Champlain Towers South no longer exists. At the site of the building erected 40 years ago at 8855 Collins Avenue in Surfside, Miami-Dade, only rubble and grief remain for those killed and missing in a partial collapse that was followed by a controlled demolition on Sunday.
Several detonations brought down at 10:30 p.m. Miami time, the part that had been left standing when the northeast wing of the 12-story beach condominium collapsed suddenly on June 24 in the early hours of the morning, while most of its inhabitants were asleep.
A large cloud of dust covered everything in seconds, as can be seen in videos taken from boats in nearby waters off the beach.
The part of Champlain Towers South now demolished remained after June 24 as a mute witness to what happened that day and to the strenuous efforts to rescue victims from the rubble that began within hours.
The image of the incomplete building and the contrast between the apparent normality of the uncollapsed side and the strangeness of the mutilated part, with its air conditioners hanging from wires in the void and white bunk beds occupying the little space left of a children’s room, opened newscasts around the world for days.
Today, Champlain Towers South is already a rubble-strewn lot to which hard-working rescuers will return Monday to continue the difficult task of finding the 121 missing in the tragedy, which has so far claimed 24 lives.
The expected arrival of a tropical storm in South Florida forced Miami-Dade authorities to make the decision to demolish the unstable 12-story structure to prevent winds and rain from collapsing it and causing more damage.
Fourth of July detonations
The night of Sunday, July 4, was chosen for this purpose, when Americans are accustomed to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks.
The several muffled detonations which, according to the media, preceded the fall of the building must have been mistaken for pyrotechnics.
Quite a few onlookers gathered in the vicinity to watch the demolition, but the police forced them to leave the area.
The streets were empty and the residents of Surfside, a small coastal town of about 4,000 inhabitants that is part of Miami-Dade County, were either in a shelter set up for that purpose or inside their homes with the doors and windows closed and the air inlets covered.
The nearly 200 people at Champlain Towers South who were located after the June 24 collapse were saved, but lost almost everything in their homes.
All valuables found by rescuers in the rubble are in storage and will be turned over to their owners or their families, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has reiterated since the demolition was announced.
Failed attempts to stop the demolition
In addition, prior to demolition, the standing structure was checked for pets that might be left in the building in the early morning hours of June 24 when neighbors who were not in the area of the collapse searched the street on the run.
According to the mayor, no animals were found.
Yet a survivor filed an emergency petition with a court on Sunday to stop the demolition on the grounds that her cat Coco was still inside Champlain Towers South.
The judge dismissed the petition and the demolition plan was allowed to proceed.
The mayor assured that measures had been taken prior to the demolition to “preserve evidence” and protect the work already done by search and rescue teams.
The causes of the collapse are under investigation and a legal battle has already begun seeking damages from some of the residents of Champlain Towers South.
As learned from existing documents in Surfside City Hall records, the now-defunct building had structural problems that were detected in 2018 by an engineering firm and the community had fallen behind in making costly recommended repairs.