Surfside loss of life toll rises to 86; 43 extra are nonetheless lacking

The death toll from a residential collapse in Florida rose to 86 as rescue workers increased the pace of operations to find victims, authorities said Saturday.

Miami-Dade District Mayor Danielle Levine Cava said 43 more people may be missing under the rubble.

“We can only really explain a missing person who has passed away once identification has been made,” Levine Cava told reporters, according to the Miami Herald.

Champlain Towers South, a 12-story building in Surfside, a city north of Miami Beach, collapsed on June 24th when dozens of residents slept in it.

No survivors have been found since the day of the collapse.

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Of the 86 victims, 62 were identified, said the mayor.

Search and rescue workers oversee an excavator digging through the rubble of the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium on July 9, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images North America / Getty Images via AFP)

Authorities announced on Wednesday that they had decided to move from a search and rescue mission for potential survivors to a remains recovery operation.

The mayor of the 6,000-inhabitant city, Charles Burkett, praised the “really unbelievable” progress of the search and rescue teams, which are on duty around the clock at the scene of the accident.

The rubble of the building was about four stories high after the collapse but is now almost at ground level, Burkett said.

On Saturday, Burkett told reporters the pace of bailouts made it “very likely that the site will be vacant sooner than expected,” the Miami Herald reported.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett (left) speaks to Rachel Spiegel (right) who searches for information on the Champlain Towers South Condo building in the Surfside neighborhood of Miami on June 26, 2021. (AP photo / Lynne Sladky)

Miami-Dade fire chief Alan Cominsky said the victims were found “all over in the rubble.”

However, the recovery efforts focused on areas where stairwells would have collapsed, he added, as people may have been trapped in stairwells trying to escape.

In a rare ray of hope on the 16th day after the tragedy, the authorities were able to reunite the cat Binx with his family. The black cat had miraculously survived falling from a unit on the ninth floor and was found near the wreckage.

“I’m glad that this little miracle can shed some light on the life of an injured family today,” said Levine Cava.

After 16 long and incredibly difficult days, I have a little good news to share – Binx from Champlain Towers South has been found.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and on behalf of our community to the team that helped reunite him with his family.

– Daniella Levine Cava (@MayorDaniella) July 10, 2021

Several investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the collapse.

A 2018 report released by city officials revealed fears about “major structural damage” in the complex, from the concrete slab under the pool deck to pillars and beams in the parking garage.

In a letter to local residents in April, Jean Wodnicki, chairman of the condominium association, described the “accelerating” damage to the 40-year-old building since then, and repairs should begin soon.

Local authorities ordered security reviews of nearby buildings after the disaster, including Champlain Towers North, the sister tower of the collapsed apartment block.

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