Miami condo collapse: rescuers hold out hope for survivors as search enters fifth day

As the rescue operation in the Miami suburb of Surfside entered its fifth day on Monday, officials urged people to maintain hope survivors might be found in the wreckage of a collapsed condo building.

As of Sunday night, nine people were confirmed dead and more than 150 were missing. No survivors had been found since Thursday in the ruins of the Champlain Towers South, where rescue teams conducted a careful, round-the-clock search for signs of life.

Andy Alvarez, a deputy incident commander with Miami-Dade fire rescue, told ABC on Monday rescuers were still hopeful.

“This is a frantic search to continue to see that hope, that miracle, to see who we can bring out of this building alive,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said rescue teams found some voids in the wreckage, mostly in the basement and near the parking garage.

“We have over 80 rescuers at a time that are breaching the walls that collapsed, in a frantic effort to try to rescue those that are still viable and to get to those voids that we typically know exist in these buildings,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said conditions were “not idea” because of humidity, rain and heat.

“We’re holding up because we’re all holding up for that hope, that faith that we are going to be able to rescue somebody,” Alvarez said. “We are working tirelessly to try to bring victims that are underneath that rubble and rescue them.”

The search for survivors includes more than 300 emergency personnel, international experts and equipment including underground sonar systems.

Efforts are also under way to determine the cause of the collapse. Structural engineers have identified several theories for why the building could have collapsed, but determining the cause could take months or years.

In 2018, an engineer flagged concerns about “major structural damage” at the tower but the report did not indicate the building was at risk of collapse.

The engineering report, dated 8 October 2018, appeared to have been discussed at a board meeting of the Champlain Tower South Condominium Association the next month. At the November meeting, a Surfside building official said “the building is in very good shape”, according to meeting minutes obtained by NPR.

The building collapsed around 1.30am on Thursday. No survivors have been found since the first hours following the collapse.

Rescuers dug a trench 125ft long, 20ft across and 40ft deep overnight on Saturday and found remains but no survivors.

Families of the missing traveled by bus on Sunday to a site where they could watch rescue teams dig through the rubble and move large sections with cranes. An official who accompanied the families told the Miami-Herald several people yelled the names of their loved ones in the hopes they might hear.

Dianne Ohayon, whose parents, Myriam and Arnie Notkin, were in the building, told the Associated Press: “We are just waiting for answers. That’s what we want. It’s hard to go through these long days and we haven’t gotten any answers yet.”

Alan Cominsky, chief of the Miami-Dade fire rescue department, emphasized the operation must be slow and careful to protect rescuers as well as any survivors.

“We can’t just go in and move things erratically, because that’s going to have the worst outcome possible,” Cominsky said on Sunday.

“Hope – that’s what I’m focusing on,” Cominsky said. “So I’m going to continue that as much as possible. That’s the driving message.”

The latest four victims identified by police were Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74, Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, Anna Ortiz, 46, and Luis Bermúdez, 26.

Bermúdez lived on the seventh floor of the building. His father, also named Luis Bermúdez, wrote a tribute to his son on Facebook: “God decided that he wanted one more angel in heaven. I still do not believe it. I LOVE you and will love you forever.”

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