Authorities have called off a search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in Florida, saying there is “no chance of life”.
Emergency workers shifted their efforts to recovery on Thursday after a fortnight of searching the ruins of the Chaplain Towers South, in Surfside, Miami.
A total of 54 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage as of Wednesday night, but officials said 86 people were still unaccounted for with detectives working to verify whether those who were listed as missing were actually in the residential building at the time it collapsed.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference: “We have all asked God for a miracle, so the decision to transition from rescue to recovery is an extremely difficult one.”
Crews used a number of strategies during their 14-day search for survivors including using sonar, cameras, dogs and heavy machinery, but no one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the building fell.
“They’ve removed over seven million pounds of concrete and debris from the mound,” the mayor continued.
“They’ve searched for void spaces and they’ve searched for victims. They ran into a building they were told could collapse, and they braved fire, smoke, torrential rain, and strong winds in the hopes of finding people alive.”
A huge section of the 12-storey apartment block was reduced to a pile of rubble in the early hours of 24 June, and city officials called for the rest of it to be demolished to assist with the search and rescue operation, after fears it could come down on its own.
Miami-Dade assistant fire chief Raide Jadallah told families in a private briefing: “We noticed the stress, the force of the pressure of the walls and the floors just pretty much again sustained no chance of life.
“Our sole responsibility at this point is to bring closure.”
Hours before the formal transition from a rescue to a recovery mission, emergency workers joined local officials, rabbis and chaplains in a moment of silence.
Photos of the victims, messages and flowers have been placed on a nearby fence by families and well-wishers, along with a banner that reads “Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Mourns With You”.
Officials vowed to continue the recovery efforts until they find the remains of everyone missing, which is expected to take several more weeks.
Hopes of finding survivors was briefly rekindled after workers demolished the remainder of the building, allowing rescuers to access more areas, but no one was found alive.
Instead, teams recovered more than a dozen additional victims, many found dead in their beds.
Authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse and at least six lawsuits have been filed by Champlain Towers families.
Last week it emerged that the building crumbled just days before condo owners were due to start paying for repair works that had been commissioned three years earlier due to “major structural damage”.
Built in 1981, the tower block comprised more than 130 flats, about 80 of which were occupied.