The Washington Post
A month after condo building fell, the search for bodies ends
miami — Firefighters on Friday declared the end of their search for bodies at the site of a collapsed Florida condo building, concluding a month of painstaking work removing layers of dangerous debris that were once piled several stories high.
The June 24 collapse at the oceanside Champlain Towers South killed 97 people, with at least one more missing person yet to be identified. The site has been mostly swept flat, with the rubble moved to a Miami warehouse. Although forensic scientists are still at work, including examining the debris at the warehouse, there are no more bodies to be found where the building once stood.
Except during the early hours after the collapse, survivors never emerged. Search teams spent weeks battling the hazards of the rubble, including an unstable portion of the building that teetered above, a recurring fire and Florida’s stifling summer heat and thunderstorms. They went through more than 14,000 tons of broken concrete and rebar, often working boulder by boulder, rock by rock, before finally declaring the mission complete.
Miami-dade Fire Rescue’s urban search-and-rescue team pulled away from the site Friday in a convoy of firetrucks and other vehicles, slowly driving to the team’s headquarters for a news conference to announce that the search was officially over.
At a ceremony, Fire Chief Alan Cominsky saluted the firefighters who worked 12-hour shifts while camping out at the site.
“It’s obviously devastating. It’s obviously a difficult situation across the board,” Cominsky said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the men and women that represent Miami-dade Fire Rescue.”
Officials have declined to clarify whether they have one additional set of human remains in hand that pathologists are struggling to identify or whether a search for that final set of remains continues.
If found, Estelle Hedaya would bring the death toll to 98.
The dead included members of the area’s large Orthodox Jewish community, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady, her family and their nanny, as well as a local salesman, his wife and their two young daughters.
The collapse fueled a race to inspect other aging residential towers in Florida and beyond, and it raised broader questions about the nation’s regulations governing condominium associations and building safety.
Shortly after the disaster, it became clear that warnings about Champlain Towers South, which opened in 1981, had gone unheeded. A 2018 engineering report detailed cracked and degraded concrete support beams in the underground parking garage and other problems that would cost nearly $10 million to fix.
The repairs did not happen, and the estimate grew to $15 million this year as the owners of the building’s 136 units and its governing condo board squabbled over the cost, especially after a Surfside town inspector told them the building was safe.