Fires blazing beneath the ruins of a collapsed condominium building near Miami are complicating attempts to find survivors among the 159 people who have gone missing, officials said in an update Saturday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the fires had become more intense after the collapse in Surfside, Fla., on Thursday.
“If you were there the morning after, you didn’t see it smoldering like it is now,” DeSantis told reporters. “The stench is very thick, and it obviously has created quite an obstacle.”
“We’re using everything possible to address this fire,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, noting that the source of the flames was “very deep” within the rubble and “extremely difficult to locate.”
“We’re using infrared technology, we’re using foam … we’re using water and all the tactics we can to contain the fire.” she said.
Rescue operations continued through the night into Saturday to search for survivors with cautious optimism.
Crews have been searching through the rubble since the sudden collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers in Surfside, about 3 miles north of Miami Beach.
The death toll rose to four early Friday with about 159 people unaccounted for as crew continue to search. Those numbers remained unchanged as of Saturday morning, Levine Cava said.
DeSantis told CNN Saturday local and state officials are hoping for additional rescues but “we are bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we are seeing.”
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett added that the building was undergoing roof work, but it’s unknown whether that was a factor in the collapse.
“This is a horrific catastrophe,” Burkett told CNN. “In the United States, buildings just don’t fall down.”
The Investigation continues into the cause of the collapse.
The building’s condo association was getting ready to make updates and repairs on the building, which has deteriorated over the years leading to extensive inspections, ABC News reported.
The roof was undergoing work and the construction projects nearby led to scrutiny, the broadcaster reported.
According to Kenneth Direktor, a lawyer representing the condo association, there were evidence of water damage to the complex, but it is common in coastal homes and would not have caused the collapse.
Direktor went on to say that when a lawsuit was filed in 2015 about water damage and fractures in the building’s outside wall, experts were engaged to conduct an inspection.
According to ABC News and CNN, engineers uncovered signs of flooding, cracking, and corrosion in the structure after Morabito Consultants discovered in a 2018 structural study report that columns in the condo’s garage were fractured and needed to be rebuilt.
Levine Cava said Saturday that city officials will conduct audits of all buildings 40 years and older.
“We want to make sure that every building has completed their recertification process, and we want to move swiftly to remediate any issues that may have been identified in that process,” she told reporters.
Surfside’s building official, James “Jim” McGuinness, said at an emergency meeting with town leaders Friday he was inspecting the roof anchors for cleaning the windows on the side of the building 14 hours before the collapse.
There was “no inordinate amount of equipment or materials” that would cause the building to fall, McGuinness said regarding the roof anchors at the emergency meeting.
He acknowledged that the building’s 40-year recertification was due this year, although he did not provide a specific date.
When queried about the likelihood of a sink hole at the meeting, McGuinness said that a geotechnical profile below ground is not necessary in the 40-year recertification.
Though it is uncertain whether or not there was a sink hole, “it’s not just what’s happening above ground, it’s what’s happening below ground that counts,” McGuinness explained.
Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer stated that the standards for the recertification procedure, including the time frame and a geotechnical profile below ground, should be increased.