Fourteen more bodies were recovered while investigators used heavy equipment to move mountains of shattered concrete and steel.
The death toll from the collapse of a Miami high-rise condominium building rose to 78 on Friday, a number the mayor described as “heartbreaking” as recovery workers worked to find victims among the runes.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference that work to recover the victims was “advancing with great urgency” in order to shut down families who have spent two agonizing weeks waiting for news.
“This is a staggering and heartbreaking number that affects us all a lot,” Levine Cava said of the latest death toll. There are 62 more people missing.
Paraguay’s foreign minister said in a radio report that the sister of Paraguay’s first lady was among the dead. Several Latin American citizens were reported to the building when it collapsed. No one has been found alive since the early hours after the building collapsed on June 24.
“We know there will be long-term impacts for top-tier teams,” Levine Cava said. “They’ve given a lot of themselves in those first two weeks.”
Rescue workers and emergency support teams from Florida and several states have worked 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day for 16 days, on imposing physical and emotional tasks amid oppressive heat and in dangerous conditions.
Miami-Dade fire chief Alan Cominsky said caring for the mental health and well-being of first responders is a priority. He said it is crucial that the first respondents communicate with each other. “It’s important that we talk,” he said.
To that end, Levine Cava said officials have added peer support staff to the fire stations.
A thorough search for survivors turned into a recovery effort this week after authorities said they had come to the conclusion that there was “no chance of life” in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside.
Researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been looking for clues about the building’s collapse.
“NIST has made significant progress in labeling and transporting forensic evidence of the stack,” Levine Cava said.
“They have now collected more than 200 tests and recently deployed scientists from Washington’s physics measurement lab to assist them in the analysis.”
The focus has been on a 2018 engineering report that warned structural deficiencies.
The hope of finding survivors was reactivated shortly after the workers demolished the rest of the building on July 4, allowing access to new waste areas. There were some gaps where survivors could have been trapped, mostly in the basement and garage.
Gloomily, rescue workers now focused on finding remains instead of survivors.
State and local officials have promised financial aid to the families of the victims, as well as residents of the building who survived but lost all their possessions. Meanwhile, authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse. And families have filed at least six lawsuits.