The latest on the partial building collapse near Miami

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 0402 GMT (1202 HKT) July 2, 2021
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12:04 p.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Female voice was heard during initial Surfside search and rescue efforts, fire chief says

From CNN's Tina Burnside

Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said during the initial search and rescue efforts hours after the collapse, teams did hear the voice of a female trapped in the Surfside condo rubble – however they were unable to reach her. 

During a news conference on Thursday, Cominsky was asked about a female voice that was heard in the first few hours after the collapse. He said they heard “audible sounds” of a female voice during their initial search and rescue efforts while working underneath the condo structure. Cominsky said they heard the woman's voice for several hours and kept searching until she could no longer be heard. 

“Eventually we didn't hear her voice anymore, we continued to search,” he said. “Again… that's emphasizing the magnitude of what we're going through.”

"The efforts that all of our fire and rescue personnel, everyone that is here on scene, trying to do the best we can in these heroic efforts," Cominsky said. 

12:37 p.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Surfside collapse site structural concerns similar to those faced at 9/11 site, Ex-NYC fire official says

From CNN's Alyssa Kraus

Thomas Von Essen, former fire commissioner for New York City.
Thomas Von Essen, former fire commissioner for New York City. Source: CNN

Search and rescue operations at the site of the Surfside building collapse have been halted due to structural concerns that could endanger rescue teams, officials announced earlier.

Thomas Von Essen, former fire commissioner for New York City who was involved in search and rescue missions following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, told CNN the site of the building collapse in Surfside, Florida, reminds him of similar problems they faced at the site of 9/11.

During search and rescue efforts following Sept. 11, Von Essen said they had to temporarily halt rescue operations due to structural issues that could endanger men and women searching the scene. Similarly, rescue efforts have been paused at the Champlain Towers South.

"It is just heartbreaking listening to the chief, because you could see how personal it has become for him. The idea of hearing a voice and then to have to stop trying to find that voice or unsuccessfully finding the voice," he said.

Von Essen said experts have been "using all of the technology available" to detect movement in the structure. Earlier this morning, three devices monitoring cracks in the structure went off, causing operation to stop.

"It happened to us a lot on the Trade Center site. Remember, we had 14 acres so you were able to keep search going in some spots and have to stop it at other spots. But here, this is a much smaller area, so they're afraid of any movement hurting the folks that are underneath and also debris falling on top of the guys and folks on top of the pile," Von Essen told CNN.

To resume rescue operations in Surfside, Von Essen said experts need to decide how to handle the column that has shifted six to 12 inches.

"They don't know how much is going to fall. Maybe not the whole building, but they don't know if a considerable amount of concrete is going to fall, and if it falls 12 floors, you can't be anywhere near it," Von Essen said. "So they've got a tough decision to make there right now. And they've got the best people you can have, all of the engineers from Miami, from FEMA and everybody trying to help."

4:56 p.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Biden thanks first responders: "What you're doing here is incredible"

From CNN's Elise Hammond

President Joe Biden, right, speaks as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, listens during a briefing with first responders and local officials in Miami Beach, Floriday, on Thursday, July 1.
President Joe Biden, right, speaks as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, listens during a briefing with first responders and local officials in Miami Beach, Floriday, on Thursday, July 1. Susan Walsh/AP

President Biden is meeting with first responders and rescue workers involved in the Surfside operation right now. He thanked them for their work, saying "what you're doing here is incredible."

"I want to say thank you. As I said, I promise you we know. We know. What you're doing here is incredible. Having to deal with the uncertainty of worrying about the families," Biden said speaking in Miami Beach, Florida.

"What you're doing now is just hard as hell, even psychologically," the President added.

Earlier Thursday, Biden met with local leaders during a command briefing on the Surfside building collapse. There he said the federal government would likely be able to pay for 100% of the costs of responding to the disaster.

Next, according to a White House schedule, the President and first lady Jill Biden will meet with family members in a closed-press meeting.

11:22 a.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Official: Search efforts paused after 3 devices monitoring cracks went off, signaling possible expansion

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

A Miami-Dade County Police boat patrols in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building, ahead of a planned visit to the site by President Joe Biden, on Thursday, July 1, in Surfside.
A Miami-Dade County Police boat patrols in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building, ahead of a planned visit to the site by President Joe Biden, on Thursday, July 1, in Surfside. Mark Humphrey/AP

The Miami- Dade County fire chief  said search and rescue operations were pulled back from the Champlain Towers South collapse site early Thursday morning after three devices monitoring cracks in the structure went off.

