Family members of those who have died or who are missing were taken to the site of Miami Beach condominium collapse on Sunday afternoon, hours after it was announced that the official death toll had risen to nine. 156 people are still missing.
Two buses took the first relatives, all wearing masks, to the site, the New York Times reported. 450 people will be shuttled to the Champlain Towers South site, in shifts of 30.
At a Sunday morning press conference, Daniella Levine Cava, Mayor of Miami-Dade County, said the visit would be “a very private event.”
The Miami Herald reported that victim advocates with the Miami-Dade County police department had shielded the faces of those visiting the site with clipboards and umbrellas. “Many family members were crying, and some were wearing T-shirts adorned with photos of their missing loved ones,” the paper reported.
Rescuers have now dug a massive trench that is “critical to the continuation of the search and rescue process,” Levine Cava told reporters Sunday morning.
Levine Cava said that “additional human remains” had also been found. 156 people remain missing after the tragedy.
“We’re cutting a deep trench to assist us,” Levine Cava said. “It’s now 125 feet in length into the pile. It’s 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep. Now, this trench is very critical to the continuation of the search and rescue process. We’ve continued all night to build that trench, and as a result of that, we were able to recover four additional bodies in the rubble as well as additional human remains. As of today, one victim passed away in the hospital, and we’ve recovered eight more victims on-site, so I am confirming today that the death toll is at nine. We’ve identified four of the victims and notified the next of kin.”
The four identified victims are: Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, of Apartment 903; Manuel LaFont, 54, of Apartment 801; and Stacie Fang, 54, of Apartment 1002.
Levine Cava said the fire from the collapse is under control, eliminating the smoke that was inhibiting recovery efforts in parts of the pile. Six to eight squads are at the pile actively searching around the clock with hundreds of other team members on standby. “We are not lacking any personnel but we have the best,” Levine Cava said.
Family members of those affected by the tragedy will also be invited to visit the site. “We are working with the families and there will be opportunity for visitation. It will be a very private event,” Levine Cava said.
Charles W. Burkett, Mayor of Surfside, said that residents of the collapsed condominium’s sister building, Champlain Towers North, had been given the option of being relocated if they felt nervous about living in the building. Both buildings were built around the same time by the same contractor.
“After meeting with Gov. DeSantis and his team, we determined that there was going to be support available,” said Burkett. Alternatives have been set up for residents who feel uncomfortable living in the sister building. “I’m not sure everybody is going to take advantage of that, but that is the state of affairs right now.”
“There was something obviously very, very wrong at this building and we need to get to the bottom of it,” Burkett told ABC’s This Week of the condominium’s collapse. “But like I said, that’s not today, not tomorrow and not for a long time because our first priority and only priority is to pull our residents out of the rubble and reunite them with their family, who understandably are out of their minds with emotion, sadness, anger, and just confused and want to know what is happening.”
FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said Sunday that the Army Corps of Engineers was providing assistance at the site.
“We are committed to working with the incident commander, the mayor, the governor, and the state team to bring in any additional resources that might be needed throughout this event,” said Criswell, quoted by CNN. FEMA will be registering families who need assistance, Criswell said, adding that families will be helped “face to face.”
CNN reported Sunday that the City of Miami had sent letters to condo associations with buildings that are over six stories tall and over 40 years old. The letters urge that the buildings be inspected by qualified structural engineers.
“Effective immediately, you are strongly urged to retain the services of a License Structural Engineer and to undertake a Structural Inspection for Visible signs of Distress,” read the letter which was sent on Friday.