Search-and-rescue teams have recovered the remains of eight more victims from the ruins of a Florida apartment building as they were able to penetrate more of the disaster site after demolishing a fragile section that had remained standing.
The new confirmed death toll of 36 means that 109 people who may have been inside the building when it crumbled are still considered missing. That number could change as police detectives work to confirm a list of residents.
“I ask all of you around the world who continue to follow this story, please keep these victims in your hearts and prayers,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told an afternoon news conference on Tuesday (local time).
The latest figure comes as Florida officials concede they have “significant concerns” regarding the structural integrity of another condominium near the Champlain Towers South building.
Ms Levine Cava announced the updated death toll hours after several hundred mourners gathered in a Miami Beach church at the first funeral for victims of the June 24 collapse.
Marcus Guara, 52, his wife Ana Guara, 42, and their daughters, Lucia, 10, and Emma, 4, were remembered as a tight-knit family who loved taking walks on the beach and spending time together.
All four were killed when half of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida, abruptly came down in the early hours as most residents slept.
“Who would have thought a few weeks ago that our community had so many ties to one little building in one small corner of Florida called Surfside,” Marcus Guara’s cousin, Peter Milián, said during a eulogy for the family.
The search for more victims is carrying on despite the approach of Tropical Storm Elsa, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday.
Forecasters say Surfside will likely be spared the worst of the storm, but its approach prompted local officials demolish a still-standing section of the building on Sunday night due to worries that high winds could knock it down.
Lightning brought by Elsa forced search and rescue teams to halt their operation for a time on Tuesday. Officials said their task could be interrupted again before the storm passes.
Though local officials say they have not given up hope of findings survivors, no one has been discovered alive in the rubble since the first few hours after the condominium tower collapsed.
Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said rescuers had not found any “livable spaces” during their search where survivors could have been spared.
More than 124 tonnes of debris has been removed from the site, with identifiable pieces sent to a police warehouse for use in upcoming investigations, including a grand jury
Investigators have not determined what caused the tower to fall, but attention has been focused on a 2018 engineering report that warned of structural deficiencies.