Joey Flechas and Rob Wile
The Miami Herald
The remaining portion of Champlain Towers South, the site of the one of the worst building failures in U.S. history, tumbled to the ground when authorities demolished the structure Sunday night.
At 10:30 p.m. authorities detonated charges inserted into holes drilled in the part of the 12-story Surfside condo that stood tenuously for 11 days after about half of the structure collapsed in the middle of the night on June 24th, killing at least 24 and trapping more than 120 who are still missing in the rubble of dozens of units that fell in circumstances still not completely understood.
Officials paused a frustrating and complicated search-and-rescue effort Saturday to prepare for demolition, which sent a plume of dust and smoke into the sky, a cloud that 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 surrounding neighborhood. By about 11 p.m., the air cleared up. Police vehicles caked with dust drove away.
Authorities said search operations would resume as soon as it was safe after the demolition, perhaps in less than an hour. Around 11:15 p.m., a spokesperson for Miami-Dade County told the Miami Herald that preliminary indications show the demolition went as planned.
Families and friends of the missing have endured a torturous wait for rescue crews to recover their loved ones. 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.
The threat of tropical weather with the approach of Tropical Storm Elsa and instability of the structure — the search was halted once for hours July 1 due the building shifting several inches, putting rescue workers at risk — prompted the demolition.
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 onsite and Elsa churning in the Caribbean, the timetable moved up.
Sunday night, a shelter-in-place order buzzed loudly on locals’ cellphones about an hour before the demolition. Police had spent the previous 20 minutes driving up and down adjacent streets, pleading with residents to go inside and stay there. Onlookers at the corner of Harding Avenue and 85th Street had gathered behind police tape to get a view. They were rushed inside by Miami-Dade County police’s announcements on loudspeakers.
“All residents we ask you that you please go inside,” officer said. “We need you to stay inside.”
For hours before officials brought the structure down, residents in the northern swath of Miami Beach, which borders Surfside to 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 4th celebrations.
Then, a few sirens rang out. Radios chirped and police entered their vehicles.. At around 10:30 p.m., a series of six loud bangs boomed from the site, cutting through any other noise. The western portion of the condo fell to the ground.
A woman seeking to enter what remained of Champlain Towers South to rescue her pet had her emergency motion denied by a county judge about 30 minutes before the structure was demolished.
Stacey Karron believed her cat, Coco, was still 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, 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.
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