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'Staggering and heartbreaking': Condo collapse death toll now at 79, Miami-Dade mayor says

An additional 15 bodies were recovered from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside.

An additional 15 bodies were recovered from the partially collapsed Miami Beach-area condo building, bringing the confirmed death toll to 79, the mayor of Miami-Dade County said Friday.

"This is a staggering and heartbreaking number that affects all of us very deeply," Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a morning press conference.

Crews have spent the past two weeks searching through the rubble of the destroyed Champlain Towers South in Surfside after a section of the building came crashing down early in the morning June 24.

Levine Cava said the discovery of feline Binx, a ninth-floor resident reunited with its owner, was "a small piece of good news."

Twice-daily news conferences on the recovery efforts would be reduced to once-per-morning starting Saturday, she said.

On Wednesday, officials said that they were ending search and rescue efforts and shifting to a recovery operation. Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said it was not an easy decision because they had "hoped to find more survivors."

"But our experience and expertise indicated that was no longer possible," he explained.

Cominsky said that switching to a recovery operation would allow crews to make more use of heavy equipment on the pile.

Of the 79 people confirmed dead, 53 have been identified and their family members notified, Levine Cava said Friday. As many as 200 people are accounted for, with 61 still potentially unaccounted for, according to officials.

“All those who have passed, all 78, are leaving behind loved ones," Levine Cava said earlier in the day, referring to the morning's death count. "They are leaving behind devastated families. The magnitude of this tragedy is growing each and every day."

The search and recovery teams have removed more than 13 million pounds of concrete and debris. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he visited the site Friday morning and thanked the teams for their work.

“The pile that originally was approximately four or five stories is now almost at ground level,” he said.

As officials continue digging through the site, questions remain about why the building collapsed. In documents released by officials last month, an engineer expressed concern that the building had "major structural damage." The engineer, Frank Morabito, said his findings showed that there was "abundant cracking" and crumbling in the underground parking garage of the condo building, according to the 2018 report.

He also said that concrete slabs by the entrance and pool deck were "showing distress" and recommended that they be removed and replaced. He said that the issues should "be repaired in a timely fashion."

The National Institute of Standards and Technology and local agencies are investigating what caused the partial collapse.