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Search crews have discovered an additional four victims of the Surfside condominium collapse, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Sunday, bringing the confirmed death toll from the June 24 catastrophe to 90 with a remaining list of 31 more people feared lost under the rubble.
Police also released the identities of 10 victims found during the week, including three children ages 5, 6 and 9.
The newly discovered victims announced Sunday were not identified at the daily media briefing that marked the 18th day of the search effort and the fourth since the county-led operation shifted from rescue mode to recovery.
Levine Cava announced July 7 that there was no hope of finding anyone alive in the debris from the 12-story oceanfront condominium tower, a decision that shifted the debris site from a rescue operation run by the county fire department to a death investigation overseen by Miami-Dade Police.
“Our team continues to make incredible process de-layering the pile,” Levine Cava said in the media briefing tent set up south of Surfside, in Miami Beach. “And we’re working to bring closures to families as quickly as we possibly can.”
In the grim operation of finding remains of victims, identifying them and notifying family, authorities each day often announce the new tally of the dead and then update the list of identified victims. On Sunday morning, police released the names of 10 victims found between Tuesday and Friday.
The names of the newly identified victims are: Richard Augustine, 77; Maria Gabriela Camou, 64; Edgar Gonzalez, 42; Lorenzo De Oliveira Leone, 5; Alfredo Leone, 48; Alexia Maria Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 9; Anna Sophia Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 6; Luis Sadovnic, 28; Maria Torre, 78; and Julio Cesar Velasquez, 66.
Levine Cava said that of the 90 victims extracted so far from the Champlain Towers South site, 71 have been identified publicly by police — a process that involves matching the remains with a missing person, and then notifying that person’s next of kin.
With the county last week declaring an end to hope of finding anyone alive at the site, families of the officially missing have moved into grief as well. On Sunday, Miami Beach’s Temple Menorah held a memorial service for Arnold and Myriam Notkin, friends in their 80s who married later in life after losing their spouses.
Arnie Notkin, 87, was a retired physical education teacher at Miami Beach’s Leroy D. Fienberg Elementary School, and Myriam Notkin, 81, was a retired banker. They lived in Unit 302. Though they haven’t been identified by police as victims, they were mourned Sunday by more than 300 people.
“It was amazingly attended,” said Norma Orovitz, a friend of Myriam’s from swim group at the Surfside Community Group. She described Myriam as a “dynamo” who made a habit of Facebook selfies from the ocean for friends and family on Facebook, and Arnie as a cheerful man who used to accompany his wife to swim class and sit nearby. “He was just a nice guy,” she said.
On Sunday, the search effort continued during mostly sunshine on a site that now includes both the rubble from the initial collapse and July 4 demolition of the remaining tower. The demolition was planned to prevent more rubble from falling on debris from the collapse, and the pace of the recovery process picked up after the remaining tower fell.
When Miami-Dade police release the names of the dead, they also include the date the victim was found on the site. Before the July 4 demolition, the most victims recovered in a day was six. Since then, the numbers have gone higher, with eight listed as recovered July 6 and 13 recovered on July 8.
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Crews have reached the bottom of some portions of the debris pile from the 12-story building, with authorities on Sunday saying the latest layers removed over the weekend revealed vehicles from the underground parking garage.
“The pile continues to go down, well below ground level,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said at the briefing. “We’re at the point where we’re seeing cars in the parking garage.”
Alan Cominsky, Miami-Dade’s fire chief, confirmed the uncovering of the cars was a first for the search operation, but said that other portions of the collapsed building remain at higher levels.
He said the initial estimate of finishing the recovery operation was estimated at two to three weeks after the rescue operation ended July 7. Now, he said Sunday, there’s been enough progress that the new estimate is closer two weeks, suggesting a target of July 22.
That would still leave removal of the remaining debris once recovery of the victims concludes.
County debris removal contracts offer a rough timetable.
A July 5 solicitation by the county’s Internal Services Department for a $250,000-per-day debris-removal contract stated there were an estimated 21,000 cubic yards of “mixed evidentiary materials/debris” on the site, with about two-thirds of that from the demolition that occurred the night before of the remaining tower.
“The County estimates that on average, approximately 750 [cubic yards] can be removed per day,” the solicitation read. Using that estimate, removing all of the debris in Surfside would take until early August. The solicitation stated the winning contractor may be required for 60 days — or until early September — “taking into account inclement weather conditions and any unforeseen delays due to evidence being recovered.”
While Levine Cava said 31 people remain unaccounted for, she said that number is not firm. County police investigators continue to try and confirm the whereabouts of some people on the list, while they’re confident most were in the building at the time of the overnight collapse.
Freddy Ramirez, Miami-Dade’s police director, said Sunday that of 31 missing, 26 have case numbers — a designation that reflects confidence the person was in Champlain Towers South when it collapsed, and did not escape. “There are five that have no support system behind them. We’re not sure if they’re missing people or not, because no one is reporting them” missing, he said.
County won’t let Surfside engineer get sample materials
On Sunday, the engineer Surfside hired for its own inquiry into what happened at Champlain Towers South said he hasn’t been able to get the material samples he wants from the debris.
The Surfside consultant, engineer Allyn Kilsheimer, said county authorities have denied him the ability to perform tests on a tiny fraction of the more than 14 million pounds of debris that have been hauled off to county sites as part of Miami-Dade’s police investigation into the deaths, and a federal investigation into the structural causes of the collapse. A county grand jury is also looking into the catastrophe.
“I have a whole series of samples I want to take of various things at Champlain Towers South,” Kilsheimer said in an interview. “I could be sampling there, or I could be sampling where they are taking” the debris.
Ramirez confirmed Sunday that his agency has denied that request.
“Right now, we’re recovering victims,” he said. “It wouldn’t be prudent right now to do that. We understand everyone wants information. We need to follow our investigative processes.”
Authorities haven’t released details on staffing on the search site, which remains closed to media. But Cominsky said some units from outside Florida have left or are leaving.
A team from Israel ended its deployment Saturday, and Cominsky said rescue workers from Virginia are preparing to leave Surfside as well. Units from Indiana and Pennsylvania remain, and units from New Jersey and Ohio are mobilizing for a potential trip to Surfside to provide relief for existing crews, he said.
The Israeli team played a central role in the effort, both in assisting with private family briefings and helping Miami-Dade authorities map the fallen building with potential locations for victims. Their departure brought a ceremony Saturday night, with the squad marching north on Collins Avenue with an Israeli flag at the front of the procession and applause from rows of local first responders on either side, according to footage posted on social media.
During a brief ceremony on Saturday evening, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky declared the team’s leaders honorary commanders of the county department, according to the Associated Press. Levine Cava presented the battalion with a ceremonial key to the city, and thanked the battalion for their “unrelenting dedication.”
In an interview with WPLG’s “This Week in South Florida,” Levine Cava said the Israeli team changed into rescue gear in the bathroom of Miami International Airport when they first arrived so there would be no delay in joining the operation. She said the squad provided Miami-Dade with 3-D mapping techniques that produced a detailed map that helped chart where victims could be found in the Champlain Towers rubble, and also brought expertise in how to handle briefings and interactions with families of the missing.
“The families were very, very inspired to them on the site,” Levine Cava said. “They do the family support very well.”