Demolition crews have set off explosives to bring down the remaining portion of a partially collapsed apartment building in South Florida, where 24 people have been confirmed dead and 121 remain missing.
Video footage late on Sunday showed the 12-storey Champlain Towers South in Surfside, outside Miami, crumbling downward and throwing up plumes of smoke. The demolition came 11 days after most of the building collapsed in the early hours of June 24 while residents were asleep.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters the demolition went “exactly as planned,” and said rescue crews had already been given the all-clear to begin work on the mound again.
Rescuers are hoping the demolition will give them access for the first time to parts of the underground garage area, where they might be able get a clearer picture of any voids in the rubble that could harbour survivors.
Albert Cominsky, Miami-Dade fire chief, said once a new pathway into the initial rubble is secure, “we will go back to the debris pile, and we’ll begin our search and rescue efforts”.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the June 24 collapse.
The decision to demolish the apartment building on Sunday came after concerns mounted that the damaged structure was at risk of falling, endangering the crews below and preventing them from operating in some areas. Parts of the remaining building shifted on Thursday, prompting a 15-hour suspension in the work.
The possible arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa created added urgency.
As of Sunday afternoon, the storm was off the coast of Cuba with winds of 60 miles per hour (95km/h). The latest forecasts have moved the storm westwards, mostly sparing South Florida, but National Hurricane Center meteorologist Robert Molleda said the area could still feel the effects.
“We’re expecting primarily tropical storm force gusts,” Molleda said, referring to gusts above 40 mph (64km/h).
Investigators have not determined what caused the 40-year-old complex to collapse on June 24. A 2018 engineering report found structural deficiencies that are now the focus of inquiries.
Al Jazeera’s Karim Haddad, reporting from Miami Beach in Florida, said the county had cancelled its Independence Day or Fourth of July celebrations out of respect for the victims.
“People here are still in shock,” he said. “Usually, streets here would be full of people and there would be a whole host of fireworks. But the mood is subdued. People are concerned and they are sad.”
He added that in the wake of the condo’s collapse, Miami-Dade county has ordered a review for all buildings that are older than 40 years old to make sure there were no structural problems.