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Tropical Storm Elsa Nears Florida As Crews Prepare To Demolish Remains Of Condo

Crews are preparing to demolish the rest of the condo building that partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla., as a storm approaches.
Michael Reaves
/
Getty Images
Crews are preparing to demolish the rest of the condo building that partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla., as a storm approaches.

Updated July 3, 2021 at 11:37 PM ET

Officials paused search and rescue operations at the site of the partially collapsed condo building in Surfside, Fla., on Saturday, as crews prepare to demolish the portion that still stands.

Twenty-four people been confirmed killed; 121 remain unaccounted for.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a press conference that search efforts were paused at 4 p.m., and that the unstable building poses a threat to the people involved in ongoing search operations.

An incoming storm has heightened concerns.

Elsa, the first hurricane in the 2021 Atlantic season, has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but the National Hurricane Center said on Saturday that there is an "increasing risk" of heavy winds, storm surge and rainfall on Monday in the Florida Keys and the state's southern peninsula. As the storm reaches those areas, isolated flash flooding and minor river flooding will be possible.

By evening, tropical storm watch was in effect for portions of the Florida Keys. According to Saturday forecasts, the Miami-Dade area was not in the storm's direct path, but the mayor urged residents to be prepared.

Levine Cava has not given an exact time, but said the rest of the building could be brought down as soon as Sunday.

The mayor had previously said that the demolition could take weeks. But Levine Cava said on Saturday that officials were concerned wind could topple what's left of the building.

"It is all of our fervent desire that this can be done safely before the storm so that we can direct the demolition," Levine Cava said. "And this demolition would be one that would protect and preserve evidence and allow the maximum search and rescue activity to continue."

Gov. Ron DeSantis also expressed concern over the storm affecting the continued response at the site of the collapse.

"If the building is taken down, this will protect our search and rescue teams because we don't know when it could fall over and, of course, with these gusts potentially, that would create a really severe hazard," DeSantis said.

The Associated Press reports that, as a Category 1 hurricane, Elsa blew off roofs, snapped trees and destroyed crops in the eastern Caribbean, where officials closed schools, businesses and airports. It was the first Category 1 storm to hit Barbados in over 60 years.

With Elsa weakened for now, heavy rains are expected to move across southern Haiti and Jamaica until at least Sunday, bringing possible flash flooding and mudslides. The rain will then hit the Cayman Islands and Cuba starting on Sunday, with mudslides and flooding likely in Cuba.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
Dave Mistich
Originally from Washington, W.Va., Dave Mistich joined NPR part-time as an associate producer for the Newcast unit in September 2019 — after nearly a decade of filing stories for the network as a Member station reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In July 2021, he also joined the Newsdesk as a part-time reporter.
Dave Mistich is the Charleston Reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. A native of Washington, West Virginia, Dave can be heard throughout week on West Virginia Public Radio, including during West Virginia Morning and Inside Appalachia. He also anchors local newscasts during Weekend Edition on Saturday mornings and covers the House of Delegates for The Legislature Today.