Rescuers on Wednesday gave hopes of finding survivors in a collapsed Florida apartment building, telling sobbing families there was “no chance of life” in the rubble as crews shifted their efforts to recover more remains.
The announcement followed increasingly bleak reports from emergency services, who said they were trying to prepare families for the worst.
“Right now, we have really exhausted all options available to us in the search and rescue mission,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference.
The formal transition from rescue to recovery was set to take place at midnight, with a moment of silence scheduled for shortly after 7 p.m., officials said.
Eight more bodies were also recovered on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 54, the mayor said. Thirty-three of the dead have been identified and 86 people are still missing.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told families during a private briefing that crews would stop using rescue dogs and listening devices, but would continue to search for remains.
“Our only responsibility at this point is to bring closure,” he said, as family members cried in the background.
For two weeks, rescue teams searched for spots in the rubble large enough to accommodate survivors. But they are now saying that the chances of finding anyone alive are close to nil.
“We found that the stress, the force of pressure from the walls and floors, had virtually no chance of life again,” Jadallah said.
Hopes of finding survivors were revived for a while after workers demolished the rest of the building, giving rescuers access to new sections of the rubble.
Some of those cavities did exist, mostly in the basement and parking garage, but no survivors emerged. Instead, teams recovered more than a dozen additional victims. As the building collapsed in the early morning hours, many were found dead in their beds. The death toll stood at 46 on Wednesday, with 94 missing.
No one has been pulled out of the water alive since the first hours after the 12-story Champlain Towers South building collapsed on June 24.
Twice during the search, rescue workers had to suspend the mission due to the instability of the remaining portion of the condominium building and preparations for demolition.
After initially hoping for miraculous rescues, families slowly braced for the news that their relatives did not survive.
“For some, what they tell us is almost a sense of relief when they already know (that someone has died) and they can just end that chapter and move on,” said Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic Maggie Castro, who keeps families updated on a daily basis.
Authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse and at least six lawsuits have been filed by families of Champlain Towers.
Naum Lusky, president of the Champlain Towers North condo association, said the city’s hired engineers arrived Tuesday to conduct three days of testing at the building, which has a similar design and was built at about the same time as Champlain Towers South.
“They check from one end of the building to the other and everything is fine,” Lusky told The Associated Press.
Since the south building collapsed, he has insisted that his tower is safe because his association has carried out the maintenance and has not let any problems proliferate.