The search for victims of the Miami apartment block collapse has reached its 14th day with the death toll standing at 36, and more than 100 people still unaccounted for.
Rescue crews dug through pulverised concrete where the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside once stood, filling buckets that were passed down a line to be emptied and then returned.
The continuing search involving Miami-Dade County Fire and Rescue Department came as eight more deaths were announced – the most for a single day since the search began.
Rain and wind from Hurricane Elsa has disrupted the search effort, though the storm is on track to make landfall far across the state.
Searchers have found no new signs of survivors, and although authorities said their mission is still geared toward finding people alive, they sound increasingly sombre.
“Right now, we’re in search and rescue mode,” the county’s police director, Freddy Ramirez, said at a news conference on Tuesday evening.
“Our primary goal right now is to bring closure to the families.”
No-one has been rescued from the site since the first hours after the building collapsed on June 24, when many of its residents were asleep.
Searchers are still looking for any open spaces within the mounds of rubble where additional survivors might be found, said the county’s fire chief, Alan Cominsky.
“Unfortunately, we are not seeing anything positive,” he said.
Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the families of the missing were preparing for news of “tragic loss”.
She said US president Joe Biden, who visited the area last week, called on Tuesday to offer his continued support.
“I think everybody will be ready when it’s time to move to the next phase,” she said.
Reporters got their closest in-person look at the site on Tuesday, though it was limited to the portion of the building that workers tore down on Sunday after the initial collapse left it standing, but dangerously unstable.
A pile of shattered concrete and twisted steel stood about 30ft high and spanned roughly half the length of a football field. A pair of diggers pulled rubble off the pile, which blocked any view of the search effort.
Severe weather from Elsa hindered search efforts to a degree, and lightning forced rescuers to pause their work for two hours on Tuesday, assistant fire chief Raide Jadallah said. Winds of 20mph, with stronger gusts, hampered efforts to move heavy debris with cranes.
However, the storm’s heaviest winds and rain would bypass Surfside and neighbouring Miami as Elsa strengthened along its path to an expected landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend.
Crews have removed 124 tonnes of debris from the site. The debris is being sorted and stored in a warehouse as potential evidence in the investigation into why the building collapsed.
Workers have been freed to search a broader area since the unstable remaining portion of the building was demolished.