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Officials Pause Surfside Search And Rescue Efforts Due To Risks Of Further Collapse

U.S. Coast Guard boats patrol Thursday in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Fla., ahead of President Biden's planned visit to the site.

Search and rescue efforts at the site of the Surfside, Fla., condo collapse have been paused due to what officials described Thursday as structural concerns with the remaining building. Efforts were stopped at around 2 a.m., said Chief Alan Cominsky of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Support columns and piles of debris were in danger of shifting and falling, according to structural engineers who assessed the scene, Cominsky said.Officials had been monitoring cracks at the site and said their monitors picked up potentially dangerous movement of those cracks that endangered the entire operation. Six to 12 inches of movement were recorded in a large column hanging from the structure that could potentially fall and cause damage to the support columns in the south terrain garage area, according to Cominsky. Officials also observed movement in the concrete floor slabs on the south side of the structure in the north and south corner of the building. It could cause additional failure of the building as well as movement in the debris pile immediately adjacent to the south side of the structure, according to Cominsky.

It's unclear when the search and rescue will resume

When asked when the search would resume, officials were unable to provide a time or date, saying instead they must first meet with structural engineers to ensure the safety of first responders.President Biden and first lady Jill Biden are scheduled to meet families in Surfside on Thursday, but officials stressed that the president's visit had nothing to do with the pause. Families who are awaiting news of their loved ones have already been informed about the pause in efforts, said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. As of Wednesday, 18 people were confirmed dead and 145 people were still unaccounted for. Officials said Thursday morning that those numbers have not changed since the last update.

Officials heard a voice but could not locate it

Cominsky said that during the search, first responders heard a female voice for several hours but were unable to locate and rescue that person. The voice eventually stopped after several hours, Cominsky said. "We did hear audible sounds. They were searching for a female voice, is what we heard for several hours and eventually, we didn't hear her voice anymore. We continued searching," he said. "This is emphasizing the magnitude of what we're going through, the efforts of all our fire rescue personnel and everyone's that here on scene, trying to do the best we can in these heroic efforts."The names of many who have been found dead in the wreckage have not yet been released. Officials said Wednesday that two of the victims were children, ages 4 and 10. Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.