Demolition crews have set off explosives to bring down the damaged remaining portion of a collapsed South Florida apartment building, a key step to resuming the search for victims.
The work has temporarily suspended the search mission, but officials say it should open up new areas for rescue teams to explore.
A number of explosions could be heard and then the building started to fall, sending up massive plumes of dust into the air in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
The decision to demolish the Surfside building came after concerns mounted the damaged structure was at risk of falling, endangering the crews below and preventing them from operating in some areas.
Through the night, rescuers were awaiting the “all-clear” after the demolition so they could dive back into the task of trying to locate any survivors buried under the rubble.
Officials had previously said the search could resume from 15 minutes to an hour after the detonation.
“We are standing by. We are ready to go in, no matter the time of night,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference on Sunday night local time.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the June 24 collapse.
Rescuers are hoping the demolition will give them access for the first time to parts of the garage area that are a focus of interest.
Once a new pathway into the initial rubble is secure “we will go back to the debris pile, and we’ll begin our search and rescue efforts”, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Albert Cominsky said.
The search at the Surfside building has been suspended since Saturday afternoon so workers could begin the drilling work.
So far, rescuers have recovered the remains of 24 people, with 121 still missing. The Miami-Dade Police Department on Saturday night added Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and 81-year-old Gonzalo Torre to the list of those confirmed dead.
Despite the dwindling chance that anyone remains alive in the rubble, officials have pledged to keep looking.
“There’s nobody in charge really talking about stopping this rescue effort,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CBS television.
“This rescue effort as far as I’m concerned will go on until everybody is pulled out of that debris.”
Officials began considering the demolition at Champlain Towers on Thursday when parts of the remaining building shifted, endangering rescuers and prompting a 15-hour suspension in their work.
Approaching Tropical Storm Elsa added urgency to those plans with forecasts suggesting there could be strong winds in the area by Monday. The latest forecasts have moved the storm westward, mostly sparing South Florida, but National Hurricane Centre meteorologist Robert Molleda said the area could still feel effects.
“We’re expecting primarily tropical storm force gusts,” Molleda said.
“This July 4 we’re reminded that patriotism isn’t just about loyalty to country,” Levine Cava said as the US marked the Independence Day holiday on Sunday.
“It’s about loyalty to one another – to our communities, to those in need whose names or stories we may not know ever, but to whom we are connected by compassion and by resilience.”