The latest on the partial building collapse near Miami

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 10:03 PM ET, Wed June 30, 2021
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7:59 a.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Israeli commander aiding Surfside rescue says more bodies and tunnels were discovered overnight 

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos 

Colonel Golan Vach, Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit.
Colonel Golan Vach, Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit. Source: CNN

The Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit said search and rescue personnel found more bodies overnight in the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Florida.  

“At the last 12 hours we found some more people,” Colonel Golan Vach, Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” Wednesday. “We found people. Unfortunately, they are not alive.” 

Vach said first-responders discovered new tunnels in the rubble Tuesday night, which allowed for the discovery of more bodies. Vach said search and rescue teams were working in the space between the collapsed balconies. 

“These tunnels that we found right now were almost the first to be big enough to enable people to stay between them. Most of the collapse is very, very tight. The collapse was major,” Vach said. 

Vach would not reveal how many people were found because the next-of-kin has not been notified. 

Vach said he had “very minor” hope teams on the pile would be able to find survivors.

7:50 a.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Engineer explains what witness accounts of pool deck collapsing first could mean in Surfside investigation

Multiple eyewitnesses said they saw the pool deck and garage area of the Surfside condo fall before the rest of the building collapsed.

Resident Sara Nir told CNN that she heard a big boom and saw the garage collapse before she and her family ran from the building.

Another witness, Cassondra Stratton, was in her unit at Champlain Towers South when she called her husband Michael Stratton early Thursday morning, he told the Miami Herald.

According to the Herald, Stratton said she was “speaking frantically about their condo building shakng,” and told him "she saw a sinkhole where the pool out her window used to be. Then the line went dead.”

The Washington Post reported that Stratton was in her fourth-floor balcony, she felt a tremor and saw the deck of the swimming pool cave in.

If the pool deck area did collapse first, Northeastern University engineering professor Mehrdad Sasani explained what that could indicate for the investigation:

"That collapse potentially could lead to two different scenarios. ... One is the potential instability of the foundation of the building. Which given that the building was on some more than — the portion that collapsed — on some more than 200 pre-cast pipes, that's also a possible scenario," Sasani told CNN's John Berman.
"Ano ther scenario that I think is potentially more likely, given the other collapsed cases that I've seen in the study, is that the floor — the deck, the pool deck floor, which is the garage roof — as it was collapsing is likely that pool in the building at the ground level and as a result of that pool, in addition to the fact that based on the 2018 report, we know that the columns of the garage were deteriorating. And due to saltwater as well as salt in the air, there [was] corrosion in the rebar. Potentially there was some weak points in the columns as well," he said. 

WATCH:

8:19 a.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Mother and daughter said they saw garage collapse before running from Surfside condo

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Sara Nir and her daughter Chani Nir, who escaped Champlain Towers moments before the condo collapsed last week, told CNN's John Berman on Tuesday night that they initially thought neighbors were doing construction.

Nir said she had just returned home to her two children around 12:30 a.m. ET when she started hearing “knocking sounds.” 

As sounds became increasingly louder, Nir said she started to believe neighbors were doing “major construction,” and she went to speak to the building’s security guard about the early morning disturbance. 

“I said, 'do you hear the sound?' It doesn't make sense in the middle of the night, early morning, people doing construction,” Nir told CNN. 

Nir said as she was speaking to the guard, she heard a big boom and saw the garage had collapsed. At this point, Nir said her son and daughter were standing outside of their apartment and she told them to run, believing an earthquake was taking place.

“In the moment, you're just, you’re just shocked, you’re like, what's going on? Like, things are just collapsing, but you don't know, is the whole building about to collapse? You just you don't know what's going on,” daughter Chani Nir said.

“I said it's not construction, it's an earthquake, and while I was running, I told the security guy [to] call the police, pull the alarm so people will be aware about this,” Sara Nir said.

“We ran out of the building, and I told my kids, run as fast as you can, crossing Collins. We just crossed Collins. God was waiting for us to leave the building. And then another big boom. Then we didn't see anything. It was suddenly white after the big boom and with white clouds all over,” Nir told CNN.

Nir said she and her children ran three or four blocks away from the building before needing to stop to catch their breath.

6:46 a.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Lawyers for condo resident have begun subpoenaing documents from engineering firm hired to do repairs

From CNN's David Shortell

Lawyers representing a resident of Champlain Towers South who is suing the building’s condominium association have begun the process of subpoenaing documents from an engineering firm that had been hired to complete repairs on the building after conducting a 2018 survey. 

The lawyers have also formally said they intend to request documents from the condominium association pertaining to the building’s integrity and other matters, according to Brad Sohn, an attorney on the case.

Both requests for discovery — a routine step in a civil lawsuit like this — were detailed in filings before the Florida court where the class action case is being heard. They were not yet available via a public docket. Sohn provided the filing related to the engineering firm to CNN.

The suit, on behalf of Manuel Drezner who lived in unit 1009 of the tower, was filed on Thursday, making it the first civil action after the building's collapse earlier that day. 

Sohn said his firm has talked to a number of other residents of the tower in recent days who have expressed interest in joining the suit. Morabito Consultants, the engineering firm, is not a defendant in the suit, which was levied against the condominium association.

The subpoena that's included in the filing is requesting “all documents, electronic records, and communications that refer, relate to, or concern Champlain Towers South and Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, Inc” from the engineering firm.

