The death toll in the Miami-area condominium collapse climbed to 94 Monday as officials planned to step up security at the site to make sure the personal possessions of the victims are preserved for their families.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said 22 people remain unaccounted for in the June 24 collapse of Champlain Towers South, an oceanside condo building in Surfside. Levine Cava said 83 of the victims have been identified but "the process of making identifications has been made more difficult as time goes on.”
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said officials have decided to increase security around the debris pile to ensure that the site is preserved. Only authorized personnel will be allowed.
“It's obvious that this has become much more than a collapsed building site,” Burkett said. “It has become a holy site.”
Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo Ramirez III said there has been “no criminality” at the site, but officials want to make sure the area is secure so crews can continue to preserve personal items found in the rubble.
“As families are being notified about their family members, the ask is always about property. People want some sort of connection to their family member, so it’s very important that our process that we have in place continues to flow uninterrupted," Ramirez said during a morning news conference.
“It’s just part of the process. This is a long, painful, hurtful process,” he said.
Burkett said work crews recently found a business card for an artist and then found several paintings they carefully pulled out of the debris pile to preserve for family members.
Levine Cava also addressed the announcement Sunday that a vaccinated Miami-Dade county commissioner who helped other local officials in Surfside has tested positive for COVID-19. The news release from Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz said he and his chief of staff, Isidoro Lopez, who also received a vaccine against COVID-19, came down with flu-like symptoms earlier in the day and later tested positive for the virus.
Levine Cava said officials who were in close proximity to Diaz and Lopez have been tested and all have come back negative. Levine Cava and other officials who spoke at Monday's news conference did not wear face masks.
Diaz had participated in news conferences and meetings with other officials in Surfside, the Miami Herald reported.
“Breakthrough” infections — fully vaccinated individuals who contract the coronavirus — do happen, although they are very rare. An Associated Press analysis of government data in May showed only about 1% of such cases resulted in hospitalization or death. The analysis suggested that nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. recently have been in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths could approach zero if every eligible person gets the vaccine.
Last week, Florida health officials reported an increase in COVID-19 cases and a higher positive test rate compared with other recent weeks.