SURFSIDE, Fla. – Rescue efforts were halted early Thursday because of concerns about the instability of a condo section still standing a week after the building collapsed outside Miami.
Rescuers stopped work at the site at 2:11 a.m. EDT when on-site engineers identified that one column had shifted 8 to 10 inches and three cracks were expanding.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Thursday at a news conference that search-and-rescue teams will continue as soon as it is safe to do so.
“We’ve been forced to halt operations … in early hours of the morning due to structural concerns about the standing structure,” Levine Cava said. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our first responders.”
Levine Cava emphasized that the halt in rescue efforts had nothing to do with President Joe Biden’s visit to Florida on Thursday and was only because of the instability of the building.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah voiced concerns about the stability of that portion of the building during a meeting with families Wednesday.
“What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are kind of, of concern, not compromised, but just right now of concern,” Jadallah said. “Hypothetically, worst-case scenario: If these columns are truly really bad, we are worried they could collapse right back into the parking garage.”
Family members asked whether crews could add tension rods, but Jadallah said engineers said that wouldn’t be possible.
Levine Cava announced that two of the six bodies found in the rubble Wednesday were children, ages 4 and 10. This raises the death toll to 18; 145 people are missing.
As families grow weary of waiting for news of their loved ones, Tropical Storm Elsa formed overnight, threatening further delays in the search. Crews kept a close eye on the progression of the storm as it moved quickly toward the Caribbean.
The president and first lady Jill Biden met with local officials, including Levine Cava and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Here’s what we know Thursday:
Two children among the dead
The bodies of the two children found under the rubble were identified as Lucia and Emma Guara, ages 10 and 4, respectively. Their parents, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, have been confirmed dead as well.
“Any loss of life, especially given the nature of this unexpected, unprecedented event, is a tragedy,” Levine Cava said. “But the loss of our children is too great to bear.”
After a vigil Monday, community members gathered at a makeshift memorial near the site, including Navah Lisman and Siena Falcone, 11-year-old schoolmates of Lucia. They were also friends with her sister.
Navah said she cried with her friends during the vigil, which offered her an opportunity to mourn in community with others.
“Seeing this makes it a bit more real, which is saddening for me, but it’s the truth,” she said. “When you are with people who are all grieving for the same cause, it just makes you feel a little better.”
President Biden visits Florida
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill met with about 50 first responders in a hotel ballroom after a roundtable gathering with state, federal and local leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Republican governor praised the Biden administration’s response to the tragedy, saying he had encountered “no bureaucracy” in his dealings with the federal government and adding, “we’re literally getting requests routed from local to state to federal in no time and the approvals happening.”
Biden also planned to meet with families of the victims and missing people to offer his support.
“I think that the president coming will bring some unity here for our community,” Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez said Wednesday. He said it will hearten the families to have “our governor, our mayor, all of us together.”
“It’s a great message for the family,” he said.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday on Air Force One that the president wants to offer comfort to families and thank first responders.
“We wanted to go there to thank them and also to send a message of unity, to show how state, local and federal government are coming together in this time, especially in this time of tragedy for the community,” she said.
Here is Biden’s schedule, according to the White House:
11 a.m.: Meeting with first responders, search-and-rescue teams, rescue workers and others involved
12:30 p.m.: Meeting with victims’ families
3:50 p.m.: Remarks from President Biden
After 5 p.m.: Departing from Miami
Biden visits Florida:5 things to watch as Biden visits, meet with victims’ families
Tropical Storm Elsa brewing
Rescue and recovery teams are monitoring Tropical Storm Elsa as it moves toward the Caribbean.
The National Hurricane Center’s cone of uncertainty puts all of South Florida in the storm’s potential path, and residents are encouraged to make necessary preparations. It is unclear how, if at all, the storm will affect Florida and other parts of the country.
Gov. DeSantis said Thursday at a news conference that officials do not expect any impacts in the area through Saturday. AccuWeather meteorologists are concerned that Elsa could strengthen quickly into a hurricane as it approaches the Windward Islands.
Possible severe weather may further delay the search-and-rescue efforts, Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said Wednesday.
Guthrie said his team is working with the National Hurricane Center and state meteorologists to develop contingency plans for severe weather, including tropical cyclones, and they may need to free up state assets centered at the site of the collapse. Tuesday, Guthrie said the threat of severe weather prompted state officials to ask the federal government for the additional team.
Rescuers were already coping with near-daily thunderstorms and lightning, which forced suspensions of rescue efforts.
Tropical Storm Elsa:Surfside rescue teams keep watchful eye on the Atlantic
Remembering those who died
Of the 18 people confirmed dead, authorities released these names: Stacie Fang, 54; Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, his wife Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and their daughters Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4.; Frank Kleiman, 55; Michael Davis Altman, 50; Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and his wife, Christina Beatriz Elvira de Oliwkowicz, 74; Luis Bermudez, 26, and his mother, Ana Ortiz, 46; Antonio Lozano, 83, and his wife Gladys Lozano, 79; Manuel LaFont, 54; Hilda Noriega, 92.
The first victim to be identified was Fang, whose 15-year-old son was pulled alive from the wreckage.
Agency that examines ‘disasters and failures’ to investigate cause of of collapse
The National Institute of Standards and Technology established a National Construction Safety Team to investigate the building collapse, director James Olthoff said Wednesday evening in Miami.
Olthoff said it will be a “fact-finding, not a fault-finding technical investigation” that could take several years. It won’t end until the team finds the “likely cause” of the collapse.
The NIST is a nonregulatory agency that looks at “disasters and failures” caused by earthquakes, fire and tornadoes. The team will include NIST staff members and outside experts.
White House press secretary Psaki said President Biden believes the reasons for the collapse need to be investigated, and various federal agencies are providing expertise. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she will pursue a grand jury investigation into what led to the collapse.
– Katherine Lewin, Florida Times-Union
Officials ask for donations to support grieving families
People can send donations to families affected by the condo collapse at supportsurfside.org. Officials cautioned that one fake donation website has been reported.
Over the course of two news conferences, Mayor Burkett told the story of 12-year-old Ellie Shella, who lost her father and an uncle to the collapse and was praying when he met her at the site.
Tuesday evening, Burkett said Ellie’s mother is in financial distress, pointing out Ellie’s father was the provider for the family. Ellie’s mother asked for assistance for her family.
“It’s working, your donations are having an impact,” Burkett said.
Contributing: Jesse Mendoza, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Jennifer Sangalang and Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press