Officials scramble to demolish rest of Florida condo ahead of tropical storm

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The remaining portion of the partially collapsed condominium in South Florida will be demolished this weekend ahead of an incoming tropical storm, officials said Saturday.

Fearing Tropical Storm Elsa could knock down the part of Champlain Towers South that remains teetering over the pile of rubble left when half the building pancaked to the ground last week, Miami Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said a controlled demolition would take place as soon as possible.

Two more bodies were found overnight, Levine Cava said, bringing the death toll in the tragedy to 24, with 124 people still missing.

The storm, which was downgraded from a hurricane late Saturday morning, is expected to reach the state Monday evening.

While current forecasts predict it will skirt South Florida and travel around the west coast of the peninsula, the National Weather Service said Elsa’s track is still unpredictable. A slight shift could put it on a direct route for the Miami area, and it could regain strength as it travels over the region’s warm waters.

Even as a tropical storm, with sustained winds of about 70 mph, Elsa could bring more havoc to the site in the town of Surfside, where fears of the remainder of the building collapsing already hampered rescue and recovery efforts, including forcing a 15-hour work stoppage Thursday.

Levine Cava said that was why, when a quick demolition option presented itself on Friday night, officials decided to go ahead with taking it down, after announcing earlier in the evening that it wasn’t possible to do so safely until later in the month.

“Obviously it is all of our fervent desire that this can be safely before the storm so that we can direct the demolition,” she said.

“The fear was that the hurricane may take the building down for us,” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkette, “and take it down in the wrong direction, on top of the pile where we have victims.”

Engineers from Controlled Demolition Inc., a Maryland company, were on the site Saturday finalizing the plan for the controlled demolition, Levine Cava said. An exact timetable was not set.

Once the plan is complete, the rest of the building will be down within 36 hours, and will entail “minimal” stoppage of the search and rescue operations, Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

“This will protect our search and rescue teams. We don’t know when it could fall over,” he said, acknowledging that survivors of the collapse who lived in the portion that did not fall were hoping to retrieve belongings. “I don’t think there’s any way you could let people go back in there now.”

The state is picking up the cost of the demolition, DeSantis said.

“Our mission is to expedite it as soon as possible,” he said.

Levine Cava said she spoke with both survivors and family members of the missing, who understood the necessity for the demolition.

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