Officials are rushing to demolish what remains of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside on Sunday before Tropical Storm Elsa reaches Florida in the coming days, which could complicate the response and rescue efforts in the area. At the moment, the demolition is scheduled to take place between 10 p.m. ET Sunday and 3 a.m. ET Monday.
Elsa, which was a Category 1 hurricane on Friday and early Saturday until it weakened to a tropical storm, was expected to pass over Cuba on Sunday and Monday. In its 8 p.m. ET public advisory, the National Hurricane Centre on Sunday said the storm is expected to head toward the Florida Straights on Monday and pass near the Florida Keys early Tuesday. The current forecast predicts that Elsa will proceed to move near or over parts of Florida’s west coast on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The storm currently has maximum sustained winds near 60 mph (95 kph) with higher gusts and is moving northwest near 15 mph (24 kph). The forecast anticipates that Elsa will deposit between two and six inches (five to 15 centimeters) of rain in part of the Florida Keys, the Florida Peninsula, and coastal Georgia through Wednesday. Tornadoes are also a possibility across southern Florida on Monday and Tuesday.
The centre issued a tropical storm warning, which means that tropical storm conditions are expected within the warning area, for several Cuban provinces and the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas.
A storm surge watch, indicating possible life-threatening inundation due to rising water moving inland from the coastline, was in effect for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach to the Suwannee River.
The centre also issued a tropical storm watch, or a warning of possible tropical storm conditions, for the Florida Keys from east of Craig Key to Ocean Reef, Florida Bay, and the west coast of Florida from Flamingo northward to the Anclote River.
In Surfside, officials paused search and rescue operations on Saturday afternoon so that engineers could secure and prepare to demolish what remains of the Champlain Towers South building. The pause remained in effect on Sunday, according to the New York Times, which reported the demolition timeframe.
“We want to make sure that we control which way the building falls, and not a hurricane,” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett.
CNN reported that forecasters say Elsa’s centre will not directly impact Surfside. That doesn’t mean it’s in the clear, though. The outlet notes that the town could still be affected by the storm’s outer bands and wind gusts and rain could begin in the area as soon as Monday morning.
Burkett said the fact that the building was being prepared to be demolished had stopped officials’ rescue work, and that they needed to get the building taken down to continue to rescue people in the rubble. So far, the tragedy has resulted in 24 deaths, the Times reported, but 121 people are still missing.
“As I’ve said from the beginning, we do not have a resource problem. We only have a luck problem. And this storm is the latest bit of challenging circumstances that we’re facing,” Burkett said on Face the Nation.
On Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the 15 counties — including Miami-Dade county, where Surfside is located — in the possible path of Elsa. DeSantis urged Floridians in the southern part of the state to be prepared for heavy rain, flooding, and potential storm surge on Monday.
Officials have said that demolishing the building is critical to being able to look for survivors safely once the threat presented by the remaining structure is removed, CNN stated. It might also help rescuers access areas of the rubble they couldn’t safely reach before. There are currently more than 500 first responders and state workers on-site to help with search and rescue efforts.