Surfside condo collapse: Death toll rises to 54; search shifts from rescue to recovery

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Crews searching in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condominium in Surfside, Florida, will shift from a rescue effort to a recovery operation, the mayor of Miami-Dade County announced at a news conference Wednesday. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed deaths has risen to 54.

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Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that eight more bodies were recovered, pushing the confirmed death total to 54. A total of 18 bodies were recovered on Wednesday, Levine Cava said.

Update 11:15 p.m. EDT July 7: The Miami-Dade Police Department identified another victim from the Surfside condominium collapse: Elaine Lia Sabino, 71.

“To share this news to families this evening who are missing their loved ones was devastating,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters earlier during a news conference Wednesday evening. “We have all asked God for a miracle.”

Original report: Levine Cava added that there are 200 people accounted for, with 84 people still unaccounted for. The mayor added that the transition from rescue to recovery will take place at midnight.

“Our top priority through this entire operation since day one was, do everything humanly possible to search for survivors,” said Levine Cava, who added that 700 million tons of concrete and debris have been moved from the condominium site. “At this point, we have truly exhausted every resource possible in the search and rescue mission.”

Hope continues to dwindle for the families of victims nearly two weeks after the 12-story, 155-unit condominium partially collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24.

“Today is a heartbreaking day,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said at the news conference.

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told families on Wednesday that after searching through the debris, crews have concluded that it will now be next to impossible to find people alive, the AP reported.

According to the Miami Herald, Jadallah said the announcement was “some of the hardest news I’ve ever had to deliver in my professional career.”

“This decision was not an easy one,” Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky added at Wednesday evening’s news conference.

Three of the victims identified Wednesday were engineer Simon Segal, 80, and Graciela Cattarossi, 86, and Gino Cattarossi, 89, the Miami-Dade Police Department tweeted. The Cattarossis’ daughter and 7-year-old granddaughter also died in the collapse, the Herald reported. Their other daughter, Andrea, is still missing, according to the newspaper.

No one has been rescued from the site since the first hours after the building collapsed, when many of its residents were asleep.

“When we say recovery, people think that means a big bulldozer comes and takes all debris to a big warehouse … it’s not the reality,” Israeli Col. Golan Vach, who heads a specialized search-and-rescue unit of the Israel Defense Forces that is working with the Florida crews. told the Herald. “The reality is that we work with machines, we know where to dig, where to look. We search by hand, we find the victims and the relatives and we pull them out very carefully.”