Fourteen other bodies were recovered while the searchers used heavy equipment to move piles of crushed cement and steel.
The death toll in the collapse of a high-rise condominium mansion in Miami jumped to 78 Friday, a number the mayor called “shocking” as recovery workers worked to find victims in the abattoirs.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a media conference that work to recover the victims is “moving forward with great urgency” to bring closure to families who have spent two agonizing weeks awaiting news.
“This is an amazing and heartbreaking number that affects us all very deeply,” Levine Cava said of the latest death toll. Another 62 people remain unaccounted for.
Paraguay’s foreign minister said in a radio report that Paraguay’s first lady’s sister was among the dead. Several Latin American citizens were reported inside the building when it collapsed. No one has been found alive since the first hours after construction fell on June 24.
“We know there will be long-term impacts for front-line teams,” Levine Cava said. “They’ve given so much of themselves in these first two weeks.”
Rescue workers and emergency support teams from Florida and several other states worked 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day for 16 days in physically and emotionally overwhelming work amid the oppressive heat and in dangerous conditions.
Alan Cominsky, head of the Miami-Dade Fire Department, said the priority is to take care of the mental health and well-being of first responders. He said it is critical that first responders communicate with each other. “It’s important for us to talk,” he said.
To this end, Levine Cava said officials have added peer support staff to the fire stations.
A thorough search of the survivors turned into a recovery effort this week after authorities said they had come to the conclusion that there was “no chance of life” in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside.
Investigators from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been looking for clues to the building’s collapse.
“NIST has made significant progress in the marketing and transportation of forensic evidence pieces from the stack,” said Levine Cava.
“They have now collected more than 200 tests and have recently put in place scientists from the physics measurement lab in Washington to help with the analysis.”
Attention has been focused on a 2018 engineering report that warned structural deficiencies.
The hope of finding survivors was rekindled shortly after the workers demolished the rest of the building on July 4, allowing access to new areas of ruins. Some spaces where survivors could be trapped existed, especially in the basement and garage.
Grimly, rescue workers are now focused on it finding remains instead of survivors.
State and local officials have promised financial assistance to the families of the victims, as well as to residents of the mansion who have survived but who have lost all their belongings. Meanwhile, authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse. And at least six cases have been filed by families.