SURFSIDE, Fla. — Another body was discovered in the rubble of the Champlain Towers condo building collapse, bringing the official death toll to 10.
That leaves 151 people still unaccounted for on the fifth day of the massive search and rescue effort that has drawn international help and speculation on what caused the sudden collapse of an occupied 12-story condominium in the middle of the night.
“The search and rescue operation continues,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Monday at the command center. “Right now the top concern is search and rescue and find.”
On Sunday, families got their first look at the rescue effort in person. They shouted the names of their loved ones, their desperate cries momentarily breaking the solemn silence of the search.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Ray Jadallah on Monday said the visit also answered questions for some families who worried the pace of the search effort was too slow. He pointed out the complexity of the process and the need for safety. He said families saw a firefighter slip 20 feet down a pile of rubble.
Jadallah stressed that the effort is not shifting into recovery mode. “We’re just not there yet,” he said.
At the same briefing, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett talked about a young girl he met at the scene Sunday. One of her parents was lost in the collapse, but she was staying with her other parent in the Champlain building that’s still standing.
Burkett said she was sitting alone clutching her phone, reading a Jewish prayer to herself.
“She wasn’t crying; she was just lost,” he said. “I’m going to find her and tell her we’re all here to take care of her and we’re going to bring her parent out.”
Officials did not yet identify the latest person recovered because they are still in the process of reaching out to relatives.
Late Sunday, officials identified four people recovered: Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, who lived in unit 704; Luis Bermúdez, 26, who lived on the seventh floor; Ana Ortiz, 46, Bermúdez’s mother; and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74.
GRIEF RIPPLES THROUGH THE COMMUNITY
After an early morning thunderstorm gave way to sunshine, Rosana Esther Lerman didn’t miss her 8 a.m. beach walk on Monday, but the last few days haven’t been the same as before.
Lerman, dressed in black athletic gear and standing at a white plastic barrier erected on the beach at about 90th street, recalled how she used to see her friend, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brad Cohen, leave the Champlain Towers condo complex every day to drive to work.
It wasn’t until she saw the pile of debris on Thursday morning that she realized she wouldn’t be seeing him that day. Now, Cohen is one of the 151 people unaccounted for in the tragedy.
“I didn’t see him, and I knew he is staying in that building,” Lerman said. “People have their routines.”
The collapse of the towers leaves a void in the lives of hundreds of people who knew the dead and missing personally, like Lerman, but also the thousands of people whose lives brushed up against them in small ways.
Loren Shapiro, who lives on the 11th floor of the Champlain’s sister building two doors north of the site of the partially collapsed condo, said he was taken aback by a Herald photo of a dark wicker egg chair with a red cushion sitting on a balcony just a few steps away from the ledge of where the building sheared.
He’d see a woman sit there every evening to watch the sunset over Biscayne Bay.
“It was like clockwork,” he said. They never met, but he and his wife saw her every day.
In the mornings, she would sit in another chair on the same balcony closer to the ocean. That part of the balcony is now gone.
CONCERNS GROW ABOUT OLDER CONDOS
Those morning exchanges with her friend are just one of the routines upended for Lerman and her family after the collapse. Her twin 9-year-old daughters haven’t been able to sleep through the night, and neither has she.
Lerman lives in an even older condominium building, about 10 blocks north. Lately, she’s been roaming the parking garage, looking for signs that her condo tower could be next. She said she plans to take pictures with her phone of things that concern her and send them to the mayor of Bal Harbour, where she lives.
“I’m really worried about the way the buildings have been reviewed by the city and the way the condominiums have been handling those reviews,” Lerman said, adding that her own building had issues that came up in the 40-year-review a few years ago that led to roofing repairs.
Sunday evening, the Miami Herald revealed that Surfside’s chief building official told the Champlain Towers condo board the building was in “very good shape” a month after a preliminary engineer’s report revealed “major structural damage.” The report showed no indication that a collapse was possible, but it did hint at nearly $10 million worth of repairs.
Miami-Dade County, Miami and Sunny Isles Beach have all announced immediate, unprecedented audits of older structures ahead of the mandatory 40-year recertification.
Kionne McGhee, a Miami-Dade commissioner and former prosecutor, said Monday he wants a grand jury to investigate the Surfside collapse, and recommend reforms to the county’s building codes and other laws regulating high-rise construction and maintenance.
“I am urging the State Attorney to impanel a grand jury,” McGhee said of Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the county’s elected state attorney. McGhee said the panel should investigate the cause of the collapse and “issue indictments if appropriate” in an investigation into potential “negligence or intentional conduct involved.”
He also wants a grand jury report to “issue a report including recommendations to decrease the likelihood of this ever happening again.”
Lerman said she’s not alone in her fears — lots of the people who live in her building are getting more concerned.
“There are a lot of cracks in my building,” Lerman said. “I see a lot of cracks, and corrosion. I’m not an engineer, but I know that’s not right.”
Just feet away from her, an engineer who happened to be on the beach that day staring at the collapse site raised similar concerns. Martin, who asked not to be identified by his full name, is the chief engineer of a local hotel, and he said many of the condo towers on the shoreline are potentially dangerous.
“This is not new,” he said. “We know what it is. … The pressure of the ocean, the temperature, the humidity. It’s a beautiful view, but they don’t realize what it does to the structure.”
Martin said that 40-year inspections are too long an interval and buildings should be reviewed every 10 or 20 years. Engineers who work in the buildings are the first to see cracks and corrosion, he said, but then they have to go up a chain of command: reporting the issues to managers, who then consult structural engineers, and they report to the condo association boards.
That was a process that simply took too long for Martin.
“It’s like a cancer,” the engineer said. “We have to act fast.”
(Miami Herald staff writers Joey Flechas and Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.)
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