Search and rescue workers on Wednesday recovered 10 more bodies from the rubble of an apartment block outside Miami that collapsed last month, bringing the death toll to 46, as hopes faded that any of the 94 people still unaccounted for would be found alive.
The effort to locate survivors of the Champlain Towers South building collapse continued in warm, dry conditions with the threat from Tropical Storm Elsa, battering the opposite side of Florida, having receded.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a briefing that in addition to the 46 confirmed dead, 94 others who may have been inside the building in Surfside when it partially collapsed on June 24 were still unaccounted for.
Levine Cava, who shed tears as she repeated her remarks in Spanish, said the rescue effort had been made easier by the planned demolition on Sunday night of the half of the building that had remained standing.
“The team continues to make progress in the areas of the pile that was inaccessible prior to the demolition,” Levine Cava said.
As she spoke, a new shift of workers walked by in small groups, wearing clean uniforms and not sharing a word with each other, while a group leaving the rubble pile looked exhausted and were drenched in sweat.
Though local officials say they have not given up hope of finding survivors, no one has been discovered alive in the rubble since the first few hours after the building came down in the early hours of June 24 while many of its residents were asleep.
Asked about whether continuing the search was giving families false hope, Levine Cava said: “They are being supported to come to closure as soon as possible.”
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members about the newly discovered remains on Wednesday morning in a private briefing.
Rescuers still have not discovered any new “voids,” or pockets in the rubble that might have harboured survivors, Jadallah said.
Jadallah told families the work continues to be a search-and-rescue operation and has not yet transitioned to a recovery mission.
“We’re not there yet,” he said.
Later, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky sighed when asked during the news conference if officials were giving families a false sense of hope.
“Obviously, it’s very difficult,” he said. “We’ve been exhausting every effort, and that’s where we are right now, is exhausting every effort, and we’ll go from there.”
Maggie Castro, a Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic, said the families are physically and emotionally exhausted.
“It’s a lot, a lot of emotional roller coasters that they’ve been on, just trying to stay positive and hold out the wait,” said Castro, who has given daily updates to the families.
“There has been a sort of shift, I think, towards acceptance, but also obviously with that comes some sadness,” she told The Associated Press in an interview.
Workers on Tuesday dug through pulverised concrete where the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside once stood, filling buckets that were passed down a line to be emptied and then returned.
The up-close look at the search, in a video released Tuesday by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department, came as rain and wind from Tropical Storm Elsa disrupted the effort.