Search called off at Champlain Towers
Search efforts for possible survivors in the rubble of a partially collapsed apartment block near Miami were suspended ahead of the controlled demolition of the rest of the building.
Teams are preparing to bring down the remaining structure using explosives.
The demolition of Champlain Towers South was brought forward over safety fears due to an approaching storm.
Part of the 12-storey block collapsed on 24 June. Twenty-four people are known to have died and 121 are missing.
No survivors were pulled from the rubble at the site in the Miami suburb of Surfside since the first few hours after the structure’s collapse.
The families of the missing were told in advance of the decision to pause the search effort, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Cava Levine said.
The decision to bring forward the demolition of the remaining block was made after concerns were raised over the approaching Tropical Storm Elsa, which is expected to reach the west coast of Florida on Tuesday.
The mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, said strong winds in the coming days could bring down additional debris from the unstable structure, endangering the lives of the search teams.
“It was obvious that the building was a problem,” he said on Saturday, adding: “We agreed that the only solution for that problem was to eliminate it.”
Burkett said the controlled demolition could take place “as early as [Sunday]”, and should be completed within days.
Announcing the temporary pause in the search operation, Mayor Cava Levine said the latest developments “do not signify that we are no longer focused on search and rescue”.
She said preparations for the demolition included “drilling into columns in the unsafe structure” and a pause was needed while the process was under way.
“We will begin the search and rescue once again on any sections of the pile that are safe to access as soon as we’re cleared,” she said.
Drones and 3D imaging equipment are being brought in to help those combing the rubble for signs of life.
The mayor signed a demolition order on Friday. She initially said she expected the demolition would not happen until late July.
There are no details so far about compensating the owners of the apartments. Meanwhile, officials are investigating other tower blocks in the area for structural faults. (BBC)