Search continues after Surfside building collapse

By Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 9:13 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021
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7:06 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

Miami-Dade police identify 3 more victims of Surfside collapse

From CNN’s Rosa Flores and Rebekah Riess

The Miami-Dade Police Department has identified three more victims of the Champlain Towers South condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida.

According to MDPD, 76-year-old Nancy Kress Levin, 52-year-old Jay Kleiman, and 67-year-old Francis Fernandez, were recovered from the rubble Monday.

The number of deceased now stands at 36, with 29 individuals having been identified.

9:13 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

CNN reports from the Surfside condo collapse rescue site as officials say death toll has risen to 36

CNN's Rosa Flores reported from the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse site as search and rescue teams continue to race to find individuals in the rubble. This is the first time CNN has gotten this close to the collapsed building.

"As you might imagine, you can feel the pain, you can feel the urgency here from all of the first responders that are surrounding us. Now, what you're looking at, is what is left of the demolition that happened on Sunday. That's what this front portion of the building is," Flores reported.

There are about 200 search and rescue personnel on the site right now, Flores said.

"They are very carefully sifting through this rubble. They only bring and use the heavy machinery when they feel it's safe. First, before that happens, every single piece of this rubble that they come in contact with, they methodically analyze their movements, because any movement could be catastrophic," Flores explained.

Crews recovered four more bodies Tuesday, bringing the condo collapse death toll to 36, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at an evening news conference. There are 109 "reports of people who are potentially unaccounted for," the mayor said.

Watch Flores' reporting on the ground:

Crews were forced to pause for about two hours earlier this afternoon because of lightning and some gusts of wind that went above 30 miles per hour with Tropical Storm Elsa approaching, the mayor said.

Levine Cava said a meteorologist has been embedded with rescue crews, staying with them on the rubble mound to provide any weather updates and to make sure they are safe.

CNN's Madeline Holcombe, Eric Levenson, Amanda Watts and Rebekah Riess contributed reporting to this post. 

6:39 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

Surfside will send letter to oceanfront condo boards advising of stopgap measures to be taken

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett announced on Tuesday evening, that he has drafted a letter, which will go out as soon as tomorrow, advising all of Surfside’s oceanfront condo boards and building owners of the steps that the city’s expert engineer and building official believe should be taken as a “minimum stopgap measure” to provide residents with a basic level of confidence that their building is not obviously unsafe.

“This is clearly only an interim step until we get the final results from NIST, which may not be known for quite a while,” Burkett said. 

“The town of Surfside is committed to doing everything it can to ensure the safety and peace of mind of its residents and we are grateful to our county, state, and federal partners for all their amazing support,” the mayor added.

6:38 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

Evidentiary debris from Surfside collapse is in Miami-Dade police custody

From CNN’s David Shortell and Rebekah Riess

Debris being gathered at the Surfside collapse site is “all evidentiary debris,” according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. It is being sorted on site, and any objects that can be distinguished are put in certain bins and labeled as to their exact location, the mayor said.

The debris is then taken to a site for additional sorting. Miami-Dade County has a warehouse where the debris will be stored in Miami-Dade Police custody until the county has the time to complete an investigation, according to Levine Cava.

“We're securing the site and we are cataloguing and documenting all evidence being sorted and brought to that site for future reviewing as the investigation progresses,” Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez said.

According to Mayor Levine Cava, the county has created a form for family members to document their belongings, which will be an active part of the investigation.

“The families are not reviewing what's come out of the site at this time, but we have photographs, they have their information, and as we move forward, we'll be attempting to do matching and releasing it to them as soon as we can, given the active investigation," the mayor said.

6:01 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

4 additional bodies recovered from condo collapse site, bringing number of confirmed deaths to 36

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Despite rain and the other adverse conditions, search and rescue teams at the Surfside collapse site have recovered four additional victims, bringing the number of confirmed deaths to 36, with 109 people who are potentially unaccounted for, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Search and rescue continued their operation today, but were forced to pause for about two hours earlier this afternoon because of lightning and some gusts of wind that went above 30 miles per hour with Tropical Storm Elsa approaching, Levine Cava said. 

To protect the safety of our first responders a meteorologist has been embedded in the team, staying with them on the rubble mound to provide any weather updates and to make sure crews are safe, according to the mayor.

Levine Cava also noted, that earlier this afternoon, President Biden called her to check in on the community and to ensure that the federal government is continuing to do everything that it can to provide needed support.

