The death toll from the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., stood at five on Sunday morning, as search and rescue workers continued their painstaking search for victims.
There were 156 people still unaccounted for, leaving local officials and families from across the country and the world braced for word of significantly more casualties as work at the disaster site continued.
Officials have so far identified four of the victims killed in the collapse: Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, of Apartment 903; Manuel LaFont of Apartment 801, and Stacie Fang, 54, of Apartment 1002. The bodies of Ms. Fang and Mr. Lozano were recovered on Thursday; Ms. Lozano and Mr. LaFont on Friday. The fifth victim has not yet been identified.
Mr. LaFont was a businessman who worked with Latin American companies and the father of a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, according to his ex-wife, Adriana LaFont.
Ms. LaFont described him as a loving and devoted father who had a passion for baseball — one he had inherited from his Cuban parents. Mr. LaFont had played the sport when he was young and coached his son’s team, never missing a practice or a game.
“He’s the best dad,” Ms. LaFont said. “He’s the most genuine person I ever met.”
Their children were with Ms. LaFont when the building collapsed.
In an Instagram post Saturday evening, Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist on a local television station, confirmed that Ms. Lozano, his godmother, and Mr. Lozano, his uncle, had died in the collapse. For days, Mr. Ferro had been reporting on weather conditions affecting the search and rescue operation.
“They were such beautiful people,” he wrote. “May they rest in peace.”
Ms. Fang was pulled from the wreckage on Thursday and was pronounced dead at the Aventura Hospital and Medical Center. Her 15-year-old son, Jonah Handler, had been pulled alive from the rubble earlier that same day. A video of him being rescued from the rubble spread widely after the building collapse.
The search has been painstakingly slow, hampered at times by smoke from a fire beneath the rubble. Erika Benitez, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Fire Department, said Saturday morning that it had been a while since rescue workers had heard sounds that they believed could be indicators of people still alive beneath the rubble. But she said that the search and rescue team believed that finding survivors remained a possibility.
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed on Saturday that family members of those missing had already been swabbed for DNA samples in order to help identify human remains as they are found.
“Our top priority continues to be search and rescue and saving any lives that we can,” Ms. Levine Cava said.
SURFSIDE, Fla. — Philip Zyne peered over the balcony of his condo near Miami Beach around midday on Saturday and pointed to a large crack running in the parking lot below his unit.
Normally, he might not have given it a moment’s thought. But Mr. Zyne, 71, lives at Champlain Towers North, the sister condo complex to the building in Surfside, Fla., that partially collapsed into a mass of rubble on Thursday, leaving four people dead and 159 missing. Now he was on high alert: Could the building where he lives be next?
It is a question on the minds of many South Floridians, especially those in older, beachfront buildings that are faced day in and day out with similar outside conditions as the Champlain Towers South: salty air, rising seas, aging concrete.
On Saturday, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County announced a 30-day audit of all buildings 40 years and older under the county’s jurisdiction, which includes Miami and neighboring towns, like Surfside, where the building fell. Mayor Charles W. Burkett of Surfside said he was considering asking residents of Champlain Towers North to voluntarily evacuate as a precaution until their building, which has had no reports of serious problems, could be thoroughly inspected.
From the outside, Champlain Towers North, at 8877 Collins Ave., seems identical to Champlain Towers South — same developer and same design, built just one year apart. Most terrifying for Mr. Zyne is that his unit is in the same part of the building as the apartments that crumbled in the South complex, those facing the pool and the Atlantic.
“It’s scary,” said Bud Thomas, 55, his neighbor upstairs, as he also looked out on Saturday. “I’m hoping that this one doesn’t have the same structural problems as the other one.”
Members of the condominium board, who are longtime Champlain Towers North residents, said in interviews on Saturday that they are confident their building is in far better shape than the South building was, as a result of prompt and continuous maintenance.
But that has not reassured some of their residents, some of whom hastily packed bags and found other places to sleep for at least a few days in the immediate aftermath of the nearby disaster.
Bowser has a black and tan coat, weighs 80 pounds and loves being outdoors.
