Storm Elsa has become a hurricane and is barreling towards Florida

Elsa strengthens into the first hurricane of the season and barrels towards Florida posing a threat to the search for 128 people missing in Miami condo collapse

  • The storm is rolling toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti as a hurricane before weakening and potentially heading towards Florida by early Tuesday 
  • While Florida is squarely in the cone of uncertainty, the extent to which it will be affected won’t be clear until Sunday in all likelihood, after it makes its way through the Caribbean islands 
  • ‘I’ve ordered our Department of Emergency Management to start preparing a potential state of emergency,’ Florida governor Ron DeSantis said
  • Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said officials are considering carrying out a controlled demolition of the part of Champlain Towers South still standing  
  • Several on-site structural engineers had issued warnings about the safety of first responders working beneath the part of the structure still standing
  • Six to 12 inches of movement had been noted in a large column that was hanging from the structure that experts warned could fall, officials said Thursday 
  • Joe Biden visited Surfside, Florida, Thursday, meeting with families of missing   
  • One week on from the tragedy, 20 are dead and 128 people remain missing
  • 2020 engineering report found building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on concrete slab with ‘major structural damage’ and needed extensive repairs 

Elsa strengthened into the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Friday as it battered the eastern Caribbean and it appears to be headed for Florida where rescuers are still searching for 128 people missing under the rubble of the collapsed Miami condo.

The storm could spell further trouble for the Surfside rescue efforts following the condo collapse last Thursday, which resumed late Thursday after a lengthy pause.

A new update was provided on Friday morning and two more people were confirmed dead, with now 20 confirmed victims. While 128 people remain missing, 188 people are now accounted for.

Governor Ron DeSantis opened the press conference Friday by thanking the crews who came from out of state to support the rescue efforts, as well as President Biden. 

DeSantis said preparations were being made for the storm, including a special emphasis on protecting the site of the condo collapse. 

‘I’ve ordered our Department of Emergency Management to start preparing a potential state of emergency,’ DeSantis said.

‘We don’t know exactly the track that it’s gonna take,’ DeSantis added of Elsa. ‘It is possible that we could see tropical force winds as early as Sunday night in southern Florida.’

‘We’re also paying special attention to any impacts that could happen here in northeast Miami-Dade County.’ He said the area could see tropical force winds, but that it was not guaranteed. He stated a goal to protect equipment and the building from the storm, as well as rescue crews. 

Officials emphasized the uncertainty of the storm’s current track and that it will continue to be monitored closely, with advisories released every six hours.

Residents have been advised to secure their home and begin creating a plan to have supplied for each household member for up to a week, encouraging preparation to begin on Friday. 

Florida appears to be in the path of Hurricane Elsa, which could bring winds of around 20mph to the state

Search and rescue personnel remove remains on a stretcher as they work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building where scores of people remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed on Friday

Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of people remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed, Friday, July 2, 2021, in Surfside, Florida

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said two bodies were recovered overnight, one being the daughter of a local firefighter.  

Eight days after the collapse, however, the amount unaccounted for has dropped, with now 128 people still missing

‘The number of accounted for people has increased, which is of course good news,’ Levine Cava said.

‘We discovered that there are in fact, several family members who could have been counted for…and now we can mark them as safe,’ Levine Cava continued adding it’s ‘very very good news.’

The area is also reeling from a new report that part of the building needed extensive repairs and that the warning of impending danger wasn’t heeded quickly enough.  

‘Government is working,’ Surfside mayor Charles Burkett said during a press conference on Friday. He also announced that he plans to meet with the displaced families later on Friday.

‘Champlain North … people are worried,’ Burkett said of the adjacent tower to the collapsed one. 

The mayor said arrangements have been made for people who want to be relocated from the standing tower to be relocated.

The mayor added that columns are going to be x-rayed at the standing building so people who live there will know if there are any issues, promising a ‘deep dive.’

