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Firefighters end search and rescue at site of Florida apartment block collapse

admin | July 23, 2021

Firefighters have ended their mission to clear debris from the site of a collapsed apartment block near Miami, officials said, while police and forensic specialists continue their work to identify human remains.

Miami Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told the Associated Press the fire department’s role in recovering remains at the collapsed Surfside building has finished.

They left the site in a convoy of fire engines and other vehicles and drove slowly to their headquarters.

The June 24 collapse killed at least 97 people and at least one person believed missing in the disaster has yet to be identified.

The site of the collapse near Miami (Jose A Iglesias/Miami Herald/AP)

The disaster site is empty now, but it remains a challenge for local officials. An engineer hired to help figure out why the building collapsed warned that the site may still not be safe.

Structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer told Surfside and Miami-Dade officials in a letter on Thursday that Collins Avenue could crumble because a remaining perimeter wall near the road could fail.

“We believe there is a potentially dangerous situation at the site, where the wall is in danger of collapse,” Mr Kilsheimer wrote.

All that remains of Champlain Towers South are the walls of the underground parking garage, around a hollowed-out foundation, and Mr Kilsheimer said that without more support for the walls, nearby traffic could make them collapse, with parts of the street falling into the void.

“If the wall were to collapse or rotate substantially, the retained soil under the street and sidewalk could move with it,” wrote Mr Kilsheimer, of KCE Structural Engineers.

Tributes to the victims (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

He recommended building an earthen embankment to support the walls near the street and pavement. Otherwise, the movement “could cause portions of the street to collapse and could seriously compromise the utilities under the street”, he wrote.

Miami-Dade County is bringing in crews to help shore up the remaining underground walls, said Rachel Johnson, the county’s communications director.

“We are moving to procure a company to do shoring and bracing of the walls to assure there is no risk,” she said.

The federal National Institute of Standards and Technology has been monitoring the site’s safety.

Collins Avenue, which is the major route on the barrier island, has been closed to traffic near the site since June 24, but town officials had said it would be opening soon.

In the letter, Mr Kilsheimer said heavy rain would increase the risk substantially as the ground becomes saturated with water.

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