Rescue workers digging feverishly for a fifth day on Monday insisted they could find survivors in the rubble of a collapsed Florida condominium building, as an explanation for what caused the disaster sparked a debate.
U the number of deaths has increased by only four people on Sunday, for a total of nine confirmed deaths. But more than 150 people are always missing in Surfside, near Miami. Their families rode buses to a site close enough to watch the intense rescue effort, including firefighters, sniffer dogs and search experts using radar and sonar devices.
Earlier Monday, a crane lifted a large slab of cement from the pile of debris, allowing about 30 rescuers in hard-to-move hats to carry smaller pieces of debris in red buckets, which are emptied into a larger tank for a crane to be removed. The work was complicated by intermittent rains moving through the area, but at least the fires that hindered the initial search were extinguished.
Andy Alvarez, incident commander in charge of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday that rescuers were able to find some vacancies inside the wrecks, mostly in the basement and in the garage parking.
“We have more than 80 rescuers at a time who are violating the walls that are collapsing, in a frantic effort to try to save those that are still feasible and to reach those vacancies that we typically know exist in these buildings,” Alvarez said. .
“We were able to tunnel into the building,” Alvarez added. “It’s a frantic search to look for that hope, that miracle, to see who we can get out of this living building.”
Others who saw the wreck up close were intimidated by the task ahead. Alfredo Lopez, who lived with his wife in an apartment on the 6th-floor corner and narrowly escaped the disaster, said it was hard to believe anyone was alive in the slaughterhouses.
“I can’t see anyone, you know – I hope God will find someone, but man, you know, if you’ve seen what I’ve seen: nothing and then, go ahead and see, like, all rubble. How can anyone survive that? ”Lopez told the Associated Press.
Debate over the cause of the collapse
The building collapsed a few days before a deadline for condominium owners to begin making heavy payments toward more than $ 9m in repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier, in a report warning of “structural damage. major “.
A city inspector reassured residents in 2018 that the building was in “very good shape,” just a month after an engineer warned that the height had suffered significant structural damage that needed repair, according to a report. the National Public Radio (NPR).
The 2018 report prepared by an engineering company for the condominium building found severe cement deterioration in the basement garage as well as major structural damage to the cement slab under the pool deck.
The engineer, Frank Morabito, said the deterioration would “expand exponentially” if it was not repaired in the near future.
But Ross Prieto, a Surfside inspector who had reviewed the report, met with residents the following month and assured them that the building was safe, according to the minutes of the meeting obtained earlier by NPR.
Prieto is no longer employed by Surfside, according to NPR. He told the Miami Herald that he did not remember having the report.
In an email to the city director the morning after the 2018 meeting, Prieto said it had gone “very well” and that the response from residents was “positive”.
The cause of the collapse remains under investigation.
Gregg Schlesinger, lawyer and former general contractor specializing in construction failure cases, said it was clear that the deficiencies identified in the 2018 report were the main cause of the disaster.
But Donna DiMaggio Berger, a lawyer who works with the condominium association, said the problems were typical of old buildings in the area and did not alarm council members, who were all in the tower with them. their families.
Jason Borden, a structural engineer who inspected the building last year, admitted that any signs of deterioration were typical and were not serious enough to raise red flags.
“What I saw while I was there didn’t alarm me at all,” he told CNN Monday.
Four victims identified
On Sunday, authorities identified four people who have been recovered as Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74; Ana Ortiz, 46; and Luis Bermudez, 26.
The number of people left without counting was 152, said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. The last person live rescued was Thursday, just hours after the crash.
At an impromptu memorial a short distance away, a laminated poster with a smiling photo of Bermudez and “Mother Ana Ortiz” hangs from a chain net, along with other “missing” signs. Flowers and children’s toys were scattered on the fence.
In a letter he shared on Facebook, Bermudez’s father wrote that his son was “My Angel My Everything.”
“I LOVE you and love you forever,” Luis Didi Bermudez wrote. “You are and will be the best in my life.”