The death toll in the partial collapse of a Miami-area condo building hit 64 on Thursday as the effort to identify and recover the 80 people still unaccounted for – most of them presumed dead – continued at an urgent pace, officials said.
One day after declaring there was no longer hope of finding anyone alive in the rubble of the tower in Surfside, Florida, crews sifting through the wreckage found four more bodies – taking the number of fatalities to 64 – officials told a news conference on Thursday evening.
Mayor of Miami-Dade County Daniella Levine Cava said 80 people were still considered missing in the Champlain Towers South disaster, believed to have been inside the 12-story residential building when it abruptly crumbled on June 24. That number could change as not all may have been in the building when it fell.
“The work continues with all speed and urgency,” she said, adding that search teams suspended work at 1:20 a.m. EDT (0520 GMT) to observe the two-week mark since the catastrophe.
Of the 60 confirmed dead, 35 have been identified, Levine Cava said.
“Our detectives are working hand in hand with the crime scene and medical examiner personnel, moving as fast as we can to identify the victims and notify the next of kin in order to bring closure to the families,” she said.
As of midnight EDT (0400 GMT) on Thursday, the emergency effort officially changed from an attempt to find survivors to a recovery operation, destroying any hope of extracting anyone still breathing amid the debris.
“Yesterday was tough,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at the news conference, referring to the announcement of the shift to recovery mode. “But the work is going to go on and they are going to identify every single person.”
After the announcement, hundreds of people gathered for a vigil near the disaster site on Wednesday evening, struggling to come to terms with their loved ones’ fate.
DeSantis and other officials vowed to meet the various needs of affected families, which they noted would last long into the future. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose South Florida district includes Surfside, promised to help people navigate bureaucratic hurdles to get the assistance they needed.
Levine Cava told reporters that discussions have begun on doing “something different to commemorate” the tragedy and its victims.
(Reporting Brad Brooks in Surfside, Florida and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Howard Goller and Jonathan Oatis)