SURFSIDE, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Rescuers were given the all-clear to resume work looking for victims at a collapsed South Florida condo building after demolition crews set off a string of explosives that brought down the last of the building in a plume of dust.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the Associated Press that the demolition went “exactly as planned” around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
Crews immediately began clearing some of the new debris so rescuers could start making their way into parts of the underground garage that is of particular interest. Once there, they were hoping to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for 121 people believed to be trapped under the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside that collapsed June 24.
So far, rescuers have recovered the remains of 24 people. No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the June 24 collapse, but officials have pledged to keep looking despite the dwindling chance of finding survivors.
During the demolition, a loud rat-at-tat of explosions echoed from the structure. Then the building began to fall, one floor after another, cascading into an explosion of dust. Plumes billowed into the air, as crowds watched the scene from afar.
“It was picture perfect. Exactly what we were told would happen,” Levine Cava said in an interview shortly after the demolition.
Some residents had pleaded to return to their homes one last time before the demolition to retrieve belongings left in haste, but were denied. Others wondered about the pets left behind, even though officials said they found no signs of animals after making three final sweeps, including the use of drones to peer into the abandoned structure.
The mayor also said that teams are working to save any personal items they can. “We have been asking them to go ahead and catalog all of their precious belongings so that as soon as they are recovered, we’ll be able to make a match.”
Officials had evacuated residents around the site ahead of the demolition and warned others to stay indoors and close windows, doors and any other openings that could allow dust in.
Approaching Tropical Storm Elsa had added urgency to the demolition plans with forecasts suggesting the system could bring strong winds. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida because of the storm, making federal aid possible.
The latest forecasts have moved the storm westward, mostly sparing South Florida, but National Hurricane Center meteorologist Robert Molleda said the area could still feel effects.
“We’re expecting primarily tropical storm force gusts,” Molleda said, referring to gusts above 40 mph (64 kph).
The decision to demolish the remnants of the Surfside building came after concerns mounted that the damaged structure was at risk of falling, endangering the crews below and preventing them from operating in some areas. Parts of the remaining building shifted on Thursday, prompting a 15-hour suspension in the work.
Authorities had gone door-to-door to advise nearby residents of the timing of the demolition, and to ask them to keep windows closed. They were told to stay inside until two hours after the blast to avoid the dust raised by the implosion.
The method used for Sunday night’s demolition is called “energetic felling,” which uses small detonation devices and relies on the force of gravity. The goal was to bring in the building down in place, containing the collapse to the immediate surroundings.
Officials used tarps to visually mark the search area, in case new debris scattered unexpectedly.
The method of demolition is called “energetic felling,” which uses small detonation devices and relies on the force of gravity. It was expected to bring the building down in place, containing the collapse to the immediate surroundings.
A spokesperson for the state’s Division of Emergency Management said BG Group subcontracted with Maryland-based Controlled Demolition Inc., which experts say is among only a handful of companies in the U.S. that demolishes structures using explosives.