Demolition experts finished drilling holes and began placing explosives Sunday as they prepared to demolish the rest of the partially collapsed condominium in South Florida, fearing that it is unstable and could fall on its own in the face of high winds from an advancing tropical storm.
The remaining structure is scheduled to implode between 10 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday, barring any last-minute glitch, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told relatives of those missing in the collapse.
About 200 rescuers will restart their search for survivors and victims as soon as it is safe, Jadallah said, according to the Associated Press, which officials estimate would be 15 minutes to an hour after the blast.
“Bringing down this building in a controlled manner is critical to expanding the scope of our search-and-rescue effort,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference Sunday.
Officials suspended operations Saturday in the search for anyone still alive from the sudden, middle-of-the-night collapse of a large part of the 12-story condominium June 24.
The death toll stands at 24, with 121 people still unaccounted for, and no one has been found alive since the earliest hours of the search.
To implode the building, demolition workers bored holes into the concrete of the remaining portion of the condo in Surfside, Florida, north of Miami, and positioned explosives that will detonate in a rapid sequence intended to collapse the tower onto itself. The goal, Jadallah said, is to bring the building straight down and to the street side, away from the existing rubble.
Officials want to work fast, before the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa.
The latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center have the storm shifting to the west, sparing South Florida, but forecasters are expecting tropical storm force gusts, said meteorologist Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service, meaning gusts above 64 kph (40 mph), by Tuesday morning.
“And although the eye of the storm is not likely to pass over this direction, you could feel gusts in this area,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Saturday.
Residents of the remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South have long since evacuated, and officials are not allowing them back in to retrieve belongings, assessing it as too dangerous.
Jadallah told relatives of the missing people that the search in the rubble of the collapsed portion of the building had to be suspended as a safety measure because the drilling to place the explosives could itself make the building fall.
“It’s just going to collapse without warning,” he said.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press.