The remaining portion of Champlain Towers South, site of one of the worst building failures in U.S. history, tumbled to the ground Sunday night when authorities demolished the Surfside structure.
The controlled demolition came ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa and amid fears that looming stormy weather could topple the tower and stymie an already challenging search-and-rescue effort to reach dozens buried in the rubble. At 10:30 p.m. authorities detonated charges inserted into holes drilled into the part of the 12-story condo that stood tenuously for 11 days.
About half the structure collapsed in the middle of the night on June 24. So far, 24 people are confirmed dead. More than 120 are still missing in the rubble of dozens of units that came down in circumstances still not completely understood.
Officials paused a frustrating and complicated search-and-rescue effort Saturday to prepare for demolition, forcing agonized families to wait longer before crews could keep looking for their loved ones. Families and friends of the missing have endured a torturous wait as workers battled persistent rain, fires and overall dangerous conditions to keep pressing through the pile.
Sunday night, the controlled implosion sent a plume of dust and smoke into the sky. The cloud blew west into the neighborhood of single-family homes that make up the sleepy beach town of Surfside. Within minutes, a thick haze enveloped the neighborhood. By about 11 p.m., the air cleared. Police vehicles caked with dust drove away.
Authorities said search operations would resume after the demolition as soon as it was safe, perhaps in less than an hour. Around 11:15 p.m., a spokesman for Miami-Dade County told the Miami Herald that preliminary information indicates the demolition went as planned.
Survivors of the disaster left with the clothes are on their backs and little else in the harrowing hours after half of the condo tower collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24. Some escaped on their own, crawling through cracks in the walls of a collapsed parking garage. Others were lowered from their balconies by firefighters.
They left their unstable homes not knowing if they’d have a chance to go back. Those chances evaporated under the threat of tropical weather with the approach of Tropical Storm Elsa and instability of the structure. The search was halted for hours on July 1 due to the building shifting several inches, putting rescue workers at risk. That prompted the decision to tear it down.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava signed the demolition order Friday. She had initially said the planning and execution of the teardown would take weeks. With the unstable building posing a constant threat to emergency personnel and Elsa churning in the Caribbean, the timetable moved up.
Hours before the demolition, residents in the northern swath of Miami Beach, which borders Surfside on the south, set off fireworks in the streets. The unofficial displays lit up pockets of the sky and boomed through the area. People stood on street corners and balconies to see the improvised July 4 celebrations.
About an hour before the demolition, a shelter-in-place order buzzed loudly on local cellphones. Police moved up and down adjacent streets, pleading with residents to go inside and stay there. Onlookers at the corner of Harding Avenue and 85th Street gathered behind police tape to get a view. They were rushed inside by police announcements on loudspeakers.
“All residents we ask you that you please go inside,” an officer said. “We need you to stay inside.”
On the beach, people who had gathered to watch were moved farther back from a barricade on the sand. Some lit candles. The scene remained somber.
Moments before the implosion, fire trucks sounded their horns to warn of the impending action. Police officers and firefighters got into their vehicles, some wearing respirators.
Then, sirens sounded. Around 10:30 p.m. came a series of six booms from the site. The western portion of the condo fell to the ground with a rumble, toppling in a way that evoked security camera footage of the disastrous partial collapse 11 nights before.
Those on the beach silently walked away along the shore after the building fell.
Court motion to search for pet denied
About 30 minutes before the implosion, a woman seeking to enter what remained of Champlain Towers South to rescue pets had her emergency motion denied by a county judge.
Stacey Karron said she had knowledge of a cat in unit 405 of the tower. Judge Michael Hanzman granted the motion for a hearing but denied Karron’s request, citing separation of powers and the burden it would place on the broader rescue effort.
Earlier in the evening, Mayor Levine Cava said every effort had been made to rescue pets believed stuck in the remaining structure but that no animals had been found.
About an hour after the blast, faint pops from fireworks could still be heard in the distance. People began to emerge from apartments, looking in the direction of the tower that had just fallen. Some crossed their arms, and some covered their faces, turning and walking away.
Herald photojournalists Emily Michot, Al Diaz, Pedro Portal, Jose Iglesias, Matias Ocner and Charles Trainor Jr. contributed to this report.
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