SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – The number of people missing in the Florida condominium collapse was drastically reduced on Friday from 145 to 128, after duplicate names were eliminated and some people missing were were found unharmed, officials said.
Authorities also announced the recovery of two other bodies, including the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter. This brought the confirmed death toll to 20 people.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the number of missing had declined following an audit. She explained that in some cases a person may have been moved to the “represented” list when in fact an entire family has been deemed safe.
Detectives worked tirelessly to verify the list, re-contacting relatives and others. In some cases, names in English and Hebrew have been proposed for the same missing relative, officials said.
The 7-year-old who perished in the collapse was “a member of our firefighting family,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said.
Finding the girl’s remains was especially difficult for rescuers, Levine Cava said.
“It was really different and more difficult for our first responders. These men and women pay a huge human price every day, and I ask you all to keep them in your thoughts and prayers, ”she said at a press conference.
Friday’s announcements came a day after officials said they were working on plans to demolish what was left of the building after concerns over the structure’s instability resulted in a 15-hour shutdown in search of survivors.
Scott Nacheman, a FEMA structures specialist, said the demolition would trigger a slowdown in the rescue operation, but it would create a safer working environment that could allow more personnel to the site and speed up the pace of work. He said it would likely take weeks before authorities schedule the demolition.
No one has been rescued since the first hours after the collapse of the 12-storey Champlain South Tours condominium.
On Friday morning, a dozen workers could be seen digging out the pile which was now about 20 feet (6 meters) tall, more than 10 feet (3 meters) shorter than a week ago. Cranes lifted heavy objects from the heap again, then workers climbed into the heap and began to remove small pieces of rubble by hand.
Rescue work was halted early Thursday after crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column.
Work resumed shortly before 5 p.m. after the site was assessed by structural engineers, Cava said, describing firefighters as “really, really excited over there.”
“We will continue to search feverishly, as we have done from the start in the parts of the collapse to which we currently have access,” she said.
The work stoppage had threatened to reduce hopes of finding someone alive in the rubble a week after the tower fell. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the shutdown was worrisome because “minutes and hours count, lives are at stake.”
The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the pool deck on the building’s ground floor sat on a concrete slab that showed “major structural damage” and needed major repairs. The report also found “extensive cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.
Just two months before the building fell, the chairman of his board wrote a letter to residents saying that the structural problems identified during the 2018 inspection had “worsened significantly” and that major repairs would cost at least $ 15.5 million. While bids for the work were still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.
Associated Press editors Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Mark Kennedy in New York City contributed to this report.