SEARCH and rescue operations have resumed at the site of the deadly Miami condo collapse after efforts were halted for 15 hours over concerns the rest of the building could collapse.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters on Friday that two more victims had been found dead since the rescue work resumed yesterday evening, bringing the death toll up to 20.
One of the latest victims was a seven-year-old girl who was found among the rubble by her father, a city of Miami firefighter, who had been working at the site of the collapse.
A first responder who did not want to be identified told Local 10 rescuers brought her down and the girl’s father draped his jacket over her body and placed a small American flag on the gurney.
The victim and her father were not identified.
Cava called the tragic discovery "uniquely different" and "more difficult for our first responders."
She added that the rescuers, who have worked tirelessly since the Champlain Tower South collapsed eight days ago, are "paying a huge human toll."
Cava said 123 people remain missing and 188 are safe.
The rescue work was halted shortly after 2am on Thursday amid concerns about the stability of the building. Crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column at the base of the building.
Work resumed shortly before 5pm after the site was evaluated by structural engineers and deemed safe.
Contrary to initial fears, experts determined the building itself had not moved, but there was movement in the debris pile below and in debris on the building “of significant size,” FEMA specialist Scott Nacheman said.
“We will continue to search feverishly, as we have done all along in the parts of the collapse that we currently have access to,” Cava said.
She added that firefighters were "excited" to get back out there after the lengthy delay.
The stoppage had threatened to dim hopes for finding anyone alive in the debris a week after the tower came crashing down.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the halt was worrisome since “minutes and hours matter, lives are at stake.”
No survivors have been found among the rubble since last Thursday, merely hours after the collapse.
While rescue efforts remain the primary concern, local officials have started planning for the likely demolition of the remaining structure.
Cava said the decision about the demolition needs to be made “extremely carefully and methodically,” considering the potential impact on the pile of debris and the effect on the search-and-rescue operations.
Nacheman said engineers are looking at different methods for the demolition and how to proceed “to make the site safe for ongoing rescue operations.”
While a demolition would significantly staff rescue efforts, he argues it would create a safer working environment that could allow more personnel on the site and accelerate the pace of the work.
It will be weeks before demolition is scheduled, however, Nacheman said.
On Friday morning, about a dozen workers could be seen digging through the pile that now reached about 20 feet – some 10 feet less than less than a week ago.
Cranes were again lifting heavy objects from the pile and then workers would climb into the pile and begin removing smaller rubble by hand.
Thursday's temporary halt in operations came on the same day President Joe Biden arrived in Surfside to meet with rescuer workers and families of the dead and missing.
It also came as officials prepare for the region to be hit by Hurricane Elsa, which may bring tropical winds to the Miami coast by Sunday.
“This is life and death,” Biden said during a briefing. “We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference.”
“There’s gonna be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow,” he said. “And so, we’re not going anywhere.”
Biden credited Mayor Cava and Gov. Ron DeSantis for their bipartisan collaboration in the wake of the tragedy.
He also promised to provide the local community with "whatever you need", telling officials to "pick up the phone" any time.
Biden then later met with a group of around 50 first responders to thank them for their "incredible" and heroic efforts since the condo tower fell.
“I just wanted to come down and say thanks,” Biden told a group of uniformed personnel. “What you’re doing now is hard as hell.”
“No one fully appreciates what you do. But I promise you we know. We know. What you are dealing with here is incredible, having to deal with the uncertainty.”
Biden also met with the victims' families.
"I just wish there was something I could do to ease the pain," Biden told them.
He offered his prayers and support, drawing on his own personal experiences with grief and loss to comfort families amid this tragedy and urged them to "never give up hope,"
"The people you may have lost — they're gonna be with you your whole life," Biden told the families. "A part of your soul, a part of who you are."
Biden told the families that it can be "harder to grieve in public than it is in private, so I know there's an extra burden on you all."
"But I promise you, I still believe in prayer," he said. "You're in my prayers."
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