Search teams recovered 15 more victims in the Surfside, Floridaas of Friday afternoon, bringing the death toll to 79, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a Friday afternoon press conference.
“This is a staggering and heartbreaking number that affects all of us very, very deeply,” she said earlier Friday.
Fifty-three of the 79 victims have been identified, and another 61 people are potentially unaccounted for, Cava said.
Amid the devastation, Cava announced a bit of good news: A black cat named Binx, who lived on the ninth floor of the building, was reunited with its family on Friday. Cava said a volunteer found Binx in the vicinity of the rubble while feeding stray cats and thought she recognized it. The volunteer then brought Binx to an animal shelter, where the cat was identified.
“I’m glad that this small miracle could bring some light into the lives of a hurting family today,” Levine Cava said.
A Facebook post appeared to show Binx calmly eating food at a local shelter before reuniting with its family.
Work at the site in Florida, just north of Miami Beach, is focused on recovering victims and trying to bring closure to the families of those who are missing. Crews are now in their 16th day of searches, and no one has been found alive in the rubble since immediately after the building crumbled.
CBS Miami reports the road to the site of the collapse is a near-constant caravan of search teams, police cars and dump trucks, filled with concrete debris. Sixty trucks are working at the site each day, and over 13 million pounds of concrete and debris had been removed from the site as of Friday, according to Levine Cava.
“The magnitude of this tragedy is growing each and every day,” she said.
Dr. Christopher Valerian, medical manager for an urban search and rescue team that was deployed to Surfside, said the collapse site isn’t typical.
“Usually in a building collapse like this you will find what we call void spaces, you know, spaces that are created by objects that stop the falling debris above your head, and that’s sort of where you find victims,” he. “In this particular case, and I’m not a structural engineer, however, the way it’s been explained to me is that the way that the building sort of pancaked down and the pressure from the floors above just created so much downward force that those normal void spaces where survivors would be located just don’t exist.”
Valerian, of New Jersey Task Force 1, said a lack of intact household appliances at the site is another indicator of how powerful the collapse was.
“I’ve said to myself, ‘Where are all the appliances? Where’s the refrigerators, the stoves, the ovens?'” he said. “We’re just not finding, like, large objects. All we’re finding are small, crushed, pulverized pieces of metal and concrete and steel, so it’s just amazing the force this building fell at, and I think that’s part of the problem with not being able to find survivors.”