Rescue teams continue to arrive in the coastal city of Surfside, Florida, near Miami, as families await news, good or bad, about their loved ones after a condo building collapses.
Nine people died, 152 are missing and 134 were tallied after the Champlain Towers South collapse Sunday night, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference.
The disappeared come from at least nine countries, including six Latin American countries, and from multiple religious communities.
Rescuers from Israel have already arrived in the coastal city to assist local, state and federal agencies in their search efforts. Rescuers from Mexico are expected to arrive this Monday.
Over the weekend, crews were able to dig trenches, contain a deep-rooted fire and excavate at the collapse site to remove victims while crews above ground used dogs, sonar and heavy equipment to locate the missing.
On Sunday, some relatives of the missing were taken by bus from the reunification center to the site of the collapse to pay their respects and witness the efforts that rescuers are making to recover their relatives.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told Citizen Free Press’s Wolf Blitzer on Sunday that he will continue to support search and rescue operations until everyone is pulled from the rubble. I expect miracles. I am expecting many miracles,” he said.
Meanwhile, a 2018 report by a structural engineer showed the building was suffering from serious structural problems, including cracked and chipped concrete.
Nine people have been confirmed dead after the collapse, eight of them identified by authorities as of Sunday night.
The first person was identified Friday as 54-year-old Stacie Fang. She is the mother of Jonah Handler, the boy who was pulled alive from the rubble, his family said in a statement.
“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” the family said. “The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much-needed source of strength during this devastating time.”
Authorities identified three more victims Saturday as Antonio Lozano, 83, Gladys Lozano, 79, and Manuel LaFont, 54.
On Sunday they released the identities of four more victims: Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermúdez, 26; Anna Ortiz, 46; and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74. A victim has not yet been identified by the authorities.
Families at the reunification center told Citizen Free Press on Friday that officials were collecting DNA samples to help identify the recovered bodies.
“The process of identifying these victims is very difficult,” Levine Cava said Saturday. We’re going to depend on DNA tests. And that’s why we’ve already been collecting DNA samples from family members, so everyone participated and provided DNA to help us in the investigation.
“This allows us to do rapid DNA testing on site to detect bodies,” he explained.
But the long wait becomes even more unbearable for some, since burials, which take place a few days after death in Jewish tradition, cannot occur until the dead are recovered. The Jewish Federation of Greater Miami volunteered to help community members organize funeral and burial services.
As victims continue to be recovered and identified, a memorial wall has also grown near the site of the collapse, adorned with flowers, candles and photographs of the missing.
Search and rescue teams
Rescue teams from other countries travel to Florida to assist locals with rescue operations as the scene continues to be a challenging situation.
A team of 10 rescuers from Israel arrived Sunday morning, Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told Citizen Free Press.
They went to the scene of the collapse and “were in the pile most of the day,” Guthrie said.
Burkett said a rescue team from Mexico is expected to arrive on Monday.
Crews have been working non-stop since the collapse early Thursday morning, and rescuers changed shifts as weather and fires complicated their efforts.
Smoke from a deep fire made the first days of the rescue operation difficult, as visibility was poor and temperatures high, according to Burkett.
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said conditions in the trench dug to aid rescue efforts were “horrible.”
“It is difficult to describe. We don’t have the holes we expect,” Cominsky said Sunday. We’re still looking. So that’s what I mean by horrible. It’s just a difficult, difficult situation.
Levine Cava said rescuers are using a grid search approach on the pile and continue to use sonar, cameras and canine resources.
The problem is not resources, but luck, according to Burkett.
“We have a full complement of highly experienced search and rescue people. We have waves of them going over that pile of rubble right now, ”Burkett told Citizen Free Press on Sunday.
“We have everything we need and more, we just need a little luck and we did,” he explained.
“We were having the rains, we were having the fire. Both have decreased and now we are 100% focused on getting people out of there,” Burkett said. “We are doing exactly that. We have armies ready to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We won’t stop until we get everyone out.”