SURFSIDE, Fla. — Two weeks after a condo building in Surfside, Florida partially collapsed, rescue workers are starting to shift their efforts from rescue to recovery.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava called the decision "difficult" and "devastating" to tell the families waiting for word about their missing loved ones.
"At this point, we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search and rescue mission," so now, the effort transitions to a recovery effort, Mayor Cava said.
She said the transition to a recovery effort will happen at midnight Wednesday. Officials leading the efforts at the collapse site say the pace of work and care being taken to remove the debris will not change much with the transition.
"The men and women are still there. The support is still there," said Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah, explaining what he told the families of those still missing that just because the "word has changed," the work continues and they "will not be forgotten." He said the goal is to "find every victim in that pile"
A moment of silence was observed at the debris pile Wednesday evening before the transition, to "mark this solemn moment", Cava said.
Fire officials told families Wednesday that after searching all grid areas of the debris, assessing the length of time, condition of bodies recovered so far, and the kind of "pancake" flat collapse that happened, they have decided it is now impossible to find anyone alive. They described the "pancake" collapse as a ceiling falling directly on top of a floor, leaving no voids or open areas where a person could survive.
"14 days of looking for voids. That's what we've been doing. Dear God, give us a void (big enough for someone to be in)," Jadallah said in response to a question about the kind of collapse.
Cava announced several more bodies were recovered from the debris pile Wednesday afternoon, bringing the death toll to 54 people.
Another 86 people are still "potentially" unaccounted for, Cava said. The number of unaccounted for continues to drop as detectives connect with more people who were reported in the tower and eliminate duplicate names.
“Every single victim uncovered is somebody’s child, somebody’s mother, somebody’s teacher, somebody’s classmate, a best friend. Our hearts break for those who are mourning and those who are waiting and waiting," Cava said at a Wednesday morning press conference.
The remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South that was still standing after the initial collapse was demolished earlier this week. This allowed crews to search new areas of debris.
In addition, Tropical Storm Elsa has moved north of the Miami area, allowing crews to search without stopping.
"Crews removed over 7 million pounds of debris from the pile," Cava told the media in an afternoon update. Crews have used every piece of technology and equipment available "in the hopes of finding people alive."
No survivors have been located since the initial aftermath of the collapse in the early morning hours of June 24.