Family members of the missing transported by bus to the site of the collapse

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SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – Officials transported relatives of the missing to the Florida beachfront condominium site on Sunday after some family members expressed frustration at the pace of the efforts to search and rescue and asked for better access.

Local authorities have kept media and relatives away from the immediate vicinity of the South Champlain Towers as rescuers dig through the debris to try to find signs of survivors on the fourth day after the collapse. According to the authorities, more than 150 people are still missing. Nine people have been confirmed dead.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said authorities would allow relatives to come “near” the site “to reflect and pray.”

THIS IS A CURRENT UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – The death toll from a Florida oceanfront condominium collapse has risen to nine as search and rescue efforts continue, the mayor of Miami-Dade, Daniella Levine Cava.

One person died in hospital and workers removed four more bodies from the wreckage, the mayor said.

Dozens of rescuers remained on the huge pile of rubble, working to find survivors among the more than 150 people missing. Four of the dead have been identified and the next of kin notified, the mayor said.

Four days after Thursday’s collapse, more than 150 people are still missing in Surfside, and authorities and their families fear the toll could rise further.

As rotating teams of rescuers used heavy machinery and power tools to clear the rubble from above and the tunnel from below, the Noriega family hoped their 92-year-old matriarch, Hilda Noriega, had survived.

When Mike Noriega heard that part of the condominium tower where his grandmother lived had collapsed, he rushed with his father to the scene. They arrived at a nightmarish 30-foot pile of shattered concrete and mutilated metal, the remains of the 12-story building known as Champlain Towers South.

But among the flying debris they stumbled upon memorabilia that bore witness to Hilda’s life on the sixth floor: an old photo of her with her late husband and toddler son, and a birthday card that friends had from her prayer group had sent two weeks earlier with the acronym “ESM”, in Spanish for “hand delivered”, was scrawled on the yellow envelope with a butterfly engraving.

“There was a mess of it all,” said Mike Noriega, who last spoke to his grandmother the day before the disaster. “It means not to lose hope. To have faith.”

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett sought to assure families on Sunday that lifeguards were working nonstop. “Nothing else in mind, with the sole objective of getting their family members out of this rubble,” he told ABC’s “This Week”.

“We’re not going to stop doing this – not today, not tomorrow, not the next day. We’re going to continue until everyone is out.”

The Noriega family described Hilda as a fiercely independent and vivacious retiree – in Mike’s words, “the youngest 92 I know … 92 goes 62”.

Hilda Noriega had lived in Champlain Towers South for over 20 years. But six years after her husband’s death, she was ready to go. The condo was for sale and she was planning to move in with her family.

She loved living near the ocean and her friends, but “when you lose a spouse you want to be surrounded by your family… and she wanted to spend more time with her family and grandchildren,” said Sally Noriega , Hilda’s daughter-in-law. law.

Hilda Noriega was a loving person who built her life with her husband and raised a family after arriving in the United States from Cuba in 1960, her stepdaughter said.

“She was just one of those people who, from the first time she met a person, she immediately loved that person, and that person immediately loved her,” Sally said.

Carlos Noriega, Hilda’s son and police chief for the nearby village of North Bay, was one of the emergency responders at the top of the pile.

The Noriegas aren’t quite sure what to do with the precious memories found in the midst of the chaos, but Sally said, “We’re a family of faith. We’ll leave it at that.”

They are among dozens of distraught families who are awaiting news about the fate of their loved ones. The wait has been agonizing.

The atmosphere inside a hotel ballroom where around 200 family members were briefed by authorities on Saturday was tense, two people in attendance told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

The two said families frustrated by the slow pace of recovery efforts demanded that they be allowed to attend the scene and attempt a collective cry – an attempt as much to find survivors as a cathartic farewell to those who were deceased.

The mayor said on Saturday that the identification of three bodies had reduced the number of people missing to 156, and crews also discovered other unspecified human remains. The remains are sent to the medical examiner, and authorities collect DNA samples from family members to help with identification.

A video posted online showed an official briefing from the families. When he said that they had found remains among the rubble, people started to sob.

Late Saturday, four of the victims were identified, including Stacie Dawn Fang, 54; Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel LaFont, 54 years old.

Burkett said a city official had conducted a cursory examination of buildings near the Champlain North and Champlain East towers, but “found nothing abnormal.”

The news came after news of a 2018 engineering report that showed the building, which was constructed in 1981, had “major structural damage” to a concrete slab under its pool deck that required repairs. major repairs, part of a series of documents issued by the Town of Surfside.

Other documents showed that the estimated cost of the repairs would total more than $ 9 million. This included over $ 3.8 million for garage, driveway and pool remediation and nearly $ 3.2 million for exterior facade repairs.

While officials said no cause for the collapse as of Thursday morning had been determined, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said a “definitive response” was needed in a timely manner.

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Associated Press writer Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.


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