14 more victims have been recovered from Champlain Towers South site, mayor says

Building Collapse Miami
Search and rescue team members dig through the debris field of the 12-story oceanfront condo, Champlain Towers South along Collins Avenue in Surfside, Fla., on Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)

[Breaking news update, posted at 12:20 p.m. ET]

An additional 14 victims have been recovered from the Champlain Towers South site, bringing the total of confirmed fatalities to 78, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Friday.

Forty-seven victims have been identified and next of kin notified, the mayor said, with 200 residents accounted for and 62 potentially still unaccounted for.

“This is staggering and heartbreaking number,” she said.

[Previous story, posted at 1:53 a.m. ET]

Although authorities at the Surfside condo collapse site have lost hope of finding survivors in the rubble, they have not lost a commitment to recovering the 76 people still unaccounted for and reuniting them with their families, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.

The fire department met with families Thursday afternoon, where Burkett said a representative told them “that the Miami-Dade Fire Department will not stop working until they’ve gotten to the bottom of the pile and recovered every single one of the family’s missing loved ones.”

“The speaker further said that I can assure you, we are not stopping. And your missing children are coming back to your family,” Burkett added.

Four more victims were recovered from the debris Thursday, bringing the death toll to 64. Thursday capped off two weeks since the Champlain Towers South condo building collapsed in the middle of the night, setting off one of the deadliest building collapses in US history, not including acts of terror or fires.

For nearly two weeks, officials had labeled the effort a rescue mission but transitioned to a recovery mission at midnight Wednesday, after determining “the viability of life in the rubble” was low, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said.

And though crews are still searching aggressively, space is being made to allow the community to grieve.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that some of the families who lost their loved ones were brought to the site Thursday for a visit at their request.

“We held a moment of silence with our first responders. They paused their work on the pile briefly to honor the victims and their families and they received an aerial salute by Miami-Dade County Police Department,” the mayor said.

During the search, Levine Cava said, faith leaders are embedded into the process.

“Every victim we recover is handled with extreme care and compassion,” Levine Cava said. “We have a tent designated on-site, and when a Jewish body is discovered, a prayer is performed and specific protocols are followed, to honor both the faith traditions and the integrity of the investigation.”

Victims will have help piecing life back together, congresswoman says

Dozens of families have lost loved ones or lost everything they had as they escaped the collapse, and US Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz vowed Thursday to help both “piece back shards of their lives that have been blown apart” through federal action.

“When the cameras turn off and when the hard work begins to make sure that the recovery — for not only those that have been lost, but the families who have lost everything — we [will] make sure that pathway is as smooth as possible,” Wasserman Schultz said during a press conference Thursday.

Wasserman Schultz said she has begun working with multiple federal agencies such as FEMA, NIST, and OSHA to address the long-term needs of the families.

The congresswoman said she will be “working at the very most personal level with my constituents, to see how we can help them, just to get through the overwhelming bureaucracy that this tremendous tragedy has represented.”

Wasserman Schultz said “no one budgets” for such “an unimaginable, unprecedented tragedy like this.”

“No one plans for the kind of response that is necessary and so making sure that we stay in this for the long haul is going to be absolutely essential,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Some of the needs can be met by adding to the federal budget and some may require an emergency supplemental appropriations bill, she said.

Concrete samples from sister building to be investigated

Another priority for officials is determining what caused the structure to come down and if it will happen to other buildings in the area.

Samples of the concrete the Champlain Towers North building have been taken to determine if there is potential salt contamination, Burkett said Thursday.

Salt content in the structure would compromise the building, he said.

Burkett said on July 2 that a “deep dive” forensic study would take place on the Champlain Towers North structure.

The sister building to the collapsed Champlain Towers South, is “substantially the same as the building that came down: the same construction, the same developer, the same name, probably the same materials,” he said.

Other buildings in the area will soon receive letters signed by the mayor advising them to take the necessary steps to give residents confidence that their buildings are safe, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN.

Regardless of the age of the building, the recommendations include retaining a structural engineer to review structural drawings and perform a basement review, as well as a geotechnical engineer to review the foundation.

“The recommendations are made in an abundance of caution based on the current status of the investigation,” the letter said. “They are intended to serve as an interim methodology to afford residents some peace of mind until the forensic investigation progresses further.”

CNN’s Raja Razek, Gregory Lemos, Amanda Watts and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.