By Aya Elamroussi and Holly Yan, CNN
The death toll from the partial condo building collapse in Florida has reached nine, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Sunday, as dozens of people are still missing three days after the disaster.
Rescue crews have been sifting through a mountain of rubble since Thursday morning, hoping to find those still missing after the collapse in Surfside, Florida.
They’ve been stymied by a fire and the constant threat of further collapse where 55 of the 136 units of Champlain Towers South crashed to the ground.
As of Saturday, about 156 people were still unaccounted for, the mayor said. Officials did not give an updated number Sunday on those still missing.
At least six to eight search crews are digging through the wreckage at any given time, Levine Cava said. Hundreds of workers are on standby to work in shifts as the search continues 24 hours a day.
“We’re cutting a deep trench to assist us. It’s now 125 feet in length into the pile. It’s 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep,” the mayor said.
“This trench is very critical to the continuation of the search and rescue process. We continued all night to build that, that trench, and as a result of that, we were able to recover four additional bodies in the rubble, as well as additional human remains.”
Rescuers have not given up on finding survivors.
“We work hour after hour, hoping, because this is what we do — we save people,” Maggie Castro of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said Sunday.
“We want to bring the family members back to their families. And when we come up empty-handed, it’s difficult for us as well.”
And while families hold on to hope for the dozens still missing, officials are trying to both support them and prepare them for the worst.
“We’ve also talked with them about the developments, for example with the body parts — finding body parts,” said the Miami-Dade County mayor, who was meeting with family members until about midnight Sunday morning.
“Obviously that’s a very sobering bit of news. And they are understanding that that is a possibility. So we are talking through what that means, how is the DNA evidence taken, what’s happening with the medical examiner, how they will be notified.”
Many families have lauded the rescue workers risking their own safety to find the missing loved ones. But some have directed their anger toward those leading the search efforts.
“Imagine if your children were in there,” the mother of a missing 26-year-old woman told state and local officials as they met with the families.
“I know you’re doing everything you can, but it’s not enough.”
Castro said she understands why some families are channeling their anger and anxiety toward the same people who are trying to help.
“They don’t have anywhere to place these emotions right now, because there’s a lot of them. And it’s OK. If they need to direct them at us, we’re more than willing to handle it. We understand that they have to let this emotion out somewhere,” Castro said.
“I can’t even imagine being in a position, the position that they are in — not knowing, feeling helpless as to not do anything themselves.”
Sunday’s death toll is an increase from the five deaths that had been confirmed Saturday.
The victims were identified as Antonio Lozano, 83, Gladys Lozano, 79, and Manuel LaFont, 54, the Miami-Dade Police Department said in a news release Saturday night.
Stacie Fang, 54, was previously identified, CNN reported.
Other victims not yet been identified.
While the odds of survival might dwindle each day, search crews are still in an active rescue mission, Castro said.
“We are going to go through this entire rubble pile until there is nothing else to go through. And at that point, then we may have to consider going to recovery mode,” she said.
“We are not going to go into a recovery mode until we have exhausted every possible measure of finding anyone in this rubble.”
‘Praying for a miracle but starting to get antsy’
About 130 people have been accounted for, the Miami-Dade mayor said.
But Sarina Patel said Saturday she still had no idea what happened to her uncle, his wife and their daughter.
“We are hanging in there, trying to be strong. Praying for a miracle but starting to get antsy with the lack of updates,” she said.
“We were hoping for some more news by now as the crew works through the rubble. However, we are forever grateful for their tireless efforts.”
Families of those missing and of those who died will be able to visit the site of the wreckage, the Miami-Dade mayor said Sunday.
“We are working with the families, and there will be opportunity for visitation,” Levine Cava said. “It will be a very private event.”
Structural report showed the building had some ‘cracking’
Almost three years ago, an engineer pointed out concerns about structural damage to the concrete slab below the building’s pool deck and “cracking and spalling” located in the parking garage, according to documents.
A structural field survey report from October 2018 was included in a series of public documents published on the Surfside town website. The New York Times was first to report about the field survey’s findings.
The waterproofing below the pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage,” according to the structural field survey.
“The waterproofing below the pool deck and Entrance Drive as well as all of the planter waterproofing is beyond its useful life and therefore must all be completely removed and replaced,” the report states.
“The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas. Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the survey continued.
The report said the waterproofing was laid on a flat structure rather than a sloped concrete slab that would have allowed the water to drain. That resulted in water sitting on the waterproofing until it evaporated, in what the report identified as a “major error.”
“The replacement of the existing deck waterproofing will be extremely expensive … be disruptive and create a major disturbance to the occupants of this condominium building,” the reported noted.
The report, the goal of which was to “understand and document the extent of structural issues,” detailed signs of “distress/fatigue” in the parking garage.
“Abundant cracking and spalling of various degrees was observed in the concrete columns, beams and walls. … Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” according to the report.
Spalling is a term used to describe areas of concrete that have cracked or crumbled.
The report, which was completed by Frank Morabito of Morabito Consultants, didn’t indicate whether the structure was at risk of collapse.
Burkett told CNN that it’s still “unclear what steps the building was taking to address those cracks” mentioned in the report.
“We are going to get to the bottom of what happened at this particular building,” Levine Cava said.
Abieyuwa Aghayere, a professor of structural engineering at Drexel University who reviewed the report, said its findings were alarming and should have spurred further review of the building’s integrity.
Kenneth Direktor, an attorney for the building’s condominium association, previously warned against early speculation.
“Nothing like this was foreseeable,” Direktor said. “At least it wasn’t seen by the engineers who were looking at the building from a structural perspective.”
CNN reached out to Direktor on Saturday for comment.
Local official vows legislation ‘so this will never happen again’
The cause of the collapse has not been confirmed.
But Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz said once that happens, “I am guaranteeing you legislation will be taking place so this will never happen again. Ever. Because nobody could have ever thought this will happen here.”
Surfside building officials did a cursory review of the structure of the nearby Champlain Towers North and East and “didn’t find anything that was out of order,” Burkett said Saturday.
“So that’s reassuring, but that is not a deep dive,” he said. “We are going to do a very deep dive into why this building fell down.”
If residents living in Champlain Towers North and East want to evacuate, they can, Burkett said.
The mayor noted they are working with federal officials on relocation options.
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CNN’s Boris Sanchez, Nick Valencia, Ray Sanchez, Jacqueline Rose, Rebekah Riess, Hollie Silverman, Rosa Flores and Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.