The death toll in the collapse of a Miami-area apartment building has risen to 79, a number the mayor called “heartbreaking”, as recovery workers toiled for a 16th day to find victims in the rubble.

  • The mayor said rescue workers have been doing 12-hour shifts in oppressive heat and in dangerous conditions
  • Paraguay’s first lady lost her sister in the building collapse, according to the country’s foreign minister
  • Six lawsuits have been filed by families as authorities launch a grand jury investigation

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the work to recover victims was “moving forward with great urgency” in order to bring closure to the families of victims, who have spent an agonising two weeks waiting for news.
“This is a staggering and heartbreaking number that affects all of us very deeply,” she said of the latest death toll.
Rescue workers and emergency support teams have laboured in 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, doing physically and emotionally taxing work amid oppressive heat and in dangerous conditions.
“We know that there will be long-term impacts for the teams on the frontline,” Ms Levine Cava said.
“They have given so much of themselves in these first two weeks.”
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said taking care of the mental health and wellbeing of the first responders was a priority.
He said it was critical first responders communicate with each other.
“It’s important for us to talk,” he said.
Paraguay’s foreign minister said the country’s first lady’s sister was among those found.(AP: Mark Humphrey
To that end, Ms Levine Cava said officials have added peer support personnel at the fire stations.
No-one has been found alive since the first hours after the building fell on June 24, and 61 people remain unaccounted for.
The painstaking search for survivors shifted to a recovery effort at midnight on Wednesday after authorities said they had come to the conclusion there was “no chance of life” in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside.
Hope of finding survivors was briefly rekindled after workers demolished the remainder of the building on Sunday night, allowing access to new areas of debris.
Some voids where survivors could have been trapped did exist, mostly in the basement and the parking garage, but no-one was found alive.
Instead, teams recovered more than a dozen additional victims.
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On Thursday, Paraguay’s Foreign Minister said in a radio report the body of the sister of that country’s first lady was among those found.
Several citizens of Latin American nations were reported to be in the building when it collapsed.
Rescue workers now focused on finding remains instead of survivors have pledged to keep up their search for victims until they clear all the debris at the site.
State and local officials have pledged financial assistance to families of the victims, as well as to residents of the building who survived but lost all their possessions.
Meanwhile, authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse. At least six lawsuits have been filed by families.
How did a Miami Beach apartment block that withstood hurricanes for decades suddenly implode?