Another six victims have been found in the condominium building collapse in Surfside, Florida, officials said Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 18 as search and rescue teams enter the seventh day of the harrowing operation.
Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, announced the increased death toll as crews worked around the clock to sift through the rubble. Another 145 people are still missing.
"I'm very pained to tell you that we found two additional bodies in the rubble, which brings our total count to 18 fatalities," Cava said. "It is also with great sorrow, real pain, that I have to share with you that two of these were children, aged 4 and 10. Any loss of life, especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event, is a tragedy. But the loss of our children is too great to bear."
Officials had not yet made contact with the next of kin of the additional victims. The other people whose bodies were recovered over the course of six days have been identified.
The search and rescue effort has been a drawn-out, agonizing process for families and rescue teams alike, with inclement weather and the threat of hurricane season potentially hindering the operation.
Rescue teams have also been struggling to sift through the rubble from above and underneath the mound, with debris shifting and crumbling on them as they work through it.
Fire Chief Alan Cominsky described the rescue effort as an "extremely difficult situation" for those on the ground.
"Talking to our personnel, our spirits are high," Cominsky said. "We're still moving forward. We see the resources coming through. We're exhausting every avenue, but it's a very, very dangerous situation. I can't understate that."
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told reporters that two sets of rescue dogs are involved in the operation — one to find survivors and another to find bodies.
Families of those missing have been frustrated by the pace of the search and rescue effort and angered by reports of the building's poor condition. USA Today reported that the president of the condo association had warned residents in April that damage in the basement garage had gotten "significantly worse" since an inspection two and a half years ago, and that the building's concrete deterioration was "accelerating."
“I don’t understand how the board allowed the building to get in the condition it was in,” Pablo Rodriguez, whose mom and grandmother are missing, previously told BuzzFeed News. "I’m hoping that investigations happen, people are held responsible, and reform comes out of this so that this never happens again."
Cominsky told reporters Wednesday that the operation is "absolutely still a search and rescue mission."
"We are doing everything humanly possible and then some to get through this tragedy, and we are doing it together," said Cava, the Miami-Dade County mayor.
Nicole Fallert contributed reporting to this story.