Rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed Florida apartment block have resumed, about 15 hours after the work was halted out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure, the mayor said.
Surfside mayor Charles Burkett said he did not know why officials had decided to restart the search. Rescuers were earlier taken off the pile of rubble after crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column.
“Finding missing loved ones continues to be at the forefront of our operations,” Miami-Dade Fire Rescue tweeted soon after search efforts resumed.
The stoppage had dimmed hopes of finding anyone alive in the debris a week after the tower came down.
The rescue operations unfolded on the day President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited the devastated community near Miami.
The collapse of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South beachfront development killed at least 18 people and left 145 missing.
Hundreds of search-and-rescue personnel have searched the rubble for signs of life, but no one has been rescued since the first hours after the collapse.
“This is life and death,” Mr Biden said during a briefing. “We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference.”
“There’s going to be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow. And so, we’re not going anywhere.”
Rescue work was halted after crews noticed several expansions in cracks they had been monitoring. They also observed 6in to 12in of movement in a large column hanging from the structure “that could fall and cause damage to support columns” in the underground parking garage, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said.
In addition, they noticed movement in the debris pile and slight movement in some concrete floor slabs “that could cause additional failure of the building”, he added.
During a private meeting with family members, Mr Biden drew on his own experiences with grief to try to comfort them. His first wife and baby daughter were killed in a car crash and decades later he lost an adult son to brain cancer.
“I just wish there was something I could do to ease the pain,” he said in a video posted on Instagram by Jacqueline Patoka, a woman who was close to a couple and their daughter who are still missing.
Mr Biden spoke of wanting to switch places with a lost or missing loved one. “The waiting, the waiting is unbearable,” he said.
Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava earlier said the search-and-rescue operation would continue as soon as it was safe to do so.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis said state engineers, the fire department and county officials were exploring options on how to deal with the structural concerns.
“Obviously, we believe that continuing searching is very, very important,” Mr DeSantis said, adding that the state will ”provide whatever resources they need” to allow the search to continue.
The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.
Two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least 15.5 million dollars.