The rescue mission for the Surfside building that collapsed nearly two weeks ago will transition to a recovery effort at midnight Thursday.
“It is with deep, profound sadness that this afternoon I'm able to share that we made the extremely difficult decision to transition from operation search and rescue to recovery,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (D) announced at a news conference Wednesday evening.
“At this point, we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search and rescue mission. So today is about beginning the transition to recovery, so that we can help to bring closure to the families who've been suffering and waiting for news,” she added.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah informed families on Wednesday that officials determined it will be nearly impossible to find people alive at the collapse site at this point, after 14 days of searching through the rubble, according to The Associated Press.
The decision to shift to a recovery effort reportedly came after workers finished searching through rubble that came down after authorities demolished the remaining part of the Champlain Towers South building in preparation for a storm that was heading to the area.
Authorities had hoped that bringing down the remaining part of the building would help rescuers find voids that people may have taken cover in, but no more survivors have been discovered.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the decision to transition to a recovery effort came after individuals “closest to the rescue efforts” came to a consensus that “the possibility of someone still alive is near zero.”
“They are probably right. But in the end, God is still in charge. And while there seems to be no chance of finding life in the rubble, a miracle is still possible,” he continued.
Jadallah at the news conference said the transition was based on a number of factors, including the engineering of the building and medical circumstances.
“These engineering factors include, you know, the building collapse itself, the pancake, which is the, gives you the lowest probability of survivability, coupled with the fact that it gives you very little voids,” he said.
“Now these medical factors also include that what we've noticed is the actual medical patients themselves… Once we pull the victim out, what we're recognizing is, you know, human remains, you know, typically an individual has a, you know, a specific amount of time in regards to lack of food, water and air. This collapse, you know, just doesn't provide any of that sort,” he added.
Cava said her team has “developed a very detailed plan to guide the transition and to ensure that these operations proceed at the same speed and intensity.”
She announced that authorities were marking the transition with a moment of silence in front of the building site with the team of first responders and faith leaders to “mark the solemn moment of transition.” She also invited members of the media to witness the ceremony.
Arthur Holmes Jr., the assistant chief of operations at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said earlier this week that the change in label to a rescue mission would simply change who is in charge.
Jadallah, during the Wednesday news conference, said the only difference now will be the term, emphasizing that “resources are still there. The men and women are still there. The support is still there.”
“And again, it’s just a term,” he added.
The death toll from the collapse rose to 54 on Wednesday.
Eighty-six people still remain unaccounted for, and 200 people have been accounted for, according to Cava.
Updated at 8:02 p.m.