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As recovery efforts in Surfside seemed to come to a close Wednesday with the site of the collapsed condo cleared, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that first responders continue to search for human remains in the relocated rubble of a disaster believed to have killed 98 people.
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky confirmed to the Miami Herald that all searches at the site of the collapse have been completed and that “as of now, there is no additional debris to be removed from the original site.”
“We do not anticipate any further human remains to be found at the original site,” Cominsky said.
The shift in recovery efforts came as the county clarified that, as of Wednesday, 97 victims had been identified and one additional victim was believed to remain unidentified, bringing the likely death toll from the collapse to 98. Of those identified, 96 had been recovered from the collapse, and one victim — previously known to be Stacie Fang — had died at the hospital.
Levine Cava confirmed that the site of the collapse on 87th Street and Collins Avenue had been “mostly cleared” by Wednesday but that recovery and investigation efforts would continue “around the clock” — primarily at the locations to which debris had been removed for forensic analysis.
“What’s happening now is that the first responders are conducting additional searches of the debris at the collection site,” a county spokesperson said. “They’re continuing to do everything that they can to be as thorough as possible in the search for any additional remains to bring closure to families.”
Asked how these additional searches of the debris may differ from those conducted by search and rescue workers originally, Cominsky said that the fire rescue teams are bringing in replacement search dogs to locate any remains not previously found, and “spreading the evidentiary pile to 2-3 feet high” to ease the dogs’ and search teams’ work.
The continued search and methods reflect the gargantuan task that has faced search and recovery workers since the Champlain Towers South fell on June 24.
According to Levine Cava, more than 26 million pounds of concrete and debris have been removed from the site. The Miami-Dade Police Department’s homicide bureau said in a statement to the Herald that the bureau expects to conclude its investigative process of the collapse site in 30 to 45 days.
The task of recovering all the remains is “unfortunately very difficult,” Levine Cava said Wednesday, in part due to factors like fire, water, the “enormous pressure” of the collapse and “the passage of time.”
Two more victims identified
Also on Wednesday, Miami-Dade Police announced that they’d confirmed the identities of two victims: Anastasiya Gromova, 24, and Linda March, 58, who were recovered on July 18 and July 5, respectively.
Earlier this week, Gromava’s parents were still waiting for any news of their missing daughter, who had just been accepted to a program in Japan teaching English in June. On the day of the collapse, she had been visiting friends in Surfside to celebrate before her big move.
“She always wanted to do as much as possible with her life,” her father, Sergiy Gromova, told The Associated Press.
March, an attorney who had suffered a bout of COVID-19, had moved to South Florida from New York just a few months before the collapse. A friend of hers had recommended Champlain Towers and March had decided to rent for a year before buying.
“She was sunshine-y. You’d see her and smile and laugh together,” Rochelle Laufer, a close friend of March’s since the second grade, told the Herald. “She was very extroverted, always talking to people. She had things to be sad about, but she was happy.”
Blocked off street near collapse to open for traffic ‘in very near future’
Nearly a month after the partial building collapse, the site looks unrecognizable to those who witnessed rescuers work for weeks on the rubble.
Sen. Jason Pizzo tweeted images of the site Tuesday night, showing the property where the 12-story Champlain Towers South once stood. Surrounded by orange traffic cones and police barricades, the property — once stacked several stories high with broken concrete and steel — appeared in the photos to have been cleared. Only several pieces of rubble and wires were still visible, as several recovery workers used a crawler loader to pick up a remaining piece.
The relocation of debris, and with it the recovery effort, may soon allow Surfside residents to see the blocked off section of Collins Avenue open to traffic.
“I think that in the very near future, we will be able to get Collins Avenue partially open for traffic,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told the Miami Herald. “We’re trying to semi-normalize life in Surfside, however, we’re not doing anything that would jeopardize the investigation into the site. We’re trying to balance those two requirements.”
The county reiterated that anyone in need of free psychological or counseling services in relation to the collapse should dial 211, and said that as of Wednesday, 272 distinct families had made use of services provided by the county Family Assistance Center.
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.