Searchers say they could still find survivors in remnants of Florida condo building as death toll climbs to 10 while 151 people remain unaccounted for.

Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, on June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, US.
Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, on June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, US. (AP)

Rescue workers digging for a fifth day into the remnants of a collapsed Florida condo building have stressed that they could still find survivors in the rubble, a hope family members clung to even though no one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the structure fell.

The death toll climbed to 10 on Monday as one more body was pulled out while 151 people who may have been in the building remained unaccounted for.

"This morning we did recover another body. That brings the count to 10. The total number of those accounted for is now 135. And the total unaccounted for, 151," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a press conference at the scene in Surfside, near Miami Beach.

"Our detectives are working right now, in real time, to audit this list," Cava said, adding that the numbers were still "very fluid, and they will continue to change."

"The search and rescue operation continues."

The victims' families rode buses to a nearby site to watch the intense rescue effort, which included firefighters, sniffer dogs and search experts using radar and sonar devices. 

Rains complicate search 

Early on Monday, a crane lifted a large slab of concrete from the debris pile, enabling about 30 rescuers in hard hats to move in and carry smaller pieces of debris into red buckets, which are emptied into a larger bin for a crane to remove. 

The work has been complicated by intermittent rain showers, but the fires that hampered the initial search have been extinguished. 

Andy Alvarez, a deputy incident commander with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that rescuers have been able to find some voids inside the wreckage, mostly in the basement and the parking garage.

"We have over 80 rescuers at a time that are breaching the walls that collapsed, in a frantic effort to try to rescue those that are still viable and to get to those voids that we typically know exist in these buildings," Alvarez said.

"We have been able to tunnel through the building," Alvarez added. "This is a frantic search to seek that hope, that miracle, to see who we can bring out of this building alive."

'How can somebody survive that?'

Others who have seen the wreckage up close were daunted by the task ahead. Alfredo Lopez, who lived with his wife in a sixth-floor corner apartment and narrowly escaped, said he finds it hard to believe anyone is alive in the rubble.

"If you saw what I saw: nothingness. And then, you go over there and you see, like, all the rubble. How can somebody survive that?" Lopez told The Associated Press.

Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, head of a humanitarian delegation from Israel that includes several search-and-rescue experts, said professionals have told him of cases where survivors were found after 100 hours or more.

"So don't lose hope, that's what I would say," he said.

Some families had hoped their visit to the site near the 12-story building would enable them to shout messages to loved ones possibly buried inside the pile. 

As they returned to a nearby hotel, several paused to embrace as they got off the bus. Others walked slowly with arms around each other back to the hotel entrance.

"We are just waiting for answers. That's what we want," said Dianne Ohayon, whose parents, Myriam and Arnie Notkin, were in the building. "It's hard to go through these long days and we haven't gotten any answers yet."

Not wrong to hold out hope

The building collapsed just days before a deadline for condo owners to start making steep payments toward more than $9 million in repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier, in a report that warned of "major structural damage."

Earl Tilton, who runs a search-and-rescue consulting firm in North Carolina, said rushing into the rubble without careful planning and execution could injure or kill rescuers and the people they are trying to save.

"Moving the wrong piece of debris at the wrong time could cause it to fall‚" on workers and crush them, he said.

But Tilton agreed that families were not wrong to hold out hope. 

During past urban rescues, he said, rescuers have found survivors as long as a week past the initial catastrophe.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies