Search and rescue efforts at the building collapse in Surfside, Florida, resumed Thursday evening after they were halted for most of the day over fears that the rest of the condo complex might topple.
"Finding missing loved ones continues to be at the forefront of our operations," Miami-Dade Fire Rescue tweeted.
Officials suspended operations at around 2 a.m. after devices used to monitor cracks in the concrete signaled "some expansion" in the fissures, Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said. Structural engineers on site also found that there was 6 to12 inches of movement in a column hanging from the building that could fall and further damage support columns in the underground garage.
"We're doing everything we can to ensure that the safety of our first responders is paramount and to continue our search and rescue operation as soon as it's safe to do so," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Thursday morning. "The only reason for this pause is concerns about the standing structure."
So far, the bodies of 18 victims have been recovered, including two children aged 4 and 10. Officials said Wednesday evening that 145 people are still missing.
Alfredo Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said they have also recovered human remains. Families of those missing have submitted DNA to help authorities identify bodies and remains pulled from the rubble.
Search and rescue operations resumed at about 4:45 p.m. "with safety mitigation measures in place to maintain the safety and accountability of all personnel," Cominsky said.
"We needed our engineers on site to evaluate the safety of the standing structure," Levine Cava told reporters after the operations restarted. "I am grateful to their hard work that got us back to work on the search and rescue as soon as possible and we are continuing of course to assure that we do everything to protect our first responders."
The rescue effort — on its eighth day — has exhausted first responders and frustrated families. The tower pancaked when it collapsed, leaving behind a large mound of rubble that officials have had to maneuver through carefully.
Rescue teams were working on top of the rubble and underneath, tunneling up from the parking garage.
Local, state, and federal leaders have authorized resources to assist the operation. And on Thursday, President Joe Biden visited Surfside to meet with survivors and the families of the victims and those who remain unaccounted for.
Biden told reporters afterward that talking with them brought up some memories of when his first wife and daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972 and not knowing if his sons Beau and Hunter, who were badly injured in the crash, were going to make it.
"It’s bad enough to lose somebody, but the hard part, the really hard part is to not know whether they'll survive it or not," the president said, adding that he was "impressed" by the families' strength.
Still, Biden said they were "realistic" about the likelihood that their loved ones were not alive and determined to recover their bodies.
The operation has been dangerous and difficult from the very beginning, officials said, with debris shifting and falling on rescue teams. Early on in the rescue efforts, Cominsky said fire personnel working underneath the structure initially heard voices in the rubble.
"They were searching for a female voice is what we heard for several hours, and eventually we didn't hear her voice anymore," he said. "We continued searching. ... Unfortunately we didn't have success with that."