4:05 PM PDT, June 28, 2021
The death toll in the Florida condominium collapse has risen to 11, with 150 people still unaccounted for, as search and rescue crews continue to work methodically round the clock, sifting through the rubble and debris in what is the fifth day of an intense rescue operation, authorities said.
On Sunday, families rode buses to a nearby site to see crews, including firefighters, sniffer dogs and search experts, using radar and sonar devices in the area where the 12-story high-rise building once stood before a portion of it came crashing down at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, as many of its residents were sleeping.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a Sunday night press conference that family members were able to visit the site privately.
“This was something many of the family members requested and our teams worked to accommodate them,” she said. “I think it turned out very well and they were very grateful for the opportunity.”
On Sunday, authorities identified the remains of four people who were recovered as Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and his wife, Christina Beatriz Elvira Oliwkowicz, 74; and Ana Ortiz, 46, and her son Luis Bermudez, 26, the Associated Press reported.
They were four of the 11 people confirmed to have died in the collapse. At least 150 people are still unaccounted for.
The Mayor stressed that the numbers reported at this point are fluid and subject to change based on new information they get. “It is very important to keep in mind that these numbers are not final,” Cava said.
“It is very critical that if you are missing a loved one that you report it to us,” Cava said. “We are taking DNA swabs from everybody from that location so if relatives come we will take DNA swabs. It will be critically important for our identification.”
The Mayor praised the bravery and selflessness of the rescue crews who have been working rotating 12-hour shifts. “These people live to save lives. It is an inspiration to all of us and to people all around the world,” Cava said.
She noted two positive developments that took place over the weekend, as the fire and smoke that had been obstacles was now under control. And, the good weather has enabled search and rescue to move forward, she said.
“We continue to sweep the mound with canines using all of the technology available to us and and machinery to life the debris,” she said. “We ask you to continue to pray for all of the families during this impossibly difficult time as they are waiting for news and to continue to pray for our first responders who continue to toil to find loved ones.”
Overwhelmed by the generous support from all over the country and the globe, she said their Surfside fund raised, as of Sunday, $1.2 million.
Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz also spoke at the press conference. She referred to the devastation of the South Champlain Towers South as an “unprecedented crisis and tragedy and one that is incomparable anywhere in the U.S. before now,” and said that “we have to hold onto hope.”
In a tragedy or disaster situation, Schultz said, the normal procedure is to register the person’s name on a website or through an 800-number but in this situation, all registrations are being done face-to-face, a decision, she said, which was made early on.
“This crisis happened to people just living the normalcy of their lives,” Shultz said. “The gut of this community was cut out in an instant so recognizing and making sure we keep the humanity threaded through the process is critical.”
At the press briefing, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett also commended the rescue crews on the ground working tirelessly to bring the families some closure.
“Today, I started my day visiting the families and ended my day visiting with the families and learned a lot,” Burkett said. “What I learned that there was a source of optimism injected into the conversation. The Israeli search and rescue teams were in the meeting and the families were encouraged I could see it on their faces,” Burkett said.
Burkett said Mexican search and rescue teams are joining the operation and added, “like I’ve said all along, we don’t have a resource problem; we’ve only had a luck problem.”
“Our luck with respect to weather and fires seemed to turn now and we just need a few miracles each day and start pulling people out of the rubble and reuniting them with their families.”
Miami-Dade Commissioner Vice Chairman Oliver G. Gilbert said he and many of his constituents went to the beach with a group of clergy to hold hands and pray.
“God doesn’t have a gender or race or color he doesn’t know city counties countries. God is love. We can petition god right now in this place,” Gibert said. “We look at things and define ourselves by differences but when tragedy confronts us we are best defined by how we come together and so that is what you see right now.”
During his tour of the site with the fire marshal, he said he saw humanity first hand.
“For the men and women out there putting their lives at risk and doing it for the families who need closure,” he said. “It is a calling and it is a duty.”
Early Monday, a crane lifted large slabs of concrete from the debris pile as dozens of rescuers using red buckets tediously removed smaller pieces of debris they found that were emptied into a large bin for the crane to remove, the Associated Press reported.
Andy Alvarez, a deputy incident commander with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that they have been able to find some voids inside the wreckage, mostly in the basement and the parking garage.