pulled one teenage boy alive from the rubble.

No other survivors have been found, despite deployment of sniffer dogs and cranes for lifting debris.

Experts are looking at possible pre-existing critical flaws in the building's structure.

A 2018 report released by city officials revealed fears of "major structural damage" in the complex, from the concrete slab under the pool deck to columns and beams in the parking garage.

In a letter to residents in April, Jean Wodnicki, chair of the condo association, described "accelerating" damage to the 40-year-old building since then, and repairs had been set to begin soon.

Several cases of Covid-19 had been found among searchers. One team was pulled out and medical protocols put in place to isolate anyone affected.





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