In this handout image dated July 2, 2021, search and rescue workers are working on the site of a collapsed Florida condominium complex in Surfside, Miami, USA.

MIAMI DADE FIRE DEPARTMENT | about REUTERS

Florida authorities have hastened plans to demolish a partially collapsed 12-story condominium building in Surfside amid fears the winds of Tropical Storm Elsa could knock over the remaining structure while search and rescue teams rummage through the rubble, hoping dozens of missing residents.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on Saturday that experts on the ground are currently reviewing the structure and the contract has been signed to demolish the remains of Champlain Towers South as soon as possible.

“It is a burning wish of all of us that this can be done safely before the storm so that we can control the demolition,” said Levine Cava. “This demolition would protect and preserve evidence and allow for maximum search and rescue activity.”

The death toll in the collapsed condominium building rose to 24 on Saturday morning and 124 people are still missing. No one has been rescued since the first hours after the collapse on June 24th.

During a press conference on Saturday evening, Levine Cava said the search and rescue had to be temporarily suspended because of demolition preparations, which include drilling into unstable columns. As soon as the rest of the building is demolished, efforts can resume.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the building could be demolished within 36 hours once the final plan is determined. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the demolition could begin as early as Sunday.

“The fear was that the hurricane could tear the building down for us and fall in the wrong direction onto the pile that we have victims on,” said Burkett, referring to Elsa, who was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Levine Cava signed a local state of emergency for Elsa on Saturday morning. “Out of great caution, we make sure that we mobilize everything we need in the county to prepare for any impact,” she said at the meeting.

The long-term forecast shows that Elsa will be heading for Florida as a tropical storm by Tuesday morning, but some models would carry him to the Gulf or the Atlantic coast.

The accelerated plan comes a day after Levine Cava said the building will be demolished once engineers sign the next steps, a process that could likely take weeks. Officials have restricted access to parts of the construction zone that threaten public health and safety.

However, Levine Cava said a demolition expert came in on Friday night with the experience of acting faster than originally expected. Engineers and state, local and state agencies reviewed the plan and agreed that it was the best way to go, Levine Cava said.

“This planned demolition is very narrow so we don’t have a major impact on the area or additional evacuations,” said Levine Cava. “We are still in the due diligence process.”

The decision to demolish the remaining part of the building was made after search and rescue operations were suspended for most of Thursday amid concerns that the remaining structure could collapse.

The cause of the building collapse is still unknown. An engineering firm reviewed the condo tower in 2018, almost three years before it collapsed, and prepared a report which were found to have caused “major structural damage” by poor waterproofing under the building’s pool.

“If the waterproofing is not replaced in the near future, the extent of concrete deterioration will expand exponentially,” the report said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has llaunched a full investigation into the collapse and gives recommendations for improving building security.

Levine Cava ordered a 30-day audit of buildings in Miami-Dade County that are 40 years or older that are five stories or higher and have not yet completed the recertification process. The county is currently reviewing 14 such buildings and 10 that have recently begun recertification.

Was a condo building in North Miami Beach closed and more than 300 residents evacuated on Friday unsafe structural and electrical conditions were determined after an audit and building inspection report.