Surfside condo collapse

‘Staggering and Heartbreaking': Surfside Collapse Death Toll Reaches 79

The bodies of 15 more victims were found at the site, officials said Friday

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What to Know

  • The bodies of 15 more victims were found at the site of the collapsed Surfside condo, officials said Friday
  • The death toll now stands at 79, with as many as 61 people still unaccounted for
  • More than 13 million pounds of concrete and debris have been removed from the site, officials said

The death toll in the collapse of a Surfside condo building rose to 79 on Friday, as recovery workers toiled for a 16th day to find victims in the rubble. 

At a news conference Friday, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said 15 more victims were found, bringing the death toll to 79.

"This is a staggering and heartbreaking number that affects all of us very very deeply," Levine Cava said. "The magnitude of this tragedy is growing each and every day."

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Another 61 people are potentially still unaccounted for, Levine Cava said. Detectives are still working to verify that each of those listed as missing was actually in the building when it collapsed.

Levine Cava said the number of bodies recovered has put a strain on the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office, with the medical examiner from neighboring Broward County now helping.

More than 13 million pounds of concrete and debris have been removed from the site, with 60 trucks working to haul it away per day, officials said.

"The pile that was originally four or five stories. It’s now almost at ground level. So the progress that our search and rescue teams are making is really incredible," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.

NBC 6's Johnny Archer is in Surfside where he spoke with Florida State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis about how the demolition has helped speed up the process.

At the same news conference, officials said one rescue worker had to be hospitalized after suffering a cardiac incident, while another was hospitalized for a laceration. A Miami-Dade Police officer also had their foot run over by a truck, officials said.

Officials were expected to give another update on the recovery effort later Friday.

On Thursday, a fire official told family members at a meeting that crews “will not stop working until they’ve gotten to the bottom of the pile and recovered every single of the families’ missing loved ones,” Burkett said at an evening news conference. He did not identify the official, but said the families were grateful.

“This is exactly the message the families wanted to hear,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, family members and first responders met at the Champlain Towers South collapse site for a moment of silence and prayers, as well as a flyover by Miami-Dade Police's Aviation Unit to honor the victims.

As the search continued, a Paraguayan official disclosed late Thursday that rescuers had found in the rubble the bodies of Sophia López Moreira, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady Silvana Abdo, and López Moreira’s husband Luis Pettengill and the youngest of their three children.

NBC 6's Laura Rodriguez spoke to some members of the search-and-rescue teams at the collapse site -- among them is a mother of a 3-month-old.

That South American nation's foreign minister, Euclides Acevedo, told Paraguay's ABC Cardinal radio station that the two other children and the family assistant are still missing.

“We ask people for their solidarity and a prayer,” he said. “In the face of a tragedy, Paraguayan people must show their traditional solidarity.”

Levine Cava said teams paused briefly atop the pile to mark the two-week anniversary of the disaster, but there was no let-up in the pace or number of rescuers at the site.

“The work continues with all speed and urgency," she said. "We are working around the clock to recover victims and to bring closure to the families as fast as we possibly can.”

The painstaking search for survivors shifted to a recovery effort at midnight Wednesday after authorities said they had come to the agonizing conclusion that there was “no chance of life” in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South.

“When that happened, it took a little piece of the hearts of this community,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose congressional district includes Surfside.

Wasserman Schultz and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged financial assistance to families of the victims, as well as to residents of the building who survived but lost all their possessions.

On Friday afternoon, DeSantis signed an executive order that removes the burden of property taxes for the families and residents of Champlain Towers South

DeSantis said the state government will also work toward channeling an outpouring of charitable donations to families affected by the collapse.

Levine Cava said crews were also collecting and cataloguing numerous personal items, including legal documents, photo albums, jewelry, and electronic goods that they would seek to reunite families with.

The shift to recovery is hard for families who were holding out hope -- while some just want closure. NBC 6's Ari Odzer reports

The Rev. Juan Sosa of St. Joseph Catholic Church met with other spiritual leaders at the collapse site, where heavy machinery worked in the rubble and mourners left flowers and photos. He said faith leaders hope to bring peace to the grieving families.

“I’m hoping that they have some closure as we continue to pray for them,” he said.

The change from search and rescue to recovery was somber. Hours before the transition Wednesday, rescue workers stood at solemn attention, and clergy members hugged local officials, many of them sobbing.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said Wednesday he expects the recovery effort will take several more weeks. He added crews are now using heavier equipment, expediting the removal of debris.

“We are expecting the progress to move at a faster pace," he added.

Hope of finding survivors was briefly rekindled after workers demolished the remainder of the building, allowing access to new areas of debris.

Some voids where survivors could have been trapped did exist, mostly in the basement and the parking garage, but no one was found alive. Instead, teams recovered more than a dozen additional victims.

No one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the 12-story building fell on June 24.

Meanwhile, authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse. And at least six lawsuits have been filed by families.

AP and NBC 6
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