October 4, 2023

Search and rescue teams search for possible survivors and recover remains in the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South Condo building on July 7, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. Officials say the death toll rose to 36 today, of which 109 are not yet known.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Search teams have recovered 15 more bodies from the rubble of the collapsed apartment building in Surfside, Florida, bringing the death toll to at least 79 people on Friday afternoon, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a press conference.

Levine Cava said 61 people are still missing and detectives are working to verify that every person listed as missing was actually in Champlain Towers South when they collapsed over two weeks ago.

“Amid this terrible tragedy, and we are so grateful, very grateful to all of those in our community and the world who continue to keep us in your prayers and in your hearts,” said Levine Cava.

The arduous search shifted from a rescue operation to a salvage operation on Wednesday after authorities decided there was little hope of finding people living in the rubble. However, according to Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, authorities have vowed to continue searching for victims until all debris on the site is cleared.

Burkett praised the search teams for their work, noting that the heap of rubble, which was originally four to five stories high, is now near the ground.

The National Institute of Technology (NIST) is making “very significant strides” in investigating the cause of the collapse, added Levine Cava. NIST teams have collected over 200 pieces of evidence that were sent to a physical metrology lab in Washington for analysis. NIST also uses drones and lidar scanners in the probe, tools that use light to measure the distance to an object on the earth’s surface.

Levine Cava said Thursday that the public also “played a very important role in this investigation”. She urged the public to submit photos or videos related to the collapse on the NIST website.

Champlain Towers North, the identical sister property of the collapsed condo, is also being assessed, Burkett said. Engineers and authorities use ground penetrating radar and take concrete samples to determine the salinity and strength of the structure.

In the meantime, alternative accommodation options have been created for residents of the sister property who wanted to evacuate.

Laura Solla cries as she places flowers near the memorial to the victims of the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium on July 8, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

Anna Money Maker | Getty Images

The exact cause of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South is still unknown.

Recent evidence points to structural flaws in the building well before it collapsed, such as a 2018 report showing the 40-year-old building under the pool had waterproof issues and cracked underground parking.

Experts have also said that the repeal of a Florida law in 2010 that requires condos to schedule repairs may have contributed to the collapse.

Various resources are made available to families and individuals affected by the breakdown. The Family Assistance Center continues to offer psychological counseling as well as financial and housing assistance, among other things.

Authorities announced Thursday that the center has cared for nearly 200 families.

Levine Cava also said Thursday that rescue teams are collecting and cataloging personal items found in the rubble of the residential complex, such as photos, tech, documents and jewelry. Authorities are developing a process for families and survivors to reclaim missing belongings.