Search-and-rescue operations at the collapse of a Florida condominium building were halted this morning due to structural concerns that the rest of the building could fall, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference Thursday.
“We’re doing everything we can to ensure that the safety of our first responders is paramount and will continue search-and-rescue operations as soon as it is safe to do so,” Levine Cava told reporters.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said the halt in operations was based on “additional concerns for building stability” identified by subject matter experts.
This includes six to 12 inches of movement, a large column hanging from the building that could fall and damage support columns in the underground garage, and slight movement in the concrete floor slabs in the south side of the structure in the north and south corner of the building that “could cause the additional failure of the building,” according to Cominsky.
Engineers, with the help of the state, are continuing to monitor the structure and develop plans to move forward with the search, Levine Cava added.
Levine Cava told reporters that the decision to halt search-and-rescue operations is unconnected to President Joe Biden’s visit to the area later Thursday.
“I want to stress that President Biden’s visit today will have no impact on what happens at the site, for search-and-rescue operation will continue as soon as it is safe to do so,” Levine Cava said at the press conference.
Gov. Ron DeSantis also provided updates on Tropical Storm Elsa, which is continuing to move swiftly through the Caribbean Sea. DeSantis told reporters that the storm is not expected to impact Florida through Saturday but is expected to turn northwest near South Florida by Monday.
DeSantis said the state Department of Emergency Management is developing contingency plans for the storm.
As of early Thursday, 18 people were confirmed dead and 145 were unaccounted for, according to local officials.
In recent days, a growing body of evidence has come to light indicating that the 40-year-old condominium building showed signs of major structural damage as far back as 2018.
A newly uncovered video taken the night of the collapse shows water pouring into the parking garage of Champlain Towers.
On Wednesday evening, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced it had launched a federal investigation into the causes of the building collapse.
“We are going in with an open mind,” Judith Mitrani-Reiser, associate chief of the materials and structural systems division at NIST, told reporters Wednesday at a press conference near the site of the collapse.
“With any building collapse, we would want to understand how the building was designed, constructed, modified and maintained,” she said.
Several lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of the families of victims, some of whom are still missing.
But the question of who, if anyone, is at fault for the collapse is not likely to be resolved in the near future.
James Olthoff, the director of NIST, told The Miami Herald the federal investigation would not seek to assign blame for the collapse.
“This is a fact-finding, not fault-finding, type of an investigation,” he told the Herald. “It will take time, possibly a couple of years.”
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