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Surfside death toll rises to 86; 43 others still missing

Mayor says condo collapse site to be cleared ‘sooner than expected’

Rescue workers watch as excavators are used to dig through the rubble of the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on July 9, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images North America / Getty Images via AFP)
Rescue workers watch as excavators are used to dig through the rubble of the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on July 9, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images North America / Getty Images via AFP)

The death toll from the collapse of an apartment building in Florida rose to 86, as rescue workers increased the pace of operations to find victims, authorities said Saturday.

Miami-Dade county mayor Danielle Levine Cava said that there are potentially 43 more people still missing under the rubble.

“We can only truly account for a missing person who is deceased once an identification is made,” Levine Cava told reporters, according to the Miami Herald daily.

Champlain Towers South, a 12-story building in Surfside, a town north of Miami Beach, came tumbling down on June 24, as dozens of residents slept inside.

No survivors have been found since the day of the collapse.

Out of the 86 victims, 62 have been identified, the mayor said.

Search and rescue workers oversee an excavator dig through the rubble of the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on July 9, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images North America / Getty Images via AFP)

Authorities announced on Wednesday they had decided to transition from a search and rescue mission for potential survivors to an operation to recover remains.

The mayor of the town of 6,000 residents, Charles Burkett, hailed the “really incredible” progress of the search and rescue teams, who have been working around the clock at the site of the tragedy.

The rubble from the building was around four stories high after the collapse, but is now almost at ground level, Burkett said.

On Saturday, Burkett told reporters the pace of rescue operations makes it “very likely that the site will be clear sooner than expected,” the Miami Herald reported.

The Mayor of Surfside Charles Burkett, left, talks with Rachel Spiegel, right, who is looking for information on the Champlain Towers South Condo building, on June 26, 2021, in the Surfside area of Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami-Dade fire chief Alan Cominsky said victims had been found “all throughout the rubble pile.”

But recovery efforts have been concentrated on areas where stairwells would have collapsed, he added, as people could have been trapped in stairwells trying to escape.

In a rare bright spot on the 16th day following the tragedy, authorities were able to reunite Binx the cat with his family. The black feline had miraculously survived the tumble from a ninth-floor unit and had been found near the rubble.

“I am glad that this small miracle could bring some light into the lives of a hurting family today,” Levine Cava said.

Multiple investigations are underway to determine the cause of the collapse.

A 2018 report released by city officials revealed fears of “major structural damage” in the complex, from the concrete slab under the pool deck to columns and beams in the parking garage.

In a letter to residents in April, Jean Wodnicki, chair of the condo association, described “accelerating” damage to the 40-year-old building since then, and repairs had been set to begin soon.

Local authorities ordered safety reviews of nearby buildings following the disaster, including Champlain Towers North, the sister tower of the condo block that fell down.

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