Death toll grows to 12; Biden visits Thursday

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    SURFSIDE, Fla. – Six days after a condo building outside Miami collapsed, families of the 149 missing people are growing weary as they desperately wait for answers. The death toll rose to 12, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said late Tuesday afternoon. Their relatives have been notified by authorities.

    As the Surfside community mourns, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday he will visit the site of the collapsed building Thursday. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he has received questions from frustrated families about why rescue efforts stopped during thunderstorms.

    “We have people waiting and waiting and waiting for news,” Levine Cava told reporters. “We have them cope with the news that they might not have their loved ones come out alive and still hope against hope that they will. They’re learning that some of their loved ones will come out as body parts. This is the kind of information that is just excruciating for everyone.”

    Families wondered how long a person could survive under the heaps of rubble, Burkett said in a news briefing, adding he remains hopeful survivors will be found. Authorities reiterated that work at the site was a search-and-rescue effort. Workers sifted through the rubble, listening and looking for signs of life. “Nobody is giving up hope here,” Burkett said.

    ‘Significantly worse’:Doomed Miami condo’s concrete deterioration was accelerating in April, condo letter says

    Here’s what we know Tuesday:

    Ex-Surfside building official who gave OK to tower in 2018 placed on leave

    Rosendo “Ross” Prieto, the former Surfside building official who found no significant issues with the Champlain Towers South structure less than three years ago, has been placed on leave from his current job as the temporary building official for the Miami suburb of Doral, Florida, the Miami Herald, and Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

    Biden

    An inspection by the engineering firm Morabito Consultants warned in October 2018 of major structural problems at the Surfside high-rise. Still, a month later, Prieto told condo board members the building was in “perfect shape,” according to minutes of a meeting released Monday.

    At the time of Prieto’s assessment on Nov. 15, 2018, Champlain Towers was beginning to explore what work was needed under city and county ordinances for the building to meet 40-year recertification that was to arrive in 2021. The Morabito inspection found “major structural damage” and the potential for “exponential damage” and said repairs would cost $9 million. That figure has now increased to $15 million.

    Biden to visit Florida urges federal investigation.

    Biden announced he and first lady Jill Biden would go to Florida on Thursday. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president wants to thank rescuers for their work and “meet with the families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy, waiting in anguish and heartbreak for word of their loved ones, to offer them comfort as search-and-rescue efforts continue.” On Monday, Psaki said Biden believes the reasons for the collapse need to be investigated, and various federal agencies are already providing expertise. — Rebecca Morin and Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY

    Biden visit: President Joe Biden is going to Florida on Thursday to visit the site of the collapse

    More victims were identified late Monday.

    The bodies of 11 people have been recovered from the site.  Monday night, Miami-Dade police released the names of victims who have been identified: Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, whose body was recovered Saturday; Frank Kleiman, 55, whose body was recovered Monday; and Michael Davis Altman, 50, whose body was recovered Monday.

    Sunday night, the police identified Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermudez, 26; and his mother Ana Ortiz, 46; all of whom were recovered Saturday. Christina Beatriz Elvira de Oliwkowicz, 74, who was married to Leon Oliwkowicz, was recovered Sunday.  The first victim to be identified was Stacie Fang, 54, whose 15-year-old son was pulled alive from the wreckage. Also identified Monday: Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel LaFont, 54.

    The victims: Remembering those who died in the condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida

    What we know about the missing: 150 people are missing in the building collapse in Miami.

    Condo letter says concrete deterioration was accelerating.

    Questions about what brought a section of the Champlain Towers South down have intensified since last Thursday’s collapse. A letter in April, obtained by USA TODAY from the president of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, said that damage to the building’s basement garage had “gotten significantly worse” since an inspection two and a half years earlier and that deterioration of the building’s concrete was “accelerating.”

    The letter offers a glimpse into what might have led to the deadly collapse, suggesting millions of dollars in necessary repairs had been a subject of frustration among residents. “We have discussed, debated, and argued for years now,” the letter said. A condo association attorney told the media that the author, Jean Wodnicki, president of the association’s board of directors, survived Thursday’s collapse.

    Over seven pages, Wodnicki provided an overview of the major repairs required for the building. She noted a 2018 inspection that found a “major error” in the design of the building, crumbling concrete columns in the garage area beneath the structure, and predicted that failure to fix the problems in the “near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.” In her letter about 30 months after the inspection, Wodnicki said, “the observable damage in the garage has gotten significantly worse” since then. Read more here. – Kyle Bagenstose and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, USA TODAY

    Rescuers rotate in 12-hour shifts; none severely injured

    Hundreds of Miami-Dade County fire rescue workers turned in 12-hour shifts at the collapse site, searching for any signs of survivors. No rescue workers have been severely injured, but one worker took a 25-foot tumble, officials said.

    “Every time there is an action, there is a reaction,” said Raide Jadallah, assistant chief of rescue operations for the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Team, describing what he called a complex search-and-rescue operation.

    Family members saw the danger firsthand Sunday when authorities allowed them to tour the site. “They witnessed a rescuer tumble 25 feet down the mound,” he said.

    Mayor Burkett said Tuesday that debris from the shattered edge of the building that still stands fell overnight, causing the western part of the structure to be cordoned off because it was too dangerous to work there.

    A portion of the standing tower remains a threat to first responders working directly below, said Alan Cominsky, Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue chief.

    “We are constantly monitoring (the structure),” he said. “We have seismic graphs, lasers that are monitoring certain cracks on the building. … Right now, we have been reassured, based on what we have seen, that the building has had no movement. So that’s why we continue working.”

    Community members mourn

    The flicker of candles and glowsticks dotted the oceanfront Monday night as a group gathered for meditation and a moment of silence on the beach near the rubble. After the gathering, the group walked to a growing memorial near the building to lay flowers, notes, and candles. A chain-link fence is so full of sentimental ornaments that it is barely visible.

    “Seeing this makes it a bit more real, which is saddening for me, but it’s the truth,” said Ciena Falcon, 11, who has a friend among the missing. “When you are with people who are all grieving for the same cause, it just makes you feel a little better,” she said.

    Prosecutors pursue investigation, federal agency to conduct an extensive probe.

    Prosecutors in Florida will pursue a grand jury investigation into the deadly collapse, officials said Tuesday. Levine Cava said at a news conference that she fully supports such an investigation. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she would bring the matter before grand jurors soon. A federal investigation into what caused the Champlain Towers South collapse is already underway, officials said Monday afternoon at a news conference.

    Gov. Ron DeSantis said he spoke with representatives of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who will investigate the causes of the collapse. The NIST, founded in 1901, examined the 9/11 terrorist attacks and other incidents, including the Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003, a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011, and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017.

    “They have never done just a straight building collapse that wasn’t involved with either hazards or acts of terrorism,” DeSantis said. “This is going to be important, and it is something that is going to be very thorough. … It is going to take a long time. That is the kind of horizon they work on.”

    DeSantis said more immediate investigations conducted by Miami-Dade County and the town of Surfside could shed some light more quickly and alluded to the possibility of state regulatory changes if necessary after those assessments. “If there are things that need to be done at the state level, we obviously would want to get information as soon as possible,” DeSantis said.

    Contributing: Ryan Miller and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY; Jennifer Sangalang, Palm Beach Post. Jesse Mendoza reports for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

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