In a burst of explosives, demolition crews have dramatically brought down the damaged remaining portion of a collapsed South Florida apartment building ahead of an approaching tropical storm.
According to the National Hurricane Centre, Elsa is travelling about about 65 kilometres south-east of Cabo Cruz in Cuba, with winds of up to 100km/h and was expected to make landfall Monday night (AEST).
“We want to make sure that we control which way the building falls, and not a hurricane,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.
The work temporarily suspended the search mission, but officials say it should open up new areas for rescue teams to explore.
So far, only 24 bodies have been recovered, with another 121 still missing, since the building collapsed on June 24. The building was also searched three times for any pets left behind.
At the weekend, the Miami-Dade Police Department added Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and 81-year-old Gonzalo Torre to the list of those confirmed dead.
“Our top priority is bringing down this building,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County said on Sunday (local time).
“As soon as the building does come down, when the site has been deemed secure, and we are given the all clear, our search and rescue teams will immediately resume their operations,” she said.
A number of explosions could be heard and then the building started to fall, sending up massive plumes of dust into the air in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
“Oh my God,” said one eyewitness, who filmed the building collapse in front of them.
The decision to demolish the Surfside building came after concerns mounted the damaged structure was at risk of falling, endangering the crews below and preventing them from operating in some areas.
Through the night, rescuers were awaiting the “all-clear” after the demolition so they could dive back into the task of trying to locate any survivors buried under the rubble.
Officials had previously said the search could resume from 15 minutes to an hour after the detonation.
“We are standing by. We are ready to go in, no matter the time of night,” Ms Levine Cava said.
No one has been rescued alive from the stricken tower since the first hours after the June 24 collapse.
Rescuers are hoping the demolition will give them access for the first time to parts of the garage area that are a focus of interest.
Once a new pathway into the initial rubble is secure “we will go back to the debris pile, and we’ll begin our search and rescue efforts”, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Albert Cominsky said.
The search at the Surfside building has been suspended since Saturday afternoon so workers could begin the drilling work.
Despite the dwindling chance that anyone remains alive in the rubble, officials have pledged to keep looking.
“There’s nobody in charge really talking about stopping this rescue effort,” Mr Burkett told CBS television.
“This rescue effort as far as I’m concerned will go on until everybody is pulled out of that debris.”
Officials began considering the demolition at Champlain Towers last week when parts of the remaining building shifted, endangering rescuers and prompting a 15-hour suspension in their work.
“This July 4 we’re reminded that patriotism isn’t just about loyalty to country,” Ms Levine Cava said as the US marked the Independence Day holiday on Sunday.
“It’s about loyalty to one another – to our communities, to those in need whose names or stories we may not know ever, but to whom we are connected by compassion and by resilience.”