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A 12th victim was found dead in the rubble of Miami's partially collapsed condo building Tuesday, and with nearly 150 people still unaccounted for, the death toll is expected to drastically increase.
Authorities have identified the victims as Stacie Dawn Fang, 54; Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; Manuel LaFont, 54; Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermudez, 26; Anna Ortiz, 46; Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74; Marcus Joseph Guara, 52; Frank Kleiman, 55; and Michael David Altman, 50. The 12th victim was identified Wednesday morning as 92-year-old Hilda Noriega.
The bodies of the victims were recovered over six days amid an around-the-clock search and rescue effort that has exhausted first responders and frustrated families.
In a press conference earlier that day, officials reassured the public that the search and rescue teams — which came from all over Florida, as well as Mexico and Israel — are working as swiftly and meticulously as possible. "They've been going at it for over 100 hours straight. When there is danger, they run towards it," said Gov. Ron DeSantis. "They obviously shepherded a lot of people to safety initially, and they've been every minute of every day since the building collapsed trying to identify survivors."
Families of those who are dead or still missing were allowed to visit the site Sunday. Since the Champlain Towers South, a beachfront building in the town of Surfside, collapsed four days ago, family members have endured a heartbreaking and frustrating wait for news of their loved ones. On Sunday, dozens of them were taken by buses to an area near the site in what the mayor's office described as a "private and deeply emotional moment."
As they boarded the buses, some family members were crying and others were wearing T-shirts bearing photos of their missing relatives, according to a Miami Herald reporter.
At the Monday press conference, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he met an 11- or 12-year-old girl at the site on Sunday, and that one of her parents had been in the building at the time of the collapse.
"She was reading a Jewish prayer to herself, sitting at the site where one of her parents presumably is," Burkett said. "And that really brought it home to me. And she wasn’t crying — she was just lost. She didn’t know what to do, what to say, who to talk to."
Busses just arrived to the family reunification center where family members will be taken to collapse site. #SurfsideBuildingCollapse @MiamiHerald
Authorities organized Sunday's visit for families after many expressed their frustration with the slow pace of recovery efforts and demanded to visit the site.
Their visit came a few hours after officials announced Sunday that search and rescue teams working overnight had recovered four more bodies as well as other human remains after digging a 40-foot-deep trench into the massive pile of debris.
On Sunday evening, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said four other victims had been identified, leaving 152 people still unaccounted for. She did not release their identities because their families were still being notified.
The mayor said that officials are making every effort to identify the others whose bodies were recovered and to contact their family members. DNA may be used to identify some of the remains, and officials are accepting samples from family members of the missing.
Fang's 15-year-old son was among the people who were pulled alive from the rubble Thursday. The teen wasn't badly injured but had wanted to know what happened to his mother, his aunt told the Washington Post.
Hours before LaFont's body was identified as one of the victims, his ex-wife, Adriana LaFont, urged people to pray for his rescue in a Facebook post, saying, "My [M]anny, who was my partner for so many years, father of my children, who scolds me and loves me at the same time...."
"Manny, Daddy, we want to hug you again," she wrote in the post.
LaFont leaves behind a 10-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter, the New York Times reported.
4. Manuel Lafont, 54, unit 801 (family corrected @MiamiDadePD original report). His ex wife Adriana sharing this on her FB: “My partner for so many years, father of my children who scolds me and loves me at the same time…Manny, Daddy, we want to hug you again…”
Two teams from Israel and Mexico have been embedded in the rotating search and rescue crews who have been working "tirelessly" through the early hours of the morning since Thursday, officials said Sunday. A fire at the site slowed search efforts Saturday, but crews managed to put it out.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Sunday that the priority was to pull residents out of the rubble and to support families. Cava added that families were receiving multiple briefings each day and were getting updates before the general public.
However, it was a tense atmosphere inside the hotel ballroom where authorities briefed 200 family members Saturday, sources told the Associated Press.
Families who were frustrated by the slow pace of rescue efforts demanded access to the scene of the collapse to attempt a collective shout as a way of finding survivors and as a cathartic farewell to loved ones, the AP reported.
In an Instagram video posted by user Abigail Pereira, an emotional mother was heard berating officials for not doing enough to rescue her daughter and others from the wreckage during a briefing with family members Saturday.
"My daughter is 26 years old and in perfect health. She could make it out of there," the woman was heard saying. "I'm a mother; I don't know the best way to go about this. But it's impossible that in four days, nobody has emerged dead or alive. ... It's not enough. Imagine if your children were in there," she told officials during the briefing.
During Sunday's press briefing, Cava said they were working with families to organize a visit to the site in a "very private event."
Burkett blamed "luck" and not the lack of resources for the agonizing wait for families.
"We don’t have a resource problem; we’ve had a luck problem," he told ABC News on Sunday. "We just need to start to get a little more lucky right now."
Cava also said that there was no lack of personnel, with six to eight squads actively searching the pile at any given time and around 100 team members on standby to rotate.
"Our teams have done an amazing job," she said.
Burkett added that the catastrophic collapse was extremely unusual and disturbing.
"There was something obviously very, very wrong at this building, and we need to get to the bottom of it," he said. "But that’s, like I said, not today, not tomorrow, and not for a long time because our first priority and our only priority is to pull our residents out of that rubble and reunite them with their family who understandably are out of their minds with emotion, sadness, anger, and just confused and want to know what is happening."
Experts who reviewed video and other evidence told the Miami Herald that it appears the collapse began beneath the pool deck. A 2018 report found "major structural damage" to the concrete slab below the deck.
Cava said Saturday that there will be a full investigation to "get to the bottom of this tragedy" and announced a 30-day audit of residential properties in the wake of the Surfside collapse.
The top priority of every agency on the ground remains the search and rescue operation and saving all the lives we can — with our teams working around the clock.At the same time it’s critical that we get to the bottom of this tragedy and there will be a full investigation.
Residents of the sister building, which is nearly identical to the one that collapsed, have been offered alternatives to potentially relocate if they do not feel comfortable staying in the building, Burkett said Sunday.
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