Two more bodies pulled from the rubble of 12-storey condo building near Miami, which partially collapsed last month.
The remains of a 12-storey building in south Florida that partially collapsed in the middle of the night last month will be demolished as early as Sunday, local officials said, as an incoming storm risks toppling the structure.
Two more bodies were pulled from the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, near Miami, on Saturday, bringing the official number of deaths to 24. Search and rescue operations have continued as 124 people are still unaccounted for after the tower fell.
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky told reporters the demolition of what was left standing of the towers had to take place as soon as possible because Tropical Storm Elsa is forecast to reach southern Florida as early as Monday.
“We’d have no control of where it lands,” he said.
Elsa was downgraded on Saturday from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 110kph (70 mph) as it brushed past the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
The long-term forecast track showed it heading towards Florida as a tropical storm by Tuesday morning, though some models would carry it into the Gulf or up the Atlantic Coast. Weather officials warned that it could bring heavy rain and gusty winds to the Miami area.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the building in Surfside is “tottering” and “structurally unsound” and demolishing it is the prudent thing to do.
“If the building is taken down, this will protect our search and rescue teams, because we don’t know when it could fall over,” DeSantis said during a news conference. “And, of course, with these gusts, potentially that would create a really severe hazard.”
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava signed an order calling for the immediate demolition of the building and it could happen as soon as Sunday, officials said.
“It is our fervent desire to get this done before the storm,” Levine Cava said. “Yes, we are concerned that tropical-storm-force winds could affect the stability of the building.”
Fire officials said the building would be removed in a controlled manner using explosive charges, not a wrecking ball or other methods. Contractors were inspecting the site on Saturday to come up with a plan, officials said.
It remains unclear what caused the building to collapse last month, but investigators have found evidence of water damage and structural corrosion so severe the building’s ownership association had estimated it would cost $15m to repair.
The president of the Champlain Towers South condo association told residents in April their building desperately needed to fix structural problems, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.
A 2018 report released after the building fell also showed that an engineer found evidence of major structural damage beneath the pool deck and “concrete deterioration” in the underground parking garage of the condominium.
The engineer, Frank Morabito, warned that the waterproofing installed below the pool deck had failed due to a major error in design.