Death toll now 54 as search of collapsed condo shifts from rescue to recovery

(Courtesy: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue)

Emergency workers are giving up on any hope of finding survivors in a collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium in South Florida. Authorities told sobbing families Wednesday that there was "no chance of life" in the rubble. They planned to shift their efforts to recovering more remains.

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah says crews will stop using rescue dogs and listening devices but continue to search for people who are still missing. The death toll is now 54, with 94 people unaccounted for.

"At this point, we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search-and-rescue mission," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference.

During a private briefing Wednesday, Jadallah told family members that workers had pulled 10 more bodies from the rubble and additional human remains. Jadallah says only 32 victims have been identified.

Crews on Tuesday dug through pulverized concrete where the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside once stood, filling buckets that were passed down a line to be emptied and then returned. Rescuers had hoped to find pockets where people could have survived in the new areas. 

The up-close look at the search, compliments of video released by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department, came as eight more deaths were announced — the most for a single day since the search began. It also came as rain and wind from Tropical Storm Elsa disrupted the effort, though the storm was on track to make landfall far across the state.

Searchers have found no new signs of survivors, and although authorities said their mission was still geared toward finding people alive, they sounded increasingly somber.

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"Right now, we’re in search and rescue mode," the county's police director, Freddy Ramirez, said at a news conference Tuesday evening. He soon added: "Our primary goal right now is to bring closure to the families."

No one has been rescued from the site since the first hours after the building collapsed on June 24 when many of its residents were asleep.

Searchers were still looking for any open spaces within the mounds of rubble where additional survivors might be found, said the county's fire chief, Alan Cominsky.

"Unfortunately, we are not seeing anything positive," he said.

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Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the families of the missing were preparing for news of "tragic loss." She said President Joe Biden, who visited the area last week, called Tuesday to offer his continued support.

"I think everybody will be ready when it’s time to move to the next phase," she said.

Reporters got their closest in-person look at the site Tuesday, though it was limited to the portion of the building that workers tore down Sunday after the initial collapse left it standing but dangerously unstable. A pile of shattered concrete and twisted steel stood about 30 feet high and spanned roughly half the length of a football field. A pair of backhoes pulled rubble off the pile, which blocked any view of the search effort.

Severe weather from Elsa hindered search efforts to a degree. Lightning forced rescuers to pause their work for two hours early Tuesday, Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said. And winds of 20 mph, with stronger gusts, hampered efforts to move heavy debris with cranes, officials said.

RELATED: 7-year-old daughter of Miami firefighter recovered in rubble of collapsed Florida condo

However, the storm’s heaviest winds and rain would bypass Surfside and neighboring Miami as Elsa weakened along its path to an expected landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend.

Crews have removed 124 tons of debris from the site, Cominsky said. The debris was being sorted and stored in a warehouse as potential evidence in the investigation into why the building collapsed, officials said.

Workers have been freed to search a broader area since the unstable remaining portion of the building was demolished.