SURFSIDE, Fla. - Officials halted the search and rescue mission at the site of the collapsed condominium in Surfside, Florida Saturday afternoon as crews prepared to demolish the remainder of the building.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members that rescuers stopped their search at about 4 p.m., when demolition crews began boring holes into the concrete of portion of Champlain Towers South that was still standing.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a later news conference that the suspension of the search is temporary and that officials were waiting on the go-ahead from engineers to resume. She did not give an estimate on how long the pause would last.
With the approach of Tropical Storm Elsa, officials were concerned the part of the tower that was still standing could crumble on its own. The storm is looming in the Caribbean and was forecasted to move toward the state in the coming days.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the building is "tottering" and "structurally unsound" and demolishing it is the prudent thing to do.
"The fear was that (Elsa) may take the building down for us and take it down in the wrong direction," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett added.
Officials told family members that Monday would be the earliest the building would be demolished.
"We’re still very hopeful that we can do the demolition before the storm. Of course, we’re also hopeful that the storm is going in another direction but we are proceeding as quickly as we possibly can," Cava later told reporters.
She added that evacuations of other nearby buildings were not necessary.
A state of emergency has also been declared ahead of the storm's arrival.
Meanwhile, Jadallah said the search stoppage was a necessary safety measure because the drilling could cause the structure to collapse. If it does, he said, "It’s just going to collapse without warning."
The suspension prompted concern from one family member who called it "devastating."
Others had asked to be able to return to the building to retrieve personal belongings, but they will not be allowed to do so.
"At the end of the day, that building is too unsafe to let people go back in," DeSantis said. "I know there’s a lot of people who were able to get out, fortunately, who have things there. We’re very sensitive to that, but I don’t think there’s any way you can let somebody go up in that building given the shape that it’s in now.’’
Earlier on Saturday, Cava said two more bodies had been found in the rubble, raising the confirmed death toll to 24. She said 121 people were still unaccounted for.
No one has been rescued since the first hours after the June 24 collapse.
Cava also said earlier that at least three sweeps have been conducted, some by camera, at the portion of the complex still standing in a search for animals left behind. She said none had been found.
"I very much understand that pets are part of people’s families," the mayor said, noting that she, too, has been a pet owner. "My heart goes out to those who fear for their animals, and I just want you to know that additional efforts have been made and are being made."
Cava said she informed a contractor of possible locations of missing pets. "They’re aware and doing everything that they might do just to make an additional search," she said.
But the mayor said there would not be a door-to-door search because it was too dangerous to do so.
Later on Saturday, a small moment of hope arose amid the devastation: a cat was seen wandering a lower floor.
Crews hoped to place a trap on the balcony so that the feline can be rescued. It could not be immediately determined whether the animal belonged to any of the building’s evacuated residents.
This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.