What to Know
- More victims were found in the rubble of the Surfside condo collapse, bringing the death toll to 60, officials said Thursday
- The news comes as the search for victims at the Champlain Towers South reached its 14th day
- 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
Emergency workers who have spent 14 days pulling apart the rubble of a collapsed condo building near Miami said Wednesday they were switching from rescue to recovery mode, signaling the effort to find