Projections show that the storm could hit Florida on Tuesday, though the track is not certain at this point

Florida – and Miami specifically – appear to be in the cone of the storm as of Friday morning

Heavy rains and winds lashed Barbados as the Category 1 storm headed for islands including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which are struggling to recover from recent massive volcanic eruptions. 

Elsa was located about 75 miles east of St. Vincent and was moving west-northwest at 28 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

‘That level of sustained wind can blow down a lot of buildings and cause a lot of damage,’ said St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. ‘I am pleading with you. Let us not take this hurricane lightly. This is not the time to play the fool.’

A hurricane warning was in effect for Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The long-term track showed the storm rolling toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti as a hurricane before weakening back to tropical storm force and potentially heading in the direction of Florida by early Tuesday.

While Florida is squarely in the cone of uncertainty, the extent to which it will be affected won’t be clear until Sunday in all likelihood, after it makes its way through the Caribbean islands.

There is a possibility that the storm could accelerate and reach Florida by Sunday evening at its earlier potential arrival time. 

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Martinique, the southern coast of Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the border with Haiti and the entire coast of Haiti. 

A tropical storm watch was in effect for Grenada, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Dominica and Jamaica, while a hurricane watch was in effect for Haiti’s southern region from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.

Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, beating out last year’s Eduardo which formed on July 6, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

Elsa was expected to pass near the southern coast of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, on Saturday. The storm was then expected to move near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday.

The earliest possible arrival time of the storm in Florida could happen on Sunday evening, depending on the track

The storm was forecast to produce rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches with maximum totals of 10 inches inches on Friday across the Windward and southern Leeward Islands, including Barbados. The rain could unleash isolated flash flooding and mudslides.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Thursday morning the state was ‘actively monitoring’ the storm and coming up with contingency plans for if and when it strikes. 

‘Obviously the state meteorologist team is actively monitoring the storm and will continue to provide updates and our department of emergency management continues to implement contingency plans for potential tropical weather impacts including identifying alternate work facilities,’ he said in the press briefing.   

Elsa had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph with higher gusts and was 865 miles east-southeast of the Windward Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center and it was moving west at 25 mph. 

WPEC-CBS12 meteorologist Lauren Olesky said the water in the Atlantic seems warm enough to carry the storm all the way to South Florida. 

The new storm forecast comes a day after the mayor of Surfside said the remaining condo structure may need to be demolished to stop it falling on rescuers after the search for survivors and victims was halted indefinitely due to safety fears. 

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told NBC News officials are considering carrying out a controlled demolition of the part of Champlain Towers South that is still standing as the search is yet to resume more than 12 hours after it was called off in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

‘If the existing building is a problem, then we need to eliminate that problem quickly,’ he said.

During Friday’s press conference, Levine Cava said it could take weeks to demolish the building.

A satellite image of Elsa as it approaches the Caribbean in the Atlantic

Debris dangles from the remains of apartments sheared in half, in the still standing portion of the Champlain Towers South

Workers load a stretcher with remains extricated from the rubble into a Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner van

Workers transport a stretcher with remains extricated from the rubble, near the Champlain Towers South condo building

The need to resume the search quickly comes as 128 people remain missing in the rubble more than one week on from the condo tower’s collapse and as the collapse site is now in danger of being hammered by a tropical storm charting its path across the Atlantic this week. 

Burkett told NBC’s Geoff Bennett this impending adverse weather was raising further concerns about the structural integrity of the remains of the 12-story tower. 

‘If the [remaining] building is going to fall, we should make sure it falls the right way,’ he said. 

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the decision about the demolition needs to be made ‘extremely carefully and methodically,’ considering the potential impact on the pile of debris and the effect on the search.

The rescue work was halted early Thursday after crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column.

Rescue efforts were halted and the area around the building was cleared just after 2am Thursday. 

Work resumed shortly before 5pm after the site was evaluated by structural engineers, Cava said, describing firefighters as ‘really, really excited out there.’

