The remaining structure left behind after the Miami building collapse has been brought down by demolition crews using explosives, after warnings that a tropical storm could render the site unsafe.
Rescue teams are expected to resume the search for survivors once the demolition is complete at the Champlain Towers South condo building. They have so far recovered the remains of 24 people, with 121 still missing.
No one has been pulled out of the rubble alive since the first day following the 24 June collapse at Surfside in southern Florida.
The search and rescue mission was suspended on Saturday to allow engineers to prepare the site for demolition. The precarious remaining portion of the 12-storey building was rigged with strategically placed explosives that successfully brought down the structure on Sunday after 10.30pm.
Rescuers said they were now just awaiting clearance to resume the work of trying to locate any survivors still buried under the rubble.
“We are standing by. We are ready to go in, no matter the time of night,” Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference earlier on Sunday evening.
Rescuers believe that the detonation will have allowed them access to some parts of the original collapse site for the first time, especially the garage area that is a focus of interest.
Miami-Dade fire chief Albert Cominsky said that once a new path to enter the rubble is secured, “we will go back to the debris pile, and we’ll begin our search and rescue efforts”.
The decision to take down the building with a controlled explosion came amid mounting concerns that the damaged structure was at risk of falling due to a storm set to hit Florida.
A warning has been issued for the approaching tropical storm Elsa, which could bring strong winds to the area later on Monday, posing a danger to the damaged building and endangering the lives of rescuers.
According to the latest forecast, the storm has moved westward, mostly sparing south Florida, with heavy rain and sustained winds of 60mph. But officials said the area could still feel the effects of the storm.
Meanwhile, the mayor asked residents to stay inside their houses and close their windows for at least two hours after the blast. Local authorities sent representatives door to door to advise neighbours.
Ms Levine Cava expressed sympathy with the families of people still missing in the rubble, and said those who were asked to evacuate from the remaining part of the building had “left their entire lives behind”.
“I truly believe ... that the family members recognise and appreciate that we are proceeding in the best possible fashion to allow us to do the search that we need to do,” Ms Levine Cava said.
The demolition involved a technique known as “energetic felling”, a method of controlled explosion that uses small strategically placed detonation devices and relies on the force of gravity.
The mayor explained that the explosion would bring down the building in a way that disturbed the existing mound of debris as little as possible, as scores of people are still believed to be trapped underneath it.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s assistant chief Ray Jadallah earlier on Sunday said small holes were drilled into the foundation of the building, where explosive charges were placed.
A general contractor was hired by state officials to lead the demolition. The BG Group, based in Delray Beach, Florida, was hired for the project worth $935,000.
Additional reporting by agencies
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