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Death toll rises to 32 as Surfside condo collapse rescue effort faces challenges from Tropical Storm Elsa

Death toll rises to 32 as Surfside condo collapse rescue effort faces challenges from Tropical Storm Elsa

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Bands of rain from an approaching tropical storm and a forecast that includes possible tornadoes added to the hurdles faced by rescue workers seeking signs of life Tuesday among the ruins of the Miami-area condominium collapse.

Four more bodies were found, raising the death toll to 32, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Tuesday. She said 26 of the victims had been identified.

Authorities remained steadfast in describing the effort as search and rescue, 12 days after the stunning collapse at the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, a few miles north of Miami Beach. Photos of dozens of victims and those missing are displayed nearby on a makeshift Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial.

The remaining sections of the building were imploded Sunday amid concerns that winds from approaching Tropical Storm Elsa would topple the structure and bring the rescue to a halt. Unrelated lightning only briefly stopped the search Monday night.

“The site is busier and more active now than I’ve seen it since we began,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said, adding that heavy equipment was now able to move freely around the site.

Four more victims had been discovered Monday, raising the death toll to 28 people. With the total now up to 32, 113 remain unaccounted for – although Levine Cava said it has not been verified that all were in the building.

‘Tragedy without precedent’: Condo building partially collapses near Miami

Elsa was expected to make landfall north of Tampa on Wednesday morning, but Miami-Dade County was already not completely spared from its effects.

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said there was a two-hour delay early Tuesday as a result of lightning. He said workers have removed 5.5 million pounds of debris from the pile.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava lauded the efforts of the workers, pressing on day and night despite the rain and the risks of shifting debris.

“They live to save lives, and they’ve pushed ahead no matter what is thrown in their way,” Levine Cava said.

The investigation into the cause of the collapse is underway, but officials warn that no final determination is likely in the immediate future. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has pledge to have a grand jury look at “what steps we can take to safeguard our residents” without jeopardizing public safety – or potential criminal – investigations.

City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said his focus remains on “our primary mission.”

“That is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them,” Carroll said.

The Champlain Towers South condominium is visible behind the memorial wall for people missing in the collapse of the building in Surfside Florida. Recovery efforts were suspended Saturday afternoon while crews begin preparing the remaining structure for demolition.

Surfside condo collapse: Memorial wall still stands as a ‘beautiful expression of love’

The memorial wall serves as a somber magnet for mourners as the small barrier-island community comes to grips with the disaster. The fast-growing memorial extends along the western fence of Surfside’s tennis center. Hundreds of flower bouquets, stuffed animals, candles, handmade posters, religious messages and flags adorn the site.

A floral frame of red roses and yellow tulips on the chain-link fence surrounded the smiling portrait of Elaine Sabino. The JetBlue flight attendant, who relatives say loved to travel and meet new people, lived on the 12th floor. She remains unaccounted for.

“She was a very loving person. Very vivacious,” said Sabino’s sister, Daytona Beach resident Linda Howard as she fought back tears. “She had a bigger-than-life personality.”

Burkett said he believes the memorial is cathartc. And he hopes it becomes permanent.

“I think it’s a beautiful expression of love and respect. And it’s the kind of spontaneous creation that moves people,” Burkett said. “I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s necessary. And I’m very thankful that the people who put that wall up are maintaining it with love and passion.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida condo collapse death toll rises as tropical storm closes in

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