5:42 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

Florida judge overseeing civil suits against Champlain Towers South asks plaintiff lawyers to go pro bono

From CNN's David Shortell

 Judge Michael Hanzman
Judge Michael Hanzman Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida

The Florida judge overseeing a group of civil lawsuits filed against the Champlain Towers South condominium board asked the plaintiff lawyers involved in the cases to consider working pro bono as they seek to win a payout for their clients, a mix of residents of the collapsed tower and family members of victims. 

“I want you to think about which firms if any here are willing, given the unique circumstances of this tragic case, which is not business as usual, to participate on a pro bono basis,” Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing Tuesday.

Hanzman said he would consider allowing for attorney’s fees and a “reasonable compensation” to be awarded to the lawyers from any funds won in the case if a pro bono agreement were to be reached.

The issue is expected to come up again at a follow-up hearing on Wednesday morning.

5:05 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

Catch up: Where things stand in the Surfside condo collapse rescue effort 

From CNN's Alyssa Kraus, Madeline Holcombe, Eric Levenson and Amanda Watts

Lynne Sladky/AP
Lynne Sladky/AP

The death toll at the site of the Champlain Towers South has risen to 32 after four additional bodies were found in the rubble. The victims range in age from 4 to 92-years-old.

Since the building collapsed, search and rescue teams have worked tirelessly to find the other 113 people who still remain unaccounted for.

Here's what we know so far:

The victims:

  • Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that out of the 113 people unaccounted for, "only around 70 of those are people we have been able to confirm were in fact in the building during the collapse." Levine Cava said detectives will continue to conduct interviews with loved ones to match up names, dates of birth and apartment numbers.
  • Two people have been hospitalized and are in the care of Jackson Health System following the collapse, according to the health system's spokesperson Lidia Amoretti-Morgado. No more details are available due to privacy, she said.

Search and rescue:

  • Search and rescue operations are growing more urgent as crews approach their second week. The teams have worked in shifts to sift through the rubble as quickly as possible. About 5 million pounds of debris have been removed from the site of the collapse so far, Cava's office said.
  • Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said they are not finding any positive signs of voids or livable spaces as rescue workers continue to search the rubble. The official said, “We’re definitely searching,” adding “unfortunately we're not seeing anything positive.”
  • The added pressure of Tropical Storm Elsa means rescue operations may be halted soon. Although Surfside, Florida, is not within the storm's forecast cone, heavy rainfall, strong winds, possible tornadoes and potential power outages are all being monitored by local officials. Officials said search teams will be called off the rubble if wind gusts hit 45 mph or higher.

The investigation:

  • The mayor said the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the US Geological Survey and the National Science Foundation are sending staff to investigate why the building collapsed. "NIST, our federal partner, continues to work closely with the structural specialists, with detectives, and the fire rescue crews on site, as the evidence gathering process is well underway," Levine Cava said. "They're capturing all possible insights from the debris and all evidence is being properly tagged and logged."

Read more updates on the condo collapse here.

3:12 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

Search teams will be called off the rubble when wind gusts hit 45 mph

From CNN’s Rosa Flores and John Couwels

Lynne Sladky/AP
Lynne Sladky/AP

As search and rescue teams continue to look for survivors at the Champlain Towers South collapse site, officials on the ground are monitoring the conditions of Tropical Storm Elsa.

So long as wind gusts stay below 45 miles per hour, search and rescue teams can continue looking for signs of life, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesperson Erika Benitez. Benitez says that if gusts reach 45 miles an hour, rescue teams are called off the pile. 

Remember: Surfside is not in Elsa's forecast cone, but the area is expected to get wind gusts and strong showers throughout the day. 

1:50 p.m. ET, July 6, 2021

Uncle of Surfside survivor calls to thank man who found his 15-year-old nephew in the rubble

From CNN’s Leyla Santiago and Gregory Lemos 

The uncle of a 15-year-old who survived the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Florida, called the man who found the teenager in the rubble to thank him. 

Nicholas Balboa told CNN Tuesday that he heard 15-year-old Jonah Handler, screaming under the rubble after the condo building collapsed. Balboa was not in the building when it collapsed, but was staying nearby. 

According to Balboa, Jonah's uncle, who is his mother's brother, reached out to Balboa on June 28 on Facebook and also called him to say “thank you” for saving his nephew. 

Balboa said he told the uncle, "Sorry I couldn't get to his sister faster."

Balboa said Jonah's uncle told him his nephew was out of the hospital with only minor injuries. 

Balboa said he has not spoken to Jonah and there were no plans in the works to meet, saying he wants to give the 15-year-old time and space.

Since the collapse, Balboa says he has replayed that moment in his mind many times, wondering what he could have done differently to save more people, he told CNN over the phone Tuesday. 

"I wish I had had different shoes on," he said.

Read more about their story here.