SURFSIDE, Fla. – The search and recovery effort in the rubble of the collapsed Surfside condo could be approaching its final stages as more victims are identified and the list of the missing grows shorter.
After authorities announced that crews recovered one more victim Tuesday morning and five more victims were identified, it appears there may be fewer than five people remaining to be recovered from the rubble, according to numbers released by Miami-Dade County. Still, officials cautioned that there’s no timeline for when the recovery effort is expected to conclude.
On the 20th day since Champlain Towers South suddenly collapsed in the middle of the night, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters during a morning press conference that 95 people have been confirmed dead. Of the victims, 85 have been identified.
Tuesday afternoon, after the press conference, Miami-Dade Police released the names of five more victims, including a baby, the youngest person found dead in the disaster.
The victims named Tuesday are: Andres Levine, 26, who was recovered Sunday; Moises Rodan Brief, 28, who was recovered Sunday; Aishani Gia Patel, 1, who was recovered July 6; Mercedes Fuentes Urgelles, 61, who was recovered Sunday; and Raymond Urgelles, 61, who was recovered Sunday.
The scope of the human toll is coming into clearer focus as search teams work into lower levels of a debris pile that is growing smaller each day.
Levine Cava said 14 people are potentially unaccounted for — a number that has decreased while detectives audit a list of missing people throughout the search effort and human remains are identified. There are people who are deceased who may be on the list of the missing, but it is taking time to identify the human remains being uncovered, a meticulous process that relies heavily on the work of the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s office.
Levine Cava said of the 14 unaccounted for, 12 have missing persons reports filed. There are two names that detectives are working to verify — Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said every name called in as missing was documented for verification later, and it could be that a few names were mistakenly reported.
Ramirez said detectives have gone through manifests and missing persons reports in their audits. Taking into account the narrowing gap between those victims who have been identified and the number of the missing, the police director acknowledged that there may be only a small number of people left to recover.
A timeframe is still difficult to estimate, officials said, because of the increased difficulty with identifying deteriorating human remains.
“There could be potentially four unaccounted for, but we won’t know until the medical examiner does what they do,” Ramirez said.
The mayor said the work of identifying remains is “becoming more difficult with the passage of time, and although our teams are working as hard as they can, it takes time.”
Torrential downpours forced county crews to pump water out of the lower levels of the collapse site Monday afternoon and evening, the mayor said. The weather has at times stalled a dual-track effort to recover human remains while preserving forensic evidence that can help investigators understand what led to the building’s failure.
Officials also announced Tuesday would be the last regularly scheduled in-person press conference to provide updates on the search a few blocks from the collapse site.
Future of the land
Levine Cava said while the court proceedings over the future of the land the condo stood on move forward, leaders hope there can be a memorial to the victims of the disaster.
“We’ve started to talk about the fact that we definitely need a memorial. We must have some sort of memorial, “ the mayor said. “Exactly where it will be is going to be determined, and whether some or all of that site could be preserved, that will be determined in the future.”
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said some of the families want to see the beachfront property turned into a memorial, but some want to live on that land again.
“They want the building rebuilt on a portion of the site. They acknowledge that a percentage of that site is a holy site, as I’ve said before,” Burkett said. “But they haven’t given up on their home.”
More ways to help
Kevin Guthrie, the director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, announced the opening of a donor portal where people who are able to contribute $5,000 or more can be connected directly with those impacted by the disaster through www.surfsideassistance.com. Donors who can give at least that amount are being encouraged to register so the state can match them with people who have unmet needs.
“This would be where FEMA cannot assist, or where the charitable organizations that are already on the ground may not be able to assist,” Guthrie said. “This is designed to go above and beyond.”
Guthrie encouraged those who can give less than $5,000 to visit www.surfsidestrength.com/donations/ to see a list of organizations who can receive the donations.
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