Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on Tuesday the death toll of the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, rose to 16 on Wednesday as aid teams continue to search for the missing.
“The number of deceased is at 16,” Levine Cava said in a press conference. “Twelve next-of-kin notifications have been completed” and 147 remain unaccounted for.
The collapse of the 40-year-old Champlain Towers South condominium, which occurred on June 24, could rank as one of the deadliest accidental structural failures in US history.
Levine Cava said the “world is watching” as her community continues search and rescue efforts. “Over the last few days. Our detectives have been working around the clock to reach every single person who we have been told may be missing by a loved one.”
Reports on the identified deceased are beginning to surface.
Luis Andres Bermudez, a young graphic artist from Puerto Rico, was an inspiring example of courage who never let a disability keep him from his dreams or dampen his sunny disposition, a former teacher said. Andres Bermudez, 26, lived with his mother Ana Ortiz, 46, who also was identified as one of the casualties of the collapse.
“Luis Andres is an example of courage and bravery FOR ALL of us,” said Jose J Ortiz Carlo, a teacher who had Bermudez in a photography class at Robinson School in Puerto Rico, where he graduated in 2014.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair because of muscular dystrophy, Bermudez, known as Luiyo, never missed school and was always smiling, the teacher said on Facebook.
14. Luis Andres Bermudez, 26, & his mom Ana Ortiz.
— Frances Wang (#FrannyInMiami) (@FrancesWangTV) June 24, 2021
Another man was Michael Altman, 50, who moved to the United States from Costa Rica with his parents when he was about 4 years old, according to one of his two sons, Nicholas Altman.
Altman told the Miami Herald his father was “a very loving guy … He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top”.
“He always inspired my brother and I to be successful in life.”
An accountant with dual US and Costa Rican citizenship, Altman had lived in the Champlain Towers South building for more than six years in a unit that had been in the family since the 1980s.
Nobody has been pulled alive from the mounds of pulverised concrete, splintered lumber and twisted metal since the early hours of the disaster.
Officials said they still harbour hope of finding survivors.
Speaking at the press conference, Governor Ron DeSantis said the collapse was something “that I don’t think any of us are gonna ever forget, but it’s also something for some are going to require some additional help and so we have mental health resources … we’ve been able to link individual families at their request for that support”.
Investigators have not concluded what caused nearly half of the tower to crumple as residents slept in the early hours of last Thursday.
But a 2018 engineer’s report on the 12-floor, 136-unit complex, prepared ahead of a building safety recertification process, found structural deficiencies that are now the focus of inquiries.
As recently as April, the condo association’s president warned residents in a letter that severe concrete damage identified by the engineer around the base of the building had since grown “significantly worse”.
Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she would convene a special grand jury, apart from any potential criminal investigation, to examine building safety and “what steps we can take to safeguard our residents” from similar disasters in future.
Levine Cava said at the press conference she has “been in close contact with” Rundle. “We hope she’ll be asking the grand jury to do an investigation” as Miami-Dade moves “forward with our own county audit”.
President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, planned to pay a visit on Thursday to the scene of the tragedy in the oceanfront town of Surfside, adjacent to Miami Beach, the White House said.