SURFSIDE, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — The discovery of four more victims in the rubble of a collapsed condominium building raised the death toll to 32, a fire official said Tuesday as a ramped-up search effort faced new threats from severe weather with Tropical Storm Elsa lashing Florida on a path that would mostly bypass the collapse site.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah gave the news to family members during a closed-door morning briefing Tuesday. He said rescuers have also been locating more human remains. More than 110 people are still missing.
Jadallah said there was a two-hour delay early Tuesday in the search for victims of the June 24 collapse in Surfside as a result of lightning. He said workers have removed 5.5 million pounds of debris from the pile.
At the site of the collapsed building, Tuesday morning, power saws and backhoes could be heard as workers in yellow helmets and blue jumpsuits sifted through the rubble for a 13th day. Stiff winds of 20 mph with stronger gusts blew through the area as gray clouds from Elsa’s outer bands swirled above.
Bands of heavy rain were expected in Surfside as Elsa strengthened on Tuesday, possibly becoming a hurricane again before making landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend and crossing northern Florida. The search crews can work through rain, but lightning from unrelated thunderstorms have forced them to pause at times.
The delays frustrated rescue crews, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.
“Truly they live to save lives, and they’ve pushed ahead no matter what is thrown in their way,” she said at an evening news conference.
Still, crews got a big boost when the unstable remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South building came down Sunday. The demolition — prompted by fears that the structure could fall — allowed rescuers into previously inaccessible places, including bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping at the time of the disaster, officials said.
Rescuers hoped to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for anyone still trapped under the fallen wing of the building, but they found very few voids, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members late Monday.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse, but rescuers were still holding out hope of reuniting loved ones.
“Unfortunately we are not seeing anything positive,” Surfside fire chief said. Jadallah said they haven’t come across any new sounds that could indicate survivors or voids within the rubble.
The disaster’s first funeral will be held on Tuesday for Marcus Guara, 52, his wife Ana Guara, 42, and their daughters, Lucia, 10, and Emma, 4.
“We continue to remain focused on our primary mission, and that is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them,” City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said.
Officials said the investigation into the sister tower, Champlain Tower North, is ongoing. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Tuesday that officials have “deep concerns” about the building. Residents have not been forced to evacuate.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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