Since the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South building on June 24 in Surfside, Florida, the arduous process of finding and identifying victims among the wreckage has been shouldered by many, including search-and-rescue teams, first responders and public employees.
Their efforts, aside from brief weather and safety delays concerning the dangerous and unstable conditions, have been around-the-clock. And continuing now into its fourth week, casualties are still being determined.
On Saturday, officials named another person who died in the collapse. 36-year-old Theresa Velasquez was recovered from the rubble on July 8, according to Miami-Dade police.
Two additional victims were identified by police on Friday. 51-year-old Brad Cohen and 79-year-old Maria Popa were recovered on July 7 and July 9, respectively.
The death toll remains at 97 and 95 victims have now been identified.
Miami-Dade County said this week that, moving forward, it will only be reporting the number of victims who have been identified, “out of respect for the families who are still waiting and to ensure we are reporting the most accurate possible numbers.”
The collapse, which devastated victims’ families and friends in the US and abroad, has alarmed homeowners and residents of other condominium buildings, worried that a similar situation could occur for them. And mourners continue to pay tribute at the Wall of Hope, a memorial to those lost located on the gates of the building’s tennis court.
Investigators on-site and off-site search for answers
Now entering the latter part of July, recovery teams continue to sift through what is left of the building. At least 22 million pounds of debris and concrete have been removed, according to Miami-Dade County.
“On the original collapse site, we are almost at the bottom,” Miami-Dade Police spokesperson Alvaro Zabaleta told CNN on Thursday. “Does that mean we are almost done with the search? No. Until we clear the entire site and find no more human remains we are not done.”
“We are almost there,” Zabaleta added.
While cleanup efforts may be nearing a completion point, determining the reasons behind the collapse will continue well into the foreseeable future.
One building engineer told CNN that his access to the site to investigate potential causes of the collapse has been limited while police investigate.
“Until they do their job, we can’t go in to do samples of materials and take those samples and test them to understand what the various components of the building that came down was,” structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer, who was hired by the town of Surfside, told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Friday.
This week, Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle acknowledged the “multiple requests by engineers and attorneys” to gain access to the site.
“Engineers from the federal agency National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were deployed to Surfside with Congressional authority to gather evidence and determine how and why the Champlain South Tower collapsed. NIST is the fact-finding agency responsible for investigating building collapses such as the World Trade Center, much like the NTSB investigates plane crashes,” Rundle said in a statement.
“We cannot forget that the scene and all the related materials are still under active investigation, preservation and examination, and as usual, law enforcement is in charge of the scene,” Rundle noted.
“It is my understanding that once NIST, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Miami-Dade Police Departments determine that it is safe and appropriate for others to gain access to the site, they will be permitted to do so under guidelines set forth by those agencies,” Rundle said.
CNN’s Rosa Flores, Rebekah Riess, Leyla Santiago, Claudia Dominguez and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.