In the filing, the lawyers also say they intend to subpoena similar documents from the town of Surfside, Florida, where the tower that collapsed is located, as well as other companies in the south Florida area connected to the building, including contractors who studied moisture levels on the building’s roof.

Frank Moribato, the president of Morabito Consultants, found “major structural damage” to an area of concrete beneath the building’s pool deck during a 2018 inspection and was hired by the condominium association in 2019 to complete repairs.

The filing shared with CNN amounts to a notification to the court and the condominium association that Drezner, the plaintiff, is planning to issue the subpoenas. After a 10-day wait period, the subpoenas will likely be issued, giving the recipients 15 days to produce the requested documents.

7:07 a.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Rescue teams hold out hope as search enters 7th day

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

Search and Rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 29, in Surfside, Florida.
Search and Rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 29, in Surfside, Florida. Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

Rescue teams are entering their seventh day searching the rubble of a collapsed building in Surfside, Florida – still holding out hope they will find the 149 people unaccounted for.

"I can tell you that none of us have lost hope," Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Capt. Eddy Alarcon said. "We'll march up to that pile and start hammering away and cutting away in hopes that we can find somebody... We're always praying for somebody to be alive, but at the very least it gives some closure to the families waiting to hear from their loved ones."

The condo building, Champlain Towers South, partially collapsed in the middle of the night Thursday as many residents slept. Currently, 125 people have been accounted for and 12 have been confirmed dead.

US and international teams are looking for bedrooms buried under 13 to16 feet of concrete, Col. Golan Vach, commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit said.

"There is still hope," Vach told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "Until one week, I have a solid hope that we will find someone. After one week, it's minor."

Alarcon said he has no idea how long the rescue and recovery efforts will go on, especially seeing as the round-the-clock work has barely scratched the surface of removing the debris. But he said the crews were motivated by understanding the perspective of the families.

"What would I do? How hard are we going to work to save our family members if something like this were to happen?" he told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I just want (the families) to know that we're doing everything we can."

And many in the community are looking for ways they can help those impacted as well.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said that over $1.9 million has been raised to help those affected as of Tuesday, and some of those donations made to SupportSurfside.org have already been distributed to at least a dozen families in need and a handful of nonprofits.

The building's tennis center has been transformed. Now, it functions as a respite for the first responders, and the walls are adorned with flowers and photos memorializing those who are unaccounted for and the 12 who have died.

Laura Hernandez, a babysitter, used to spend hours on that court with Graciela Cattarossi while her daughter, Stella, played with the children Henandez babysat, she told CNN affiliate WSVN. Both, along with Graciela's parents and sister, have been reported missing.

"In September I'm going to go back with the kids, but Stella and Grace are not going to be there. It makes my heart break," Hernandez told the station.

Those who survived the collapse have told harrowing stories of their escapes.

Iliana Monteagudo, 64, woke up in the middle of the night Thursday to a strange sound. Then, she saw a crack snaking down her wall.

Barefoot, she ran from her sixth floor unit down the stairs, hearing thunderous noises and climbing over several walls as she raced toward safety, according to CNN affiliate WPLG.

"I start going down, fast, and I hear crack, crack, crack," she said. "I start to scream, 'Come on God, I want to see my son, I want to see my grandson. Don't let me die in this condition.'"

Once outside she called her son to say she was OK, but that the building behind her had collapsed.

"Three seconds separate me, the life to the death. Three seconds," she told the station.

Sara Nir's daughter had gone to take a shower and her son was keeping busy when Nir heard what sounded like construction noises around 1:10 a.m. She went to talk to the security guard about the noise in the night but was interrupted by a big boom and the garage collapsing.

She ran back to grab her family, she told CNN, and together they escaped. Two loud booming noises later and all they could see were white clouds from the dust.

Esther Gorfinkel, 88, was carried out of the building by neighbors as she headed slowly down the staircase.

When she told Albert Aguero, a man who carried her, that she lived a good 88 years and didn't need to be rescued, he told her "No, you're going to make it to your 89th birthday," Aguero told CNN affiliate WPLG.

"I saw the sky. I knew I will be safe," Gorfinkel said.

7:06 a.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Building resident says he's alive only because girlfriend persuaded him to stay with her

From CNN's Jason Hanna

Erick de Moura expected to be in his Champlain Towers South condo at the time much of it collapsed.

The only reason he wasn't: His girlfriend persuaded him to stay with her.

De Moura and his girlfriend, Fernanda Figueiredo, say they believe he is alive because he was not in his unit in the building that collapsed early June 24 in Surfside, Florida.

"I was right at her door, about to leave. And for some reason, she just asked me to stay" in her home nearby, de Moura told CNN's John Berman in Surfside on Tuesday morning.

De Moura was at Figueiredo's home on the night of June 23 to watch a Copa America soccer match between his native Brazil and Colombia on TV with friends.

After the game, he got up to leave. But Figueiredo — in a situation unusual for a Wednesday night — did not have one of her children at home. He had some appointments to attend to in the morning, but she saw an opportunity for them to spend some time together, they said.

"I wanted to take a shower and sleep comfortably. But she kept insisting for me to stay," de Moura said.

"And when I woke up at 5:30 (a.m.) to check my phone to set up my alarm to wake up for my appointment, I had some notifications" telling him something had happened, de Moura said.

Keep reading De Moura's story here.