One body was recovered on Saturday as the death toll rose to five with 156 people still unaccounted. Hazardous conditions at the site of the building collapse slowed emergency workers down.
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The search has been painstakingly slow, hampered at times by smoke from a fire beneath the rubble. Erika Benitez, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Fire Department, said Saturday morning that it had been a while since rescue workers had heard sounds that they believed could be indicators of people still alive beneath the rubble. But she said that the search and rescue team believed that finding survivors remained a possibility.
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed on Saturday that family members of those missing had already been swabbed for DNA samples in order to help identify human remains as they are found.
The collapsed building, which was in Surfside, just north of Miami Beach, was about to undergo repairs to fix “major structural problems” an engineer had identified in 2018 in a pool deck and parking garage undergirding the structure. The repairs were part of a “recertification” every building in the town must undergo at 40-year intervals
The 40-year review was put in place after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration building collapsed in downtown Miami in 1974, killing seven people. (Engineers later blamed it on an overloaded parking garage.) Under the program, once a building reaches 40 years, a licensed engineer or architect must inspect it for structural problems and certify it is fit for occupancy.
Since Wednesday night, billows of smoke have emanated from the area, and the search and rescue team has routinely extinguished small fires that have ignited amid the rubble. The smoke and debris surrounding the partially collapsed 13-story condominium have created a logistical challenge as the search for survivors continues and a potential health hazard for Surfside residents.
“There are respiratory concerns,” said Erika Benitez, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “We ask people to stay indoors, and limit their exposure outside.”