(CNN) — The remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, was demolished shortly after 10:30 p.m. ET Sunday.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told CNN in a briefing Sunday night that once the area is deemed safe following the building’s demolition, search and rescue teams will resume their efforts. in the pile of rubble.
Search efforts at the partially collapsed building were halted Saturday around 4 p.m. so that engineers could secure the site and prepare for the demolition, which authorities said was crucial to allow authorities to continue to search for survivors safely. eliminating the threat posed by the part of the structure that was still standing.
“As soon as the building is torn down and once the site is deemed safe, we will have our first responders back in the pile to immediately resume their work,” Levine Cava said Sunday night.
He called the demolition method “energy logging”, describing it as a process that “uses strategically placed small explosives and relies on gravity to knock the building down into place.”
The demolition was planned to be limited to the immediate area around the building, but nearby residents were asked to stay indoors as a precaution, the mayor said, saying dust and other particles would be an “unavoidable byproduct” of the demolition. demolition.
Authorities accelerated actions due to the advance of Tropical Storm Elsa, which is heading towards southern Florida with heavy rains. The demolition team continued its preparations on Sunday, the 11th day since approximately 55 of the building’s 136 units collapsed early June 24, leaving at least 24 dead. There are 121 people who are still missing.
Among those killed are sisters aged 4 and 10, an elderly couple and the daughter of a firefighter.
Nicole Mejias told CNN on Saturday that five of her family members were in the Champlain Towers South building when it collapsed, including 7-year-old Stella Cattarossi, daughter of the Miami firefighter. Cattarossi’s body was found Thursday night.
“We miss them very much, we wish this tragedy had not happened and we will always remember them,” said Mejías.
On Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett stressed that authorities are still working with the mindset that this is still a rescue effort.
“This is not a recovery effort at all,” Burkett said, then added, “There is no one in charge who is really talking about stopping this rescue effort. And this rescue effort, as far as I’m concerned, will continue until everyone has been pulled out of that rubble.
Burkett said in Sunday’s briefing that his team was tasked with altering its operational focus around the collapsed structure as Tropical Storm Elsa approached.
“It seems as if the coming storm could have been a blessing in disguise for us as it started the discussion about demolition,” he said.
Burkett said he hopes the demolition will eliminate a potentially dangerous threat to workers and possibly open an estimated third of the remaining pile for search and rescue teams.
“We want to make sure we control which way the building falls and not the hurricane, so all of this put together I think it turned out to be a good thing,” Burkett said.
Race against the storm
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 15 counties, including Miami-Dade County, on Saturday due to Tropical Storm Elsa.
“We are preparing for the risk of isolated tornadoes, storm surges, heavy rains and flash floods,” DeSantis said, adding that the state “has begun implementing contingency plans for Tropical Storm Elsa and Surfside’s co-response.” .
A tropical storm watch has been issued for the Florida Keys and a tropical storm watch is in effect for parts of southwestern Florida as far north as Tampa Bay.
Elsa was a Category 1 hurricane on Friday and early Saturday, but weakened to a tropical storm as it passed through the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Forecasters say the center of the storm will not directly affect Surfside, although the city could be affected by its outer bands, with gusts of wind and rain beginning in the area Monday morning.
The potential for weather-related problems at the collapse site influenced decisions by authorities on the ground, and Levine Cava said Saturday that officials hoped the demolition could be carried out before the area felt the impacts of Elsa. .
Plans to demolish the remaining part of the building were announced at the end of the week as rescuers continued to search the rubble for victims.
Search and rescue operations were briefly suspended Thursday after engineers noticed changes in the pile of debris that posed a danger to rescue teams, authorities said. After operations resumed later that day, authorities confirmed that a demolition would likely be necessary to keep rescue teams and the collapse site safe for future searches.
On Sunday, the condo board of Champlain Towers East, a sister building to Champlain Towers South, suggested its residents evacuate before demolition, according to a letter from the condo association’s board of directors obtained by CNN.
The letter said that while guidance had not yet been provided, they were encouraging residents to evacuate early as nearby streets will be congested due to the demolition. They also asked residents to take their pets and valuables, including passports and valuable documents.
“The foundation of our building has been inspected several times, but we make this suggestion with great caution,” the letter read. “We don’t expect any impact for us, but you can’t be too careful under the circumstances.”
Controlled Demolition, Inc. was tasked with demolishing the remaining structure at Champlain Towers South, Levine Cava said.
The governor voiced support for the demolition plan ahead of Elsa’s impact, saying on Saturday that he believed it would be best if the building was torn down before the storm hit. “With these gusts potentially, it would create a really great danger.”
Survivors are unlikely to recover their belongings prior to demolition
As for the survivors, the demolition could mean the loss not only of their homes but also of their possessions.
Those whose condos were not affected by the collapse had to evacuate without many of their belongings, leaving behind clothing, valuables and family photos. But officials indicated that it was not safe for them to go back inside to retrieve those items.
“At this moment they tell us that the building is not safe. People are not going to enter the building, ”Levine Cava told CNN on Friday when asked if survivors could collect their belongings. “I don’t know how that could have happened.”
When asked Sunday if the families of the victims could recover items that belonged to those they lost, such as their clothing, Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez III said homicide detectives had been ” collecting recoverable items and that they are registering and documenting them at this time.
Any type of relic that is safe to recover is being documented to “be discussed at a later date with family members,” he said.
In addition, a system has been established for family members to report the properties they are looking for, Ramírez said.
Officials have also made every effort to rescue pets that might remain in the building prior to demolition.
On Sunday night, Levine Cava said Miami Dade Fire Department personnel had conducted multiple sweeps of the facility, searching closets and under beds, as well as using thermal imaging drones to locate the animals. The last information officials had was that animals were not left inside.
“Those who were forced to evacuate the remaining part of the building left their entire lives behind,” Levine Cava said. “We know. And we are deeply, deeply concerned and empathetic about how extraordinarily difficult this time is for them and their families.
Evacuation of a Miami Beach apartment building ordered
Amid the investigation into what caused the collapse, the nearby city of Miami Beach ordered the evacuation of a three-story residential building Saturday night as a precaution, according to city spokeswoman Melissa Berthier.
The building is on Lenox Avenue and has 24 units, by Berthier. According to the city, 11 of the units are vacant and one person required housing assistance.
This is at least the second building to be evacuated in Miami-Dade County since Champlain Towers South collapsed. Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach was evacuated Friday.
Berthier said Miami Beach fire crews responded to a call for service Saturday about an empty unit. When the city inspector arrived on the scene, he noted a “failure of the flooring system in that unit and excessive deflection in an exterior wall.”
The evaluation of the building’s structural integrity is ongoing, according to Berthier.
Separately, the City of Surfside has asked owners of buildings older than 30 years and more than three stories high to evaluate their properties for recertification before their traditional 40-year deadline.
According to a memo obtained by CNN from a resident of the Champlain Towers East complex, Surfside construction official James McGuinness asked homeowners, especially those with structures on the ocean side of Collins Avenue, to hire a registered geotechnical engineer. in Florida to perform an analysis of the foundation and subsoil soils.
The note reminds homeowners that it is their responsibility to recertify and maintain the buildings regularly. It also requires a written action plan in response within 30 days of receipt of the memo.
CNN’s Brian Todd, Natasha Chen, Kevin Conlon, Claudia Dominguez, Casey Tolan, and Haley Brink contributed to this report.