Residents of a Miami-area high-rise loaded clothes and valuables into suitcases and laundry baskets and wheeled them to waiting cars after they were forced to evacuate a building found to be unsafe in a review prompted by a deadly collapse just a few miles away.
An audit prompted by the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside found that the 156-unit Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, about five miles away, was deemed structurally and electrically unsafe in January, the city said. The evacuation was ordered on Friday.
In the rubble of Champlain Towers South, the death toll rose to 22. The seven-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter was found dead. Two bodies were recovered overnight Thursday, including the girl, and two more were found on Friday.
In North Miami Beach, authorities went door-to-door in the apartment building, telling residents they had to leave the 49-year-old structure.
Harold Dauphin was on his way home when he noticed a helicopter and a heightened police presence. He wondered if there had been a shooting but found his building being evacuated.
“They said the building is unsafe to live and it’s an immediate evacuation,” Dauphin said. He said he hadn’t heard anything about the problems the city mentioned. He grabbed what he could and left.
“It’s unfortunate, but I understand. Knowing what happened in Surfside, you know, it’s understandable,” he said.
It is the first building to be evacuated since officials in south Florida and statewide began scrutinizing older high-rises to ensure structural problems are not ignored.
In Surfside, though four more bodies were found, there was also relief. Closer inspection of the missing persons list reduced the number from 145 to 126 after duplicates were eliminated and some reported missing turned up safe.
“So this is very, very good news,” Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, adding that the numbers were expected to keep changing because detectives are continually reviewing the list and verifying reports.
The discovery of the girl’s remains was especially hard, Levine Cava said.
“It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders. These men and woman are paying an enormous human toll each and every day, and I ask that all of you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” she said.
The mayor said she signed an emergency order to demolish the remaining part of the building. She said the order was signed now but it will likely be weeks before the demolition is scheduled, officials said.
No one has been rescued since the first hours after the 24 June collapse. Authorities are preparing in case Hurricane Elsa – now in the eastern Caribbean – brings strong winds. Search efforts have stopped several times.
“We will try to go as long as we can, but you can see from different periods of inclement weather we’ve had, we have stopped,” Miami-Dade fire chief Alan Cominsky said.
Additionally, one firefighter taskforce was demobilized after six members working at the site tested positive for Covid-19.
On Thursday, Joe Biden saluted the “resilience” of authorities and searchers, “their absolute commitment and willingness to do whatever it took to find the answer”.
“The families are realistic,” the president said. “They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly, but at a minimum they want to recover the bodies.
“They’re going through hell, those who survived the collapse, as well as those who are missing loved ones. The really hard part is not knowing whether they’re surviving or not, to have no idea.”
Officials did not immediately release details about the structural problems that prompted the evacuation in North Miami Beach but Crestview Towers reported millions of dollars in damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017.
A letter posted less than two weeks ago on the community website said repairs were under way or expected to begin soon after delays. Plans included a new roof, replacing a generator and changing lighting.
“Last year has been a different year due to the pandemic and many things have been postponed for countless reasons, but this year we have started to work hard,” the letter said.
The condo association could not be reached for comment.
Darwin Reyes said he lived in the building during Hurricane Irma and a chunk of the balcony above his fell on his during the storm. He listed other complaints, including elevators that often didn’t work and pipes that didn’t drain well. He said he had been planning to move.
On Friday, Reyes woke from a nap. He checked his Instagram feed and saw a notice that said his building was being evacuated. He looked into the hallway and saw people with bags and suitcases. He and his wife packed what they could.