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The Latest From Florida As Rescue Crews Continue Search For Victims Of Condo Collapse

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

An engineering report about the building in Surfside, Fla., shows serious concerns about it nearly three years before it collapsed early Thursday morning. The document points to widespread issues with concrete beams that were eroding, as well as design and construction flaws that needed to be remedied. The confirmed death toll in the collapse still stands at four. More than 150 people are still missing. NPR's Brian Mann is in neighboring Miami Beach, and he joins me now. Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Brian, you've read through this document. What can you tell us?

MANN: It's a pretty disturbing document. It shows erosion of fundamental structures in this condominium - concrete beams, wall structures, the foundation, really, throughout. And there's a real sense of urgency in the report that this work needed to get done to prevent further erosion of the building.

I spoke about this with Greg Schlesinger. He's an attorney and contractor here in Florida who specializes in building failures like this one. He says none of the issues in this report are a smoking gun for why the building collapsed Thursday. But he says there were huge red flags, you know, nearly three years ago.

GREG SCHLESINGER: Those were basically saying, hey. Look. This building is in desperate need of repair. You know, this really - this is egregious. It's awful.

MANN: And Schlesinger told me another disturbing thing is that he's seen similar reports for other buildings up and down the Florida coast where concrete and steel are affected by the climate and the sea air. And I should mention briefly that we are looking at other documents that have been released about this building trying to understand more about what happened here.

FADEL: So possibly cause for concern for the safety of other buildings. Let's turn to the search crews right now. How are they holding up?

MANN: Yeah, it's wrenching, a really heartbreaking duty. As so many hours have gone by with so little success, they've been going day and night. And I spoke about this with Erika Benitez. She's a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue.

ERIKA BENITEZ: It's very difficult, not just physically, but also mentally. So they're working hard, but they're holding up, and they're holding to hope that we find still people who are alive under the rubble.

MANN: And I have to say, this disaster site conditions yesterday were really daunting. It's a dense pile of rubble, a 12-story building that flattened to roughly two stories. There were heavy rains. And despite that, yesterday, you could see smoke and steam rising from the pile. Officials say there is still a fire burning inside.

FADEL: What are you seeing there in terms of support for the community and for these families that are waiting to learn about their loved ones?

MANN: Governor DeSantis was here yesterday and spoke about this. He said the outpouring of donations has been remarkable. He thanked President Biden for throwing full federal support behind this effort. So people are doing what they can. But for now, a lot of what's happening here is prayer and waiting and hope.

I spent some time with Father Juan Sosa, whose parish is just about a block from the collapsed building. And he said members of 10 families from his Roman Catholic congregation are still among the missing.

JUAN SOSA: I know several of them personally. I used to have dinner with some of them there. You don't know me well, but it hits me later. During the emergency moments, I'm OK. And then it hits me later. So I'm waiting for that bomb to drop.

MANN: And Father Sosa told me he hopes more families and residents will turn out to have been away from the building when this disaster happened.

FADEL: And what's happening this morning, Brian, as the search continues?

MANN: So rescuers are back out there. They're listening for sounds. They're trying to detect any motion under there that could be survivors. And they're carefully hoisting away pieces of this debris, moving one chunk at a time, trying to be very careful in case there are still people alive underneath.

FADEL: OK. That's NPR's Brian Mann in Miami Beach this morning. Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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