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Rescue Crews Are Still Searching For Survivors 9 Days After The Florida Condo Collapse

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now nine days since the collapse of the 12-story tower in Surfside, Fla., rescuers are still working. As of this morning, 24 people are confirmed dead, and more than a hundred are still unaccounted for. And with a hurricane making its way through the Caribbean, the city is moving to bring down the rest of Champlain Towers South more quickly than they had planned. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Miami and joins us now. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Adrian, rescuers have not pulled any survivors from the rubble since shortly after the buildings collapsed. Where do things stand right now?

FLORIDO: Well, there's not a lot of good news. If there is any, it's that the number of people thought to be missing actually dropped by close to 20 yesterday as officials continued to get more and better information about who was in this building. They're still pulling victims' bodies from this debris pile, though. And one of the latest was the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter who had been working on this rescue effort. But officials emphasized that their primary focus is still on rescuing potential survivors. Going into the 10th day of this effort, though, it's not looking very good. It's a very delicate task. Rescuers are still facing many of the same challenges they've been facing all along, primarily the fact that this rubble pile is still very, very unstable.

FADEL: Now there's another challenge these rescuers face, the threat posed by the part of the building that did not collapse. But now officials say they're going to demolish it. Can you tell us more about that?

FLORIDO: Yeah, well, in recent days, officials have become increasingly convinced that it is just not safe to let the remaining portion of this building stand. Engineers who've been monitoring the cracks in the building say that they've been widening, that the support structure is shifting to the point where rescue efforts had to be put on hold for more than 14 hours earlier this week. And so yesterday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava signed a demolition order.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: We're very concerned to not compromise our search, but we also know that the building itself poses certain risks. So we have to balance those things. And, of course, we want to continue our search and rescue efforts now in the areas where it's safe to do so.

FADEL: I mean, so hard to hear about all of these challenges, but on top of that, Hurricane Elsa is moving through the Caribbean with South Florida potentially in its path. How are the rescue teams preparing for that?

FLORIDO: Well, they're monitoring the storm very closely. It is still days away, and it's unclear if it would even hit Florida or even as a hurricane. Regardless, they might have to pause their rescue and recovery efforts again if it does impact South Florida. But officials say that they are capable of responding to multiple emergencies at the same time. And they're also asking Floridians just to prepare for this storm so that they don't have to divert resources to rescue people when they don't have to.

FADEL: Before I let you go, officials yesterday rushed to evacuate another massive condo building in North Miami Beach not far away. Can you say what happened there? They said it was unsafe?

FLORIDO: Yeah, well, here in Florida, buildings have to be recertified for safety once they turn 40 and then once a decade after that. And since last week's collapse, a lot of cities and towns here are conducting audits to make sure that buildings are in compliance with this rule. Yesterday, officials in North Miami Beach learned that an engineer who had inspected a 156-unit building had deemed it structurally unsafe, and this happened way back in January. But the building's condo board, which hired this engineer, only told the city about this yesterday. So the city ordered the building evacuated immediately. Although we still don't know what caused last week's collapse, in the wake of that collapse, it's clear that already a lot of scrutiny is coming to bear on the protocols for ensuring that other buildings are safe.

FADEL: That's NPR's Adrian Florido in Miami. Thanks, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.