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Florida condo efforts shifts from rescue to recovery; death toll rises to 54

Mourners stop to pay respects to the missing victims at the memorial outside St. Joseph Catholic Church near the collapsed Champlain Towers condo in Surfside, Fla., on Wednesday. Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

July 7 (UPI) -- Emergency workers shifted efforts at the site of a condominium tower collapse near Miami from rescue to recovery following a dramatic increase in the death toll on Wednesday with 18 more victims discovered.

In a news conference Wednesday evening, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said it was an "extremely difficult decision" to halt the rescue efforts after two weeks of searching as the death toll rose to 54.

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"At this point, we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search and rescue mission," Levine Cava said.

Officials announced Wednesday morning that 10 additional bodies had been discovered with eight more found by the evening and as many as 94 people unaccounted for and believed to be lost in the debris of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla.

RELATED Remaining Surfside condo building demolished before storm

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jadallah held a private briefing with families Wednesday afternoon where he informed them rescue dogs and sound devices would be removed but emergency crews would continue to search the rubble for the remains of their relatives.

"Our sole responsibility at this point is to bring closure," he said.

A group of more than 200 rescuers has been working almost continuously to find victims and survivors since the building partially collapsed on June 24 but earlier Wednesday crews said they were seeing no signs of survivors.

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"Unfortunately, we're not seeing anything positive that continues in that sense -- void space, livable spaces -- you know, we're not coming across that," Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said, according to WPLG-TV.

Crews had been working all week and hoping to find anyone alive in the debris, even through the threat of Tropical Storm Elsa, which missed South Florida and made landfall near the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.

Strong wind gusts and rolling thunderstorms from Elsa's outer bands, still, have affected the search. Crews have had to pause their work several times due to lightning.

RELATED Officials: Smoldering files hampering rescue ops at collapsed Fla. condo

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Tuesday that strong gusts had slowed large cranes that have been moving heavy concrete at the site. Officials said more than 120 tons have been moved so far.

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