Chief Alan Cominsky told reporters during a news conference the alarms “signaled there was some expansion or whichever” and added there was also a column that shifted six to 12 inches.

Cominsky said first-responders were immediately removed.

Search and rescue personnel have “been working in a very, very, unsafe environment,” he said, adding they have not been able to identify one single trigger event ahead of the catastrophic collapse in Surfside, Florida.

11:15 a.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Florida governor praises federal support during command briefing

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Joe Biden listens as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a briefing in Miami Beach, Florida, on Thursday, July 1.
President Joe Biden listens as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a briefing in Miami Beach, Florida, on Thursday, July 1. Susan Walsh/AP

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, thanked President Biden during a command briefing on the Surfside building collapse, putting partisan politics aside as he appeared beside the President. 

“You recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one and you’ve been very supportive,” DeSantis said. 

DeSantis continued, “The cooperation has been great – the local, both the municipal and the county, have been fantastic, and you guys have not only been supportive at the federal level, but we’ve had no bureaucracy,” pointing to quick responses from local to state to federal government via FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Noting that this is the first time, outside of a hurricane, that all of Florida’s search and rescue teams have been mobilized, DeSantis praised first responders for the “grueling” work, and said it was “helpful” that teams from other states have come to support recovery efforts. He also suggested that mental health resources for those first responders will be important going forward. 

“We do appreciate the collaboration from local, state, and federal,” DeSantis said, thanking Biden. 

11:11 a.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Attorney says Champlain Towers South condo board still functioning after collapse

From CNN’s David Shortell

A lawyer for the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association said the condominium board is still functioning and has met "several times" since the collapse last week. 

"I am satisfied that the board exists, I've been told the board has met repeatedly since this tragic accident, and that the board as of this moment is functioning," Paul Singerman, an attorney retained Wednesday by the board, told a judge Thursday at a hearing that included lawyers from four civil suits filed against the condominium association in recent days. 

Singerman said the board has taken appropriate action to protect and preserve documents that could be evidence in the case. 

The hearing before a Florida circuit court is ongoing. 

11:09 a.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Surfside officials say death toll still at 18 as recovery efforts continue

From CNN's Tina Burnside 

As of Thursday, 18 people are currently confirmed dead, with 145 people still unaccounted for in the Champlain Towers South collapse. 

Miami Dade Police Director Alfredo "Freddy" Ramirez said human remains continue to be recovered from the Surfside condo collapse site. 

"Up until the stop of the search, our homicide and crime scene personnel have been on the scene recovering family members and at times we've recovered human remains," Ramirez said during a news conference on Thursday. 

11:06 a.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Biden says he thinks federal government can pick up 100% of Surfside collapse response costs

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are escorted by Col. William McDonald the Vice Commander of the 89th Airlift Wing and his wife Diana as they walk from Marine One before boarding Air Force One on Thursday, July 1, at Andrews Air Force Base. 
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are escorted by Col. William McDonald the Vice Commander of the 89th Airlift Wing and his wife Diana as they walk from Marine One before boarding Air Force One on Thursday, July 1, at Andrews Air Force Base.  Luis M. Alvarez/AP

President Biden told officials contending with a devastating condo collapse in Florida that the federal government would likely be able to pay for 100% of the costs of responding to the disaster.

Biden was speaking during a briefing in the area with state and local authorities, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. 

"I think there’s more we can do, including, I think I have the power, we’ll know shortly, to pick up 100% of the costs for the county and state," he said from an interior conference room at the St. Regis Hotel, where maps and diagrams – including one showing the storm path of an incoming weather pattern – hung on the wall.

Biden is visiting the community to meet with officials, first responders and families awaiting word on their loved ones who were inside the building when it collapsed.

"​There’s going to be a lot of pain and suffering and anxiety," Biden said. He said that some would also require "psychological help in the months and days that follow."

"We’re not going anywhere," Biden said, encouraging officials to "tell me what you need."

"This is your show," he said. "We just want to make sure – whatever you need."

10:56 a.m. ET, July 1, 2021

Almost 1,400 tons of building material has been removed from Surfside collapse site, Florida governor says

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said almost 1,400 tons of debris has already been removed from the collapse site in Surfside.

DeSantis told reporters during a news conference that state engineering assets have been provided to the county “so that they can look to see what their options are” in dealing with the structural instability of the remaining building.

“Obviously, we believe that continuing searching is something that is very, very important,” DeSantis said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine said that search and rescue operations have been temporarily halted due to structural concerns with the standing structure.