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Regional Interests

Surfside Crews Turn To Condo Demolition As Elsa Threatens Florida

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

We begin the program with an update from Surfside, Fla., where, just moments ago, the Miami-Dade Police Department announced that the portion of the Champlain Towers South condominium that's still standing will be demolished between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. local time tonight. This, of course, follows the partial collapse 11 days ago that killed at least 24 people; 121 are still unaccounted for. Rescue workers, however, are still clinging to hope of finding survivors. But now the focus is on bringing down the rest of the building before Tropical Storm Elsa brings rain and wind to the region.

NPR's Adrian Florido is in Surfside and joins us now from the site of the collapse. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Adrian, let's begin with the search and recovery efforts. Where do those stand?

FLORIDO: Well, there's not much good news - still no survivors found. And in fact, in the last day or so, we've not seen much progress even in pulling bodies from the rubble. Today rescue and recovery efforts have come to a stop temporarily while a demolition crew prepares to bring down the rest of that building that has engineers very worried because of its instability.

MCCAMMON: Right - and also because Tropical Storm Elsa is approaching South Florida. I understand demolition crews are rushing to take that building down before the expected arrival of bad weather late tomorrow. Can they do that without harming rescue and recovery efforts?

FLORIDO: They are convinced that they can. Officials hired a highly specialized demolition company that's basically going to blow this building up in a very controlled way so that it collapses in place with minimal impact to the surrounding area. Today Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava explained why that is important.

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DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: Bringing down this building in a controlled manner is critical to expanding our scope of the search and rescue effort and allowing us to explore the area closest to the building, which has currently not been accessible to our first responders given the great risk from this building, which is insecure.

FLORIDO: What I see in front of me, Sarah, is that a huge black tarp has been placed over the rubble pile. That's supposed to protect it from contamination from the soon-to-be-demolished portion of the building. The mayor said as soon as that building does come down, almost immediately afterwards, search and rescue teams are going to be back on that rubble pile searching for survivors and for remains.

MCCAMMON: The building collapsed 11 days ago, Adrian. It would be a long time for anyone to survive buried underneath the rubble. Yet officials emphasize they're still focused on finding survivors. Is there any sense that this will at some point shift from a rescue to a recovery effort?

FLORIDO: It will, of course, have to at some point. But officials aren't even touching that yet, at least not publicly, in part presumably because, you know, both rescue workers and families want to hang on to even a sliver of hope for a miracle here. Even so, from these twice daily briefings that officials are holding for the press, we're getting bits and pieces of information about the kinds of conversations that officials are having with families of the dead and missing. Today, for example, Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez spoke about the fact that a lot of families really want to try to save and recover items that might hold sentimental value.

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ALFREDO RAMIREZ: Our detectives are very mindful and very respectful on any type of family heirlooms that we come across. And it's safe to get it, we pick it up and we log it, document it to be, you know, addressed at a later date with family members.

FLORIDO: He said they've also put a system in place for family members to describe specific things they might be looking for so that workers who scour that pile of rubble can keep an eye out for them.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Adrian Florido in Surfside, Fla.

Adrian, thanks so much for your reporting.

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