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‘I’m officially homeless’: 2nd Florida condo evacuated as collapse site search continues

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Residents of a Miami-area high-rise loaded clothes and valuables into suitcases, laundry baskets and wagons and wheeled them to waiting cars after they were forced to evacuate the building when it was found to be unsafe in a review prompted by the deadly collapse of a building just a few miles away.

An audit prompted by the collapse of Champlain Towers South in nearby Surfside found that the 156-unit Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) away, had been deemed structurally and electrically unsafe in January, the city said in a news release. Friday afternoon law enforcement authorities cordoned off the area and went door-to-door in the apartment building, telling residents they had to leave the 49-year-old structure.

Read more: Partially-collapsed Florida condo to be demolished as concerns over stability remain

Harold Dauphin was on his way home from picking up his son at camp Friday when he noticed a helicopter buzzing around his apartment and a heightened police presence. He wondered whether there had been a shooting nearby but then came home to find out that his building was being evacuated.

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“They said the building is unsafe to live and it’s an immediate evacuation,” Dauphin said, speaking outside after he’d cleared out. He and his son live on the second floor. He said he hadn’t previously heard anything about the problems that the city mentioned in their news release. He grabbed what he could — clothes, his work uniform and some electronic devices — and the two left.

“It’s unfortunate, but I understand. Knowing what happened in Surfside, you know, it’s understandable,” he said.

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It is the first building to be evacuated since municipal officials in South Florida, and statewide, began scrutinizing older high-rises in the wake of the Surfside collapse to ensure that substantial structural problems are not being ignored.

Demolition workers planned to bring down the remainder of the collapsed condo building on Sunday ahead of an approaching storm that added to worries that the damaged structure could come down on its own, officials said Saturday.

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Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, meanwhile, said two more bodies were found in the rubble, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 24. The number of people who remain unaccounted for in the collapse was 124.

Worries have intensified over the past week that the damaged structure could come tumbling down on its own, endangering the crews below and complicating the search for victims.

Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members during a morning briefing that the building would be brought down “as soon as possible. First thing tomorrow.”

But he cautioned that there “may be some hiccups.” A follow-up meeting will be held in the afternoon to finalize details of the demolition, which could be a precarious operation as experts enter the building to bore into the structure to install explosives.

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Compounding the hardship, six firefighters from one of Florida’s search and rescue task forces have tested positive for COVID-19, Miami-Dade fire chief Alan Cominsky said. That team has been demobilized and the firefighters isolated.

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“Unfortunately this is another challenge, but that’s something that we’ve been dealing with over the past year,” Cominsky said.

The mayor also said she signed an emergency order to demolish the remaining part of the building once engineers have signed off on it. She said the order was signed now so that the demolition can move quickly once a date is set. It will likely be weeks before the demolition is scheduled, officials said.

No one has been rescued since the first hours after the June 24 collapse. Authorities are also preparing in case Hurricane Elsa — now in the eastern Caribbean — brings strong winds to South Florida. Search efforts have already been stopped briefly several times because of inclement weather.

“We will try to go as long as we can, but you can see from different periods of inclement weather we’ve had, we have stopped,” Cominsky said.

Officials did not immediately release details about the structural problems that prompted Friday’s evacuation in North Miami Beach, but Crestview Towers had reported millions of dollars in damage from 2017’s Hurricane Irma.

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A letter posted less than two weeks ago on the community’s website said some repairs were underway or expected to begin soon on the building, after repeated delays. Plans included installing a new roof, replacing a generator that was over 40 years old, changing the entire building’s lighting system, and more.

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“Last year has been a different year due to the pandemic and many things have been postponed for countless reasons, but this year we have started to work hard,” the letter said.

The building’s condo association could not be immediately reached for comment on the delay between Friday’s evacuation and the January recertification report that revealed unsafe conditions.

Darwin Reyes said he lived in the building during Hurricane Irma and a chunk of the balcony above his fell onto his balcony during the storm. He listed multiple other complaints about the building, including elevators that often didn’t work and pipes that didn’t drain well. He said he had been planning to move after living there for five years.

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On Friday, Reyes had just woken up from a nap as he prepared for a night shift at a hotel he works at. He checked his Instagram feed and saw that a notice had just been posted that said his building was being evacuated. He looked into the hallway and saw people scurrying back and forth, phones to their ears, with bags and suitcases.

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He and his wife packed what they could into multiple suitcases. She went down in the elevator, and he took the stairs from the 9th floor. In the scramble, one of their suitcases went missing, and as darkness fell Friday they were still trying to locate it.

“Right now I’m officially homeless,” he said, adding that he would probably go stay with a relative.

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