And since Saturday morning, the German Sheperd mix has taken on an important role as the search and rescue efforts for victims in the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condos in Surfside, Fla., continue: comforting their loved ones.
Bowser is one of a half dozen therapy dogs from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue working rotating shifts at the family reunification center at the Grand Beach Hotel, just blocks away from the scene of the collapse, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue firefighter Robert Wells, who is Bowser’s owner. The Miami-Dade Police Department also supplied at least one therapy dog as well.
Bowser, who is 5, arrived at the reunification center at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Some people embraced him. Some took photos with him.
“He’s breaking the monotony of the pain that they are suffering,” Mr. Wells said. “It’s exhilarating to see that. Usually, they’ll thank me.”
Animal-assisted therapy is an increasingly popular treatment for crisis victims and those suffering from post-traumautic stress disorder after traumatic events. The use of therapy dogs like Bowser is directly linked to reduced levels of stress and anxiety, according to one study.
Therapy animals were used in children’s hospitals as Covid-19 decreased the number of visitors. And they are often brought to medical centers to the immediate aftermath of mass shootings, comforting survivors.
Bowser, who is well-behaved and social, went through intensive training that involved proctored observations and obedience training. And the training doesn’t stop, either — he is currently working to receive national certification to become a critical incident stress dog, which means he could be sent out of state to help intervene in emergency situations elsewhere.
“If we can help bring a smile to someone’s face and give them a little relief through this crisis, then it’s all worth it,” Mr. Wells said. “It really is.”
When did it happen?
Survivors said they were jolted awake at about 1:30 a.m. on Thursday by fire alarms, falling debris and the feeling of the ground trembling.
How many people have died?
At least five people were killed. The authorities fear many more fatalities.
How many are unaccounted for?
As many as 156 people were unaccounted for as of late Saturday, officials said. The authorities have stressed that the numbers might shift as the authorities figure out how many people were actually in the building.
How many have been rescued?
About 35 people were rescued from the intact part of the building, and two were pulled from the rubble, said Ray Jadallah, a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue assistant fire chief.
How tall was the building?
The tower was 13 stories tall; about half of the 136 units collapsed.
When was it built?
It was constructed in 1981, according to county property records.
How many people live in Surfside, Fla.?
The town, just north of Miami Beach, has about 5,600 residents.
When one side of the Champlain Towers South building shuddered and collapsed in a horrifying pile of concrete and twisted steel, it recalled a similar catastrophe in downtown Miami more than four decades ago.
On Aug. 5, 1974, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration building in Miami also collapsed suddenly, killing seven people, and it was that disaster that led the county to mandate regular reviews of the structural integrity of older buildings.
Both buildings were along the city’s coast, where the salt air tends to corrode and weaken concrete and steel structures, causing the steel to rust and the concrete to flake, experts on structural engineering say.
According to an article in The Times, the roof of the federal office building in downtown Miami collapsed, sending tons of concrete and several parked cars crashing through the offices below. The wreckage killed and trapped people “in a pile of twisted steel and concrete,” according to a brief history of the D.E.A.
Miami’s fire chief, Don Hickman, speculated at the time that 80 cars in a parking garage had overloaded the 49‐year‐old structure, causing a portion at the rear section to collapse. Witnesses counted about eight cars in the rubble.
But it was later found that sand and salt from the nearby coast had eroded and weakened the supporting steel structure of the building.
After the disaster, Miami-Dade County began requiring that structural engineers certify that buildings are still safe to occupy after the 40-year mark, said Charlie Danger, a former county building chief.
“We caught a lot of buildings that were deteriorated” after implementing that requirement, Mr. Danger said, “but they were caught on time.”
Documents released on Friday by the town of Surfside, which is in Miami-Dade, show that two years ago a structural engineer, Frank Morabito, inspected the Champlain Towers South building as part of the county’s “recertification” process.
Mr. Morabito wrote in October 2018 that he found “major structural problems” in a pool deck and a parking garage at the base of the building. He urged that repairs be made and warned that the building’s structural integrity had been affected. The building was about to undergo repairs to fix those problems when the collapse occurred, a lawyer for the resident-led association that operates the building said.