SORRESIDE, Florida – With nearly half the building no longer looming above them, rescuers resumed searching the ruins of a collapsed apartment complex north of Miami Beach on Monday, finding four more bodies and raising the death toll to 28 in the hours following the attack. The still standing portion of the South Champlain Towers has been leveled.
Search efforts stalled most of the weekend amid growing concerns about the building’s stability, particularly with a tropical storm approaching. A controlled explosion around 10:30 p.m. on Sunday brought down the rest, as families continued to wait for news of more than 100 people missing since part of the building collapsed 11 days ago.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniela Levine Cava told reporters Monday that the demolition “carried out exactly as planned” and left officials optimistic about sifting through the rubble safely. “There is hope that there are spaces that will allow us to continue our search and rescue operations,” she said.
After the demolition, rescuers began searching among the ruins closest to where the remaining building structure was located, which was previously inaccessible. Search teams also began to use heavy equipment to remove debris, no longer concerned with maintaining the stability of the building.
Ms Levin Kafa said late Monday that rescuers were able to search all sections of the collapsed building for the first time. They now number 191 residents; 117 are still missing.
While part of the building was still standing, officials feared the rest could collapse at any moment, endangering workers and complicating the already difficult search. Those fears escalated throughout the weekend as Tropical Storm Elsa moved toward Florida.
Meteorologists said the worst of the storm was expected to miss Surfside, but the Miami area was expected to hit the Miami area with high winds and torrential rain. By Monday evening, the skies were dark and tornado warnings were issued, with meteorologists predicting several inches of rain in and around Miami.
Ms. Levine Cava said lightning from the approaching storm caused search efforts to be halted on Monday.
The demolition added a new layer of suffering as it saw residents who had fled their intact homes erupting into a plume of dust. Left behind are passports, wedding rings, and yellowing photos that were the last tangible reminders of long-dead relatives.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said concerns about the rest of the building have left few options other than demolition. Residents of the building who survived fled with everything with them, and were not allowed to enter the swinging building to retrieve souvenirs and valuables.
“I would have loved them to go and get their belongings, but everyone said it was too dangerous,” Mr. DeSantis said.
Animal advocates have also pushed for the blast to be delayed, saying pets were left inside. But officials said that a detailed search — where emergency workers went from room to room, looking in cupboards and under beds, and even using thermal technology — nothing was found.
As the storm approached, the engineers had to balance an urgent time crunch with the sensitivity the site required, designing the explosion to direct new debris away from the existing pile of rubble, which was covered in tarpaulins.
The explosion on Sunday night coincided with the crackling of fireworks at the Fourth of July festivities in the Miami area. But officials said the site demands reverence and encourages people to stay away.
“A lot of times, building demolitions are a spectacle — it’s almost like a show,” Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents the district in Congress, said Sunday. “This particular demolition is definitely far from that.”
On Monday morning, some residents returned, after the dust settled from the previous night, to a memorial of flowers, pictures and candles that grew along the wall of the city’s tennis courts. The day before, they were able to look out over the remainder of the tower, with intact balconies still holding chairs and tables. Now, they only saw piles of debris.