The demolition plan calls for using small strategically placed detonations as part of a technique known as “energetic felling,” a controlled explosion that also relies on gravity to bring the building down in the smallest possible footprint. Levine Cava said the collapse will be confined to the immediate area, but she advised nearby residents to keep their windows closed during the demolition to avoid dust.
“Bringing the building down in a controlled manner is critical to expanding our scope of search in the pile,” Levine Cava said at a Sunday evening news conference.
Demolishing the structure was initially thought to be weeks away. But the approach of Tropical Storm Elsa added a perilous new variable to the rescue mission and accelerated demolition plans; the storm had weakened from a hurricane over the weekend but is still on course to reach the Florida Peninsula early this week.
The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center says that, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Elsa is expected to pass near or over Florida’s western coast, away from Miami-Dade County, but storm trackers warn that the area could feel rain and wind gusts from the system’s outer bands.
“We pray for the limited impacts of the storm in Surfside, so that we can continue unimpeded,” Levine Cava said.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that as of Sunday morning, 80 percent of the preparation work for the demolition was complete. He said the plan is to bring down the rest of Champlain Towers South in a westward direction, so the debris pile is not affected. This would allow rescuers to access a broader swath of the wreckage, where officials and relatives are still holding out hope that there might be survivors.
Search crews have only been able to access a fraction of the debris pile since a 15-hour pause on Thursday over concerns about the remaining tower’s stability.
“This demolition is going to open up wide the whole area. And we’re going to be able to pour resources onto that pile,” Burkett said. “. . . We are going to attack it big time.”
The Miami-Dade Police Department identified another person Sunday evening. The body of David Epstein, 58, was recovered Friday, the department tweeted. The death toll stands at 24, with 121 people still unaccounted for.
For nearly 40 years, Champlain Towers South was a familiar sight on the Surfside waterfront. Completed during Florida’s condominium boom in the 1980s, it offered a slice of oceanfront living at comparatively more accessible prices than the glitzy surrounding communities. It was also, in many ways, a microcosm of Miami’s unique diversity, a blend of families, many of whom had fled troubled homelands in search of prosperity.
Surfside resident Darrell Arnold lives in a house on Harding Avenue, about a block from the collapsed building, and said he and his wife were frequent visitors to the beach behind the building, where they’d go to sunbathe and swim.
“In some ways, before the event, the building was just another building on the beach,” he said. “Now it’s a site of trauma and tragedy, a sign of — I don’t know. I don’t even know what it is. Is it a sign of mismanagement, over-optimism, negligence? I don’t know.”
Arnold said the sight of the wreckage is still hard to process. He hopes the site can be converted into a memorial, at least for some period of time.
“At one point, the word grotesque occurred to me, to build something there very quickly, like a for-profit building,” he said. “At least there needs to be some time for that to be some kind of memorial.”
Officials have acknowledged the complex emotions surrounding the demolition of a building that, before the deadly collapse, had housed a close-knit community.
Surfside as a town is home to a diverse Jewish and Latin American population, which was reflected in the tower’s residents, who were a blend of religions, nationalities and languages brought together by their shared address. The scent of dishes such as ropa vieja — a savory meat dish — and the sounds of English, Spanish, Hebrew and Russian filled the halls.
“So many seemingly wonderful people lost their lives in a collapse that could have — and should have — been avoided,” Miami historian Paul George said. “And, sadly, Surfside will long be remembered for this tragedy.”
The demolition is the furthest thing from a spectacle, said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), whose district includes Surfside, at the Sunday briefing.
“This is tragic, not a celebration, not a spectacle,” she said. “And we need to think about the further loss that the demolition of this building means for these families.”
Gabe Nir, whose family narrowly escaped the collapse, said he wants to be as far away from the site as possible — and other survivors have told him they feel the same way.
“I definitely don’t want to see it or hear it at all,” Nir said in a text message. “It’s terrifying watching it all ‘collapse’ again. I don’t want to hear and feel the rumble.”
As the demolition neared, some expressed concern for any pets that may have been left behind as residents fled in panic after the collapse. By late Sunday, more than 15,000 people had signed an online petition to halt the demolition until all the animals are rescued.
But firefighters have for days been trying to save animals in the building, including by using drones with thermal imaging to survey the remaining units. They’ve conducted “three full sweeps” of the buildings but have found no signs of missing animals, Levine Cava said.
“We have done absolutely everything possible to locate any animals left in the building, and our first responders have put themselves at great risk in their search efforts,” she said.
Late Sunday, before the building was to be razed, Judge Michael Hanzman of Florida’s 11th Circuit held an emergency hearing for a condo resident who asked the court to allow her to enter her unit to search for her pet before the demolition. Hanzman said he was sympathetic, but he denied the motion, saying he wouldn’t “second guess the wisdom” of officials and engineering experts.
With hours left until the still-standing portion of Champlain Towers South is demolished, Toshawnka Walker stopped to visit a sprawling memorial a block from the site. An engineer, he had been closely following the news of the collapse and, moved by what had transpired, wanted to pay his respects, though he doesn’t live in the community.
From his view across the street, the still-standing portion looked almost normal: intact balconies with potted plants, patio furniture and other pieces of people’s lives. A couple of sliding glass doors appeared to be open, like someone had just briefly stepped away.
“Somewhere in there is a family relic,” Walker said. “Somewhere in there is a family heirloom, and the person is looking at it, and they know right where it is, but they can’t get it.”
Laura Hernandez, a friend of Graciela Cattarossi, whose body was recovered alongside her daughter’s in recent days, said she understood the decision to demolish Champlain Towers South quickly, given the risk it poses to rescue crews.
“I understand there’s also some people concerned about the animals,” she said, calling the demolition a hard decision. “But you have to think about all the people risking their lives to recover all the bodies.
“For the families, it must be hard it’s not going to be there anymore,” she added. “All you have is the memories.”
Nick Miroff contributed to this report.