July 13 (UPI) — The death toll from last month’s partial collapse of a Surfside, Fla. condominium tower has risen to 94, the county’s mayor said Monday.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced at a press conference Monday morning, Day 19 of the search effort, that 83 of the 94 victims have been identified and 80 next of kin have been notified.
“Please join me in continuing to pray for those we have lost, the families who are grieving, and those who are still waiting,” Cava said.
Twenty-two people remain “potentially unaccounted” for, and 222 have been accounted for, she added.
“Police and the medical examiner teams are continuing their around-the-clock work to identify victims. However, the process of making identifications has become more difficult as time goes on, and the recovery at this point is yielding human remains,” she said.
Cava noted that there may be people who are deceased who remain unaccounted for until a positive identification has been made.
“The numbers are fluid, and they will continue to change as these efforts continue,” Cava said.
The family assistance center, which includes grief counseling and financial support, remains up and running and 207 families have been served on site, according to the mayor.
The search effort through the debris of the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo on June 24 has been mostly ongoing with some interruption due to safety concerns pending demolition of the remaining western portion of the condominium tower. The remaining portion was demolished ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa last week.
Cava said Monday the search effort, including federal and state partners, has continued with interruption more recently due to lightning, and more brief pauses are expected in coming days due to forecast of more inclement weather.
Search efforts switched from rescue to recovery Wednesday after seeing no signs of survivors in nearly two weeks of searching.
Investigation into the cause of the collapse is ongoing. In a 2018 survey report, engineers had pointed out “major structural damage” to the concrete slab beneath the pool deck and entrance drive and “abundant cracking and spalling” of columns in the parking garage.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett added during the press conference Monday that it’s a “holy site” at this point, since so many lives have been lost there, and there will be increased security around the site, so only authorized personnel will be allowed there.
Burkett also said that overnight search teams he talked with earlier this morning told him they found a business card identifying occupation of the cardholder as an artist.
“They, as a result of that clue, began looking around and found paintings in the area which they were able to pull out of the rubble and preserve for the family,” he said. “This type of professionalism and compassion is emblematic of the amazing work that is being done at the site.”
Burkett said debris removal teams reached the parking lot and started pulling out vehicles, which “are mostly terribly damaged, evidencing the violence of the collapse in those areas.”
“The search continues until everyone trapped in the debris is pulled out,” Burkett said.
On Sunday, three of the youngest children were pulled out of the rubble, including Lorenzo De Oliveira Leone, 5, Anna Sophia Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 6, and Alexia Maria Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 9.
The two Moreira girls were the last two members of their family to be identified, CNN reported Monday, with their 3-year-old brother Luis Vicente Pettengill Lopez Moreira III, recovered on Wednesday and identified Friday.
Nine more victims were identified Monday including Lisa Rosenberg, 27; Arnold Notkin, 87; Judith Spiegel, 65; Margarita Vasquez Bello, 68; Cassie Billedeau Straton, 40; Fabian Nunez, 57; Catalina Gomez Ramirez, 45; Nicole Dawn Doran, 43 and Beatriz Rodriguez Guerra, 52.
Burkett said Sunday inspections of the sister building, Champlain Towers North, where a voluntary evacuation was issued following the collapse have so far yielded positive results, according to CNN.
“Early results on the concrete is that the concrete strength is good,” Burkett said Sunday, CNN reported. “At or beyond the levels at which it should be.”
The collapse has prompted reviews of other high-rise buildings in the area, leading to the evacuation last weekend of a condo in North Miami Beach deemed “structurally and electrically unsafe” in January, and remote work order for Miami-Dade County Courthouse.