SURFSIDE, Fla. (WFLA/AP) — UPDATE 7 P.M.: The death toll from the building collapse near Miami has risen to five, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. Working throughout the day, rescue crews found another body amid the rubble, but also other human remains, she said.
The discovery dropped the number of unaccounted for down to 156, she said.
Rescue workers continued to go over the massive mountain of debris with rescue dogs and sonar searching for any survivors, she said.
“Our top priority continues to be search and rescue and saving any lives that we can,” she said.
ORIGINAL STORY: No progress has been made in finding any of the 159 people that went missing in the Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, according to officials in Miami-Dade County.
Rescue efforts have been hampered as a “very deep” fire has spread through the rubble, forcing crews to put it out to make further ventures into the wreckage.
“It’s extremely difficult to locate the source of the fire, so they’ve been working around the clock — these fire rescue teams, these brave men and women under the rubble — to fix this problem,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Cava said crews deployed infrared and sonar technology, foam, and water to combat the flames. A large trench was also created to isolate the fire and help crews find other victims trapped in the building’s remains.
“As we’re removing debris and smoke is increasing, we still haven’t come across anything along a sign of life,” said Alan R. Cominsky, chief of Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue.
Cominsky said there are concerns of air quality, with rescue crews needing to use ventilation fans and breathing apparatuses while searching for victims. However, he also said there is a danger in adding more air to the crevices as it could bolster the fire.
Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz said firefighters from across the state are working on the rescue effort, switching out to get people out as soon as possible. Both Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Joe Biden have also sent resources to help with the crisis.
“This is very frustrating because we want it all done,” Diaz said. “We want to rescue as many people as possible. We want to get to the bottom of this situation, but we can’t because the process is slow.”
So far, 127 people have been accounted for, with four confirmed deaths.
“We continue to have hope,” Cava said. “We are continuing to search.”
She said there is still hope that there are survivors as the crevices in the rubble are allowing for air flow, but crews need to stabilize the fire first.
In response to questions surrounding the cause of the incident, Cava said local, state, and federal agencies will help with a full investigation into why the condo collapsed. When asked about the 2018 report that revealed major damage in the condo’s concrete structure, she said she was not aware of the report.
She also said a county audit is underway to see how many other buildings were built by the developer, Champlain Towers South Associates, but she did know of one building just down the street from the wreckage in Surfside.
According to DeSantis, that sister building was built in 1981 as well by the same designer.
“I know they are considering potentially evacuating them, but that’s something, you know, ultimately, the mayor is gonna have to make the call on,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s indications that there’s any problem with that building, but just given the similarities, given the same age, they think that may be something so I think he may have an announcement on that today.”
In the meanwhile, officials are holding on to hope to help the families who are suffering.
“Your prayers have been extremely well-received,” Diaz said. “Please continue the prayers. They’re very important. The hope is very important.”
A previous version of this story misidentified the towers as Champion instead of Champlain Towers in a typo. This has been corrected.