‘We will continue to search feverishly, as we have done all along in the parts of the collapse that we currently have access to,’ she said.

The work stoppage had threatened to dim hopes for finding anyone alive in the debris a week after the tower came down. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the halt was worrisome since ‘minutes and hours matter, lives are at stake.’

Search-and-rescue crews have faced difficult conditions at the site of the collapsed building and had to endure thunderstorms almost every day. 

Officials said the site had become unstable and could topple on search and rescue teams, with technology used to monitor cracks sounding alarms about the dangers and on-site experts warning of movements in the structure.  

Rescue efforts at the Miami condo tower have been forced to come to a halt amid fears the remaining structure could topple on search and rescue teams

The area around the Champlain Towers South building was cleared and the hunt for victims and survivors among the rubble put on pause just after 2am Thursday. Searchers comb through the rubble Wednesday 

Structural engineer Scott Nacheman, who is working at the site with FEMA, told the families desperately waiting for news about their loved ones that demolition of the rest of the building was an option. 

‘One of our concepts of operations is exactly what you’re talking about,’ Nacheman said, according to Miami New Times. 

‘And the reason it hasn’t been possibly pursued further at this point is we didn’t want to cause any more damage or destruction to the individuals who are trapped in the low portion

‘We’re now getting to a point in the operation where we’re exploring the next phase. One of those possibilities, a very highly likely possibility, is what you just discussed.’

However, demolishing the building could hamper the search further by adding more rubble for teams to wade through and posing a greater risk to anyone who may still be alive in the rubble, the engineer said. 

The Champlain Towers South collapse started from the bottom of the central building, with that part of the tower falling from its base down. 

Seconds later, the section behind the center collapsed, followed by the east section moments later. 

The west section of the building is still standing and has been closely monitored during the search as rescue teams have combed through the rubble round the clock.    

She added that the disruption was nothing to do with the president’s visit and insisted ‘the search and rescue operation will continue as soon as it is safe to do so.’

‘The only reason for this pause is concerns about the standing structure,’ she added.

‘We’ve already informed the families this morning who were waiting and waiting about this development and we have worked to answer all of the questions that they have about the operation.’ 

Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky revealed that first responders had been pulled back when three alarms monitoring cracks in the partially collapsed building went off, signaling crews were in danger. 

He said this indicated there had been ‘some expansion’ in the cracks.  

Six to 12 inches of movement had also been noted in a large column that was hanging from the structure that experts warned could fall and cause damage to support structures, keeping the shell of the building upright. 

Cominsky said search and rescue teams had been ‘working in a very, very, unsafe environment’ as he admitted he did not know how long the operation would be on hold. 

‘I don’t have a timeframe now,’ he said. 

An aerial view of the site Thursday while the rescue operation remains on hold due to concerns the remaining part of the building will also fall 

Officials are now considering a controlled demolition of the rest of the tower so the search can resume  

A bombshell report released just last fall revealed extensive concrete deterioration and corrosion of steel reinforcements had been found at the now collapsed Champlain Towers South.

The damage had grown so bad that repair work was put on hold over fears that even performing it could endanger the stability of surrounding buildings. 

That ominous assessment was carried out in October 2020 by the firm Concrete Protection and Restoration and Morabito Consultants. 

It was led by structural engineer Frank Morabito, who both found several issues including a potentially deep deterioration of concrete near the pool area, and who performed prior inspections on the same building as far back as 2018, which yielded similarly worrying results. 

But the repair and restoration work ‘could not be performed’ because the pool ‘was to remain in service for the duration of the work’ and because bringing in necessary equipment required to conduct the excavation of concrete at the pool ‘could affect the stability of the remaining adjacent concrete constructions.’  

Although the report may not specifically identify what caused last weeks collapse of the north Miami condo, the documents highlight the state of disrepair the building had been allowed to languish, and may have played some part. 

At the very least, issues appear to have been downplayed, ignored or put off from being addressed and rectified. 

