Days after the horrifying collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium last Thursday in the Miami-area town of Surfside, Florida, hope is fading in the search for survivors beneath the rubble. Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed today that the operation remains a search-and-rescue, rather than a search-and-recovery. It is one of the largest rescue operations in the United States since the September 11th attacks.
Eleven people are dead and 150 remain missing as response efforts continue. Jonah Handler, a 15-year-old high school student, remains the only person recovered alive from the rubble. Jonah’s mother, Stacie Fang, was also found by rescuers, but passed away shortly after being transported to a nearby hospital.
Rescue teams from across the globe are working together at the scene in an effort to find other survivors. Crews are in the process of constructing a massive tunnel beneath the rubble to reach more areas of the building.
Structural integrity of condo building had been in question for years
A 2018 review of the building uncovered after the collapse detailed “major structural damage” in the lower levels. According to reports, the building had a significant “design flaw” that prevented rainwater from properly draining. The issue led to water seeping into the foundational concrete, causing cracks and fissures.
It took more than a year for the condominium’s board members and residents to agree to fund millions in repairs. A letter from the association’s president in April said damage to the structure was “significantly worse” and was “accelerating”.
At least two lawsuits have already been filed by residents of the condominium complex who survived the partial collapse.
Last week’s tragedy has amplified concerns of structural integrity in other buildings across the area. Following widespread catastrophic building failures in 1992 during Hurricane Andrew, the area passed more stringent safety regulations for all new construction. The 40-year-old complex is just one of more than 70% of the buildings in the Miami area built prior to those enhanced regulations.
Families seek answers as officials scramble to prevent future tragedies
Many fear that the accelerated effects of climate change in South Florida will lead to future disasters. Experts warn that foundations of other buildings may become destabilized by rising sea levels. Some climate scientists anticipate that sea levels in the Miami area could rise by as many as 17 inches in the next 20 years.
In response to the collapse, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has ordered an immediate audit of all high-rises more than 40 years old. The audit has already found structural concerns in fourteen buildings across Dade County. The full process should be complete within the next 30 days.
As family members continue waiting for news of their loved ones, a makeshift memorial wall has been created outside of the rescue site. Flowers, candles and pictures of the missing line a fence as first responders continue their search.
The White House announced that President Biden will fly to Florida to visit the site of the tragedy on Thursday. The President will be accompanied by the First Lady and members of the senior staff. Officials said the Bidens will meet with family members of victims while in the area.