Searchers have found the remains of a 10th victim buried in the rubble of the 12-story condominium building that collapsed suddenly last week in Surfside, Florida, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Monday.
The body was discovered Monday morning, she said, and some 151 people are still unaccounted for. Authorities have not yet released the name of the latest victim. At a press conference alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who represents the district, Cava promised authorities are “exploring all possible avenues” that search and rescue teams identify.
“We’re going to continue and work ceaselessly to exhaust every possible option in our search,” she said. “I repeat, the search and rescue operation continues. As the governor and the congresswoman said, and the lieutenant governor, there’s going to be a thorough and full investigation of what led to this tragic event. We are going to get to the bottom of what happened here.”
Eight of the 10 victims pulled from the wreckage so far have been identified; they range in age from 26 to 83 years old. The wait to hear whether or not their loved ones are still alive plays out in excruciating real time at an official reunification center set up by authorities in Surfside. Soraya Cohen was there hoping to get an update on her missing husband, Brad.
“Brad is the type, he’s so agile and he’s so strong, mentally and physically, that he’d be hanging onto something,” Cohen told WSVN 7News Miami. “He’d be climbing on a crane. He’d be banging. He’d be thinking on his feet.”
Yakov Saacks, a rabbi at The Chai Center in Dix Hills who officiated Dr. Brad Cohen’s wedding about 15 years ago, told The Daily Beast that he is “still optimistic” his friend will be recovered from the rubble.
“Though every hour gets harder and harder to breathe. We’re all just holding our breathe for the worst,” Saacks said. He described Cohen, who was visiting his brother who lives in the condo complex, as a “deep, kind, and devoted man and father of two.” He noted that even when Cohen was in medical school, he would make time to come to Shabbat and remained devoted to his faith.
“He has everything to live for,” said Saacks. “He is a healthy guy so if it’s possible to hold on, he will do it. We’re all just praying for him and his family.”
Chaplain Mendy Cohn visited the site on Sunday with a group of people desperate for news about their missing relatives. One family has received 16 calls from their missing grandparents’ landline at Champlain Towers South, only to be met with static on the other end. Others are becoming frustrated at the slow pace of the information trickling out.
“For family members, it’s a tape that is replayed every single second, and when they come to the site, it stops playing,” Cohn told WPLG Local10. “They see it. At this point, family members cannot start grieving. Grieving happens when there’s closure. There’s no closure now.”
The shocking collapse of the Champlain Towers South immediately raised questions about the building’s structural integrity. The building went up in 1981 and was due for a standard 40-year inspection, but as one architect told The Daily Beast, the reinforced concrete construction method used in South Florida since the 1920s is “the most structurally sound and safest way to build structures, whether it’s a two-story home or a high-rise.”
However, it later emerged that a structural engineer hired by the Champlain Towers South in 2018 warned of “major structural damage” to concrete foundations and “abundant” cracks in the building’s parking garage. The engineer’s nine-page report included a laundry list of problems ranging from water that had penetrated cracks in balcony tiles to damaged concrete structural slabs and waterproofing materials below the pool deck, entrance drive, and various parts of the parking garage.
“The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas,” the report cautioned. “Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.”
It said the issues began with a “major” mistake by the Champlain Towers’ original architects and engineers, who opted for a flat concrete slab beneath the pool deck and entrance rather than a slanted one. Because of this, water did not drain properly away from the deck. Previous repair attempts were not up to snuff, causing further cracking as well as the formation of calcium carbonate deposits, the report explained, adding that fixing the problems would inconvenience residents and would be “extremely expensive.” Nine days before the collapse, a group of contractors visited the site ahead of a July 7 deadline to submit bids on a planned $10 million structural repair job.
“High rises typically don’t collapse on their own,” Glenn Corbett, a professor who advised the National Construction Safety Team that investigated the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, told The Daily Beast. “It just doesn’t happen, thank God. But that’s all the more reason why we’ve got to figure out what the hell happened.”
The building had also been the subject of at least one lawsuit in 2015 over the structure’s outer walls and was even included in a scientific study last year that warned of it sinking into the earth. It had been undergoing a series of apparently routine roof repairs at the time the building crumbled, although it remains unclear if the work played any part in the tragedy.
Adriana Chi, whose brother has lived in Champlain Towers South since 2005, told The Daily Beast she always had a strange feeling about the building. In addition to ceiling leaks and black mold, the balcony she used for cigarette breaks felt slanted to her.
“There’s been issues for a while,” she said, adding, “There was something off with that building.”