As Tropical Storm Elsa was approaching the coast of Florida, authorities decided to demolish in a controlled manner what was left of the Champlain Towers South condo building as a precautionary measure.
The 12-storey building collapsed downward, throwing up plumes of smoke on Sunday night after Elsa was reported in the afternoon to be off the coast of Cuba with winds of 95km/h and forecast to reach western Florida Tuesday or Wednesday.
In those circumstances, search-and-rescue efforts for the 121 people missing were halted but were scheduled to resume after the demolition, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Authorities feared that whatever was left standing after the other half of the building had collapsed 11 days ago posed a safety threat to the teams which have already retrieved 24 bodies and were looking for the some 120 people who are still missing.
The building's columns had been drilled into and small explosive charges were placed to bring the remains of the building down. People living nearby were told to stay indoors and turn off air conditioning due to dust.
North Miami Beach City Manager Arthur Sorey said the building's owners had not yet begun a mandatory safety recertification process required 40 years after it was built. ”It's definitely not an easy decision (to demolish the building), he said. It's just the right thing to do during these times. It's uncertain what's going to happen with the storm.
Buildings near Champlain Towers South are being inspected over the coming few weeks to make sure they are safe and one - the 49-year-old Crestview Towers - has already been evacuated due to concrete and electrical problems.
Elsa reached Cuba Sunday after hitting several islands in the Caribbean and leaving at least three dead, two of them in the Dominican Republic and the other in Saint Lucia.
Haiti, while very vulnerable to the inclemencies of nature, did not report deaths or serious damage, although there was damage to some crops, said Jerry Chandler, director of Civil Protection in that country.
Iin Cuba the rainfall will be strong and intense in some locations, mainly in mountainous areas and on the southern coast,” said the island's Institute of Meteorology (Insmet) and a cyclonic alarm has been decreed for 11 of the 15 Cuban provinces.
Elsa arrives at the most complicated moment of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the Caribbean island of 11.2 million inhabitants accumulates 204,247 cases and 1,351 deaths since March 2020.
On Friday, Elsa became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season with winds of more than 120 km/h, although on Saturday it was downgraded to a tropical storm.