The report from last October, which was seen by USA Today, was reported to the condo board and building owners in phases rather than comprehensively which may have had the unfortunate affect of obscuring just how serious the problem was.

The October 2020 report concluded that repairs were not going to be possible for several reasons. 

After the findings were revealed to the owners, the cost of the repairs at $7 million was a constant source of frustration among the residents.

As recently as April, the condo association’s president wrote to owners informing them the deterioration of the building’s concrete was ‘accelerating’ and the repair price tag had now soared to $16.2 million.

Police stand near the condo building early Thursday as the search was halted overnight 

Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story condo tower Wednesday 

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a Thursday morning press conference that ‘structural concerns’ had led to the halting of the search and rescue operation which is yet to resume several hours on 

The potential arrival of Elsa is just the latest issue that has hampered search and rescue efforts at the collapse site, after emergency teams have faced challenging weather during Florida’s rainy season and deep fires within the rubble. 

Officials on Saturday said the mission had been made more challenging by raging fires burning beneath the surface of the rubble which firefighters struggled to locate the source of.  

Now, more than one week on from the tragedy, 128 people remain missing in the rubble.

More bodies were pulled from the debris Wednesday, taking the confirmed dearth toll to 18 at that time.

The latest victims were identified as two young sisters Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4, whose parents were previously also confirmed among the dead.  

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited the site Thursday and met with the families of the victims and those still unaccounted for. 

He said the families were ‘going through hell’ and called for finding out how and when to bring first responders back to the scene.

‘The remainder of the building may collapse. We need to determine if it’s safe for first responders to return to the site to continue their rescue mission,’ he said.

Biden met with fire and rescue personnel in Florida Thursday thanking them and telling them ‘what you’re doing is incredible.’ 

At one point, he recounted how first responders used ‘jaws of life’ to pry his children out of the vehicle during the 1972 car crash that took his first wife, Neilia, as well as his infant daughter, Naomi.  

Biden also met with DeSantis, putting on a united front with the president telling him ‘we’re here to help’ and promising the federal aid is ‘not going anywhere.’ 

Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida in the early hours of Friday morning and sent in federal aid to assist in the search.

The federal government has also sent in a team of scientists and engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as questions continue to mount about what caused the 1980s building to suddenly collapse. 

NIST is the federal government agency responsible for leading investigations into building failures and was set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.     

A structural engineer investigating the collapse has suggested that the swimming pool deck may have caved in first and brought down the rest of the building with it. 

Allyn E. Kilsheimer told The Washington Post: ‘There is a possibility that part of the pool [area] came down first and then dragged the middle of the building with it, and that made that collapse. 

Biden met with responders after a meeting with Florida state and local political leaders about the response

‘What you’re doing is incredible,’ President Joe Biden told first responders are responding to the tragic building collapse in Surfside, Florida

President Biden meets with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing at the collapse of the Miami condo 

‘And then once the middle of the building collapsed, number two, then the rest of the building didn’t know how to stand up and it fell down also, number three.’

This theory also matches witness accounts who say they saw sections of the pool deck collapse into the garage below.  

Investigators are also probing whether there was critical failures in the handling of the building’s maintenance. 

A consultant engineer warned in a damning October 2018 report that the Champlain Towers South had ‘major structural damage’ to the pool deck area and underground parking garage. 

The structural field survey report, released by the town of Surfside overnight Friday, specifically raised concerns about the pool deck area, in which the waterproofing was failing, and the underground parking garage which was riddled with ‘abundant’ cracking. 

It said the 12-story condo was in need of numerous repairs around the base of the structure ‘in a timely fashion.’ 

Alarming footage taken by a bystander minutes before the collapse shows water flowing rapidly from the roof of the garage. 

A structural engineer investigating the collapse has suggested that the swimming pool deck may have caved in first and brought down the rest of the building with it. Above shows how it crumbled – at ground level – into the underground parking level beneath it

A new video purports to show water gushing from the ceiling of the Miami condo building’s garage while concrete debris litters the floor

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