First responders continuing the search and recovery mission in the debris of a collapsed Surfside condo tower on Saturday morning worked through a thunderstorm that brought heavy downpours and strong wind gusts at times.
The recovery effort briefly paused at 7 a.m. after a lightning strike, and inclement weather is expected the rest of the day.
The task of finding victims’ bodies went on as police-escorted trucks carrying debris from the site were seen on the Julia Tuttle Causeway and the Florida Turnpike earlier in the day.
The death toll in the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South now stands at 86 after seven victims were pulled from the rubble overnight, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told media Saturday morning.
Of the 86 victims, 62 have been identified.
There are “potentially” 43 people still missing in the rubble, Levine Cava said. “We can only truly account for a missing person who is deceased once an identification is made.”
Officials are still working on making the missing list as accurate as possible, by cross-referencing addresses from the U.S. Postal Service, driver’s license records and the condo building roster.
Saturday’s work continued in efforts to recover the bodies of victims in the rubble of the oceanside condo building, which partially collapsed at 1:30 a.m. the morning of June 24.
The pace of finding victims has increased substantially since the demolition of the remaining part of the building nearly a week ago, as rescue workers access a wider area. Significant removal of the debris pile has freed up the space for rescuers to search areas they couldn’t get to before.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told media Saturday that the pace of the operation makes it “very likely that the site will be clear sooner than expected.”
“The progress there remains intense,” he said.. “Much of the original pile is at ground level or below. “
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said he didn’t have a timeline for when the site will be cleared.
Passersby reflect in the rain
The rain Saturday also didn’t keep people away from the growing memorial wall set up to honor victims of the building collapse on Harding Avenue. Flowers, candles, written prayers and inspirational messages and photographs are added to the wall every day.
Cyclists, joggers and other well-wishers stopped to pray, observe a moment of silence and to deliver more items to the memorial.
Michelle Toussaint drove down from Boynton Beach Saturday to place a laminated prayer to St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals, in memory of all the pets that were lost when the building fell.
“I’ve been a huge pet lover all my life. I have a dog that I rescued almost 11 years ago, and he’s my world,” Toussaint said. “And, I think what hits me about the pets is they are family. You hear a lot of people who say, ‘Why would they want to rescue pets? they’re just pets.’ And they’re not. That’s their family.”
Toussaint said she was inspired to make the trip to Surfside after hearing news that rescuers found a surviving family’s cat, Binx, on Friday.
“It’s a miracle. It’s a total miracle, and that’s going to help that family get through this,” Toussaint said. “So, I wanted to come down here and pay my respects, not only for the people, but for the pets too.”
Meanwhile, Dallas, Texas-based artist Roberto Marquez continued work on an untitled mural that is around 10 feet tall and spread over nine canvases. Marquez, who arrived in Surfside on June 28, worked throughout the storm Saturday, painting underneath a blue tarp.
“I need to finish it regardless,” he said.