Rescuers are searching through fresh rubble after the last of a collapsed Florida apartment building was demolished, allowing crews into previously inaccessible places, officials said.
But they face a new challenge from thunderstorms that hit the area as Tropical Storm Elsa approached the state.
Four more victims were discovered in the new pile, officials said, raising the death toll to 28 people. Another 117 people remain unaccounted for.
The demolition late on Sunday was crucial to the search-and-rescue effort, officials said, and raised the prospect that crews could increase the pace of their work and the number of searchers at the site, although the chance of finding survivors 12 days after the June 24 collapse has diminished.
“We know that with every day that goes by, it is harder to see a miracle happening,” said Maggie Castro, a firefighter and paramedic with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue who briefs families daily.
Teams had been unable to access areas closest to the remaining structure because of its instability, Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.
“Truly we could not continue without bringing this building down,” she said at a news conference.
Part of the existing debris pile was also helping to support the remaining structure, City of Miami Fire Rescue Captain Ignatius Carroll said. Rescuers were still holding out hope of reuniting loved ones.
“We continue to remain focused on our primary mission, and that is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them,” he said.
The newly accessible area includes master bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping when the building collapsed, Florida governor Ron DeSantis said.
“We will be able to access every part of that pile, which they hadn’t been able to do up to this point,” he said. “I think it’s going to move the pace. I think the momentum is very strong.”
Crews could be seen climbing a mound of debris at the site on Monday alongside a piece of heavy equipment that was picking up rubble.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said rescuers focused on a stairwell section, but inclement weather hampered the search, particularly in a garage area that was filling with water. Crews had to pump out water.
The latest forecasts showed the storm moving westward, mostly sparing south Florida, but the area near the collapsed building experienced thunderstorms, and the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Miami Beach, which is just south of Surfside, where Champlain Towers South was located.
Mr Jadallah said rescuers planned to continue.
“Now that we don’t have an issue with the building, the only time that we’re stopping is lightning,” he said.
Workers immediately began clearing some of the new debris after the demolition, and the search resumed around midnight, officials said. It had been called off on Saturday to allow specialists to drill holes for explosives needed for the demolition.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse.