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90 deaths confirmed in Florida condominium collapse, mayor says

A member of the Israeli search and rescue team salutes in front of the rubble that once was Champlain Towers South.
A member of the Israeli search and rescue team, left, salutes in front of the rubble that once was Champlain Towers South during a prayer ceremony Wednesday in Surfside, Fla. The Israeli team that arrived in South Florida shortly after the condo collapsed last month is heading home.
(Jose A Iglesias/Miami Herald via AP)

Authorities searching for victims of a deadly collapse in Florida said Sunday that they hope to conclude their painstaking work in the coming weeks as a team of first responders from Israel departed the site.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that 90 deaths have been confirmed in the collapse last month of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, up from 86 a day before.

Among them are 71 bodies that have been identified, and their families have been notified, she said. Thirty-one people remain listed as missing.

The Miami-Dade Police Department said three young children were among those recently identified.

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Crews continued to search the remaining pile of rubble, peeling layer after layer of debris in search of bodies. Levine Cava said the unrelenting search has resulted in the recovery of more than 14 million pounds of concrete and debris.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett stressed the care that rescue workers are taking in peeling back layers of rubble in hopes of recovering not only bodies but also possessions of the victims. He said the work is so delicate that crews have found unbroken wine bottles amid the rubble.

“It doesn’t get any less difficult and finding victims, that experience doesn’t change for our search and rescue folks,” he said. “It takes a toll, but you’ve got to love the heart that they’re putting into this and we’re very grateful.”

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In recognition of rescuers from abroad, Levine Cava said she gave the keys to the county to the Israeli commander and colonel — her first two handed out as mayor. An Israeli search and rescue team arrived in south Florida shortly after the building collapsed June 24. The team was heading home Sunday after an emotion sendoff in Surfside.

During a brief ceremony Saturday evening, Levine Cava thanked the battalion for its “unrelenting dedication.” Members of the task forces that have been searching the site 24 hours a day since the collapse lined both sides of the street, shaking hands and bidding farewell to the Israeli team.

While authorities have concluded that there was “no chance of life” in the remaining rubble, the pressure remains for search crews to find victims so families can lay their loved ones to rest. Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said it was not possible to pinpoint the date that the search and recovery effort would end.

“It’s a slow process,” he said.

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The Israeli team joined other task forces from around the United States to assist the teams from Miami and Miami-Dade County, working in 12-hour shifts. They have searched through south Florida’s intense summer heat, and in pouring rain, pausing when lightning was spotted nearby. They also paused operations as officials made plans to implode the still-standing portion of the condo tower July 4.

The Israeli team used blueprints of the building to create detailed 3-D images of the disaster site to aid in the search. They also gathered information from families of the missing, many of whom were Jewish, to build a room-by-room model showing where people would have been sleeping during the pre-dawn collapse.


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