SURFSIDE, Fla. (WTXL) — The death toll in the tragic and devastating Surfside condominium collapse has risen to 18 with 147 people still missing, authorities announced Wednesday evening.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference that two additional bodies have been identified as children ages 4 and 10.
A tweet from the Miami-Dade Police Department identified the children as sisters, Lucia and Emma Guara.
#UPDATE 36: We have identified four additional victims who tragically and unexpectedly lost their lives in the Surfside building collapse. The Guara sisters were only 4 and 10 years old.— Miami-Dade Police (@MiamiDadePD) June 30, 2021
Please keep their families and loved ones in your prayers. pic.twitter.com/RGPfwkIdtm
The mayor said 139 people are now accounted for.
"Any loss of life, especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event is a tragedy, but the loss of our children is too great to bear," Levine Cava said. "We are all mourning with these families who have lost loved ones."
James Olthoff, the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), spoke at Wednesday evening's briefing and said his organization has established a team to investigate the collapse.
"Our work will not interfere with any ongoing search and rescue operations. These remain the highest priority of everyone," Olthoff said.
The director said the investigation will be a fact-finding, not fault-finding, technical investigation.
"It will take time, possibly a couple of years, but we will not stop until we have determined the likely cause of this tragedy," Olthoff said.
NIST has more than 50 years of experience studying disasters and failures caused by earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and terrorist attacks.
"We are going in with an open mind. In any building collapse, we would want to understand how the building was designed, how it was constructed, modified and maintained," said Judith Mitrani-Reiser, who is co-leading the NIST team at the site.
NIST previously investigated the World Trade Center collapse after the 9/11 terrorist attack, the 2011 Joplin tornado and Hurricane Maria after it hit Puerto Rico in 2017.
2 Tropical Waves Monitored
As the painstaking search-and-rescue mission entered its seventh day, state and local emergency officials said they were closely monitoring two tropical waves in the Atlantic Ocean, one of which could bring heavy rain and gusty winds to South Florida next week.
According to WPTV First Alert Chief Meteorologist Steve Weagle, Potential Tropical Cyclone Five in the central Atlantic Ocean has a 70% chance of development over the next two days, and a 90% chance over five days.
It could strengthen into a tropical depression or storm in the next 24 to 48 hours, Weagle said, and track toward the Florida Peninsula early next week.
"It's definitely one to watch," Weagle said. "It's very unusual this time of year to see something like this strengthen in this area. But that is the forecast."
Gov. Ron DeSantis said emergency crews from Florida's Division of Emergency Management are currently involved with the Surfside operation, but could be redirected in the event of severe weather.
"Suffice it to say, we take [storms] very seriously, and we'll take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we would be able to respond," DeSantis said. "We hope it doesn't come to that, but 'tis the season, and you gotta be ready."
Kevin Guthrie, the director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, said a federal urban search and rescue team was expected to arrive in Surfside on Wednesday to assist with the ongoing efforts. That will free up local first responders in the event there's a tropical cyclone and any storm-related emergencies arise.
"This is contingency planning," Guthrie said. "My team is very aware of what's going on here, and we will be closely monitoring the tropics."
Guthrie added that if a tropical depression or storm develops, plans are in place to handle both situations simultaneously, including facility relocation and communications.
"We have done this before where we have responded to multiple emergencies in the state at the same time," Guthrie said.
Authorities said it's still a search-and-rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building last Thursday.
"It's absolutely still a search-and-rescue mission," said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky. "With this type of collapse, what we're seeing in the debris, very difficult to move any of the large concrete slabs. They're pulverized underneath and crumbling as we're trying to move them."
As part of the relentless efforts, first responders are using two sets of K-9s -- those looking for survivors and those looking for the deceased -- along with sonar and video equipment, and heavy machinery to drill into thick concrete.
Officials said the daily deluge of tropical rain and wind is not affecting the ability of the search dogs.
"They practice and they pick up scents from great distances," said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett. "Apparently, the dogs are able to follow the scents to the destinations."
A twelfth victim was identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Wednesday.
The body of Hilda Noriega, 92, was recovered on Tuesday, according to authorities. She's the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega.
#UPDATE 34: We have identified an additional victim that sadly and unexpectedly lost her life in the tragic Surfside building collapse. Please keep her family and loved ones in your prayers. pic.twitter.com/YMFJ46O1Mi— Miami-Dade Police (@MiamiDadePD) June 30, 2021
Noriega lived on the sixth floor of the Champlain Towers South condominium building for 20 years, her family said.
"My grandmother is easily the most loving person I know," Michael Noriega, Hilda's grandson, told WPTV on Tuesday. "There's a lot of pain. This is very hard to digest. It still doesn't feel real."
The deceased have been identified as:
- Lucia Guara, 10
- Emma Guara, 4
- Hilda Noriega, 92
- Marcus Joseph Guara, 52
- Frank Kleiman, 55
- Michael David Altman, 50
- Leon Oliwkowicz, 80
- Luis Bermudez, 26
- Anna Ortiz, 46
- Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74
- Stacie Dawn Fang, 54
- Antonio Lozano, 83
- Gladys Lozano, 79
- Manuel LaFont, 54
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are scheduled to visit Surfside on Thursday to tour the damage and meet with the families of the victims and missing, along with first responders.
"We've had challenges from weather, sorrow, pain. And I think that the president coming will bring some unity for our community," said Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo Ramirez.
Calling it the largest deployment for a non-hurricane event in Florida history, DeSantis said the search-and-rescue operation will not let up.
"Rest assured that [first responders] are gonna be working on that pile, and it's not gonna stop. And they're gonna get answers one way or another," DeSantis said.
"We're not leaving anybody behind," Burkett added. "This is gonna go until we pull everybody out of there. This is our number one effort."
Levine Cava said she and her staff will meet with engineering, construction, and geology experts, among others, to review building safety issues and develop recommendations "to ensure a tragedy like this will never, ever happen again."
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she plans to pursue a grand jury investigation to examine factors and decisions that led to the collapse.
Investigators are seeking the assistance of the community in obtaining information from anyone who witnessed the Surfside building collapse. Anyone who has videos or photos is asked to call the Surfside Collapse Witness Tip Line at 305-428-4417 from 8:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.
A family information and reunification center continues to operate at the Surfside Recreation Center, located at 9301 Collins Avenue, for people who are unable to locate their relatives who live in the building.
You can open a Missing Person Report by clicking here or calling 833-930-3701.
If you live at the Champlain Towers property or you know a person who lives there who has been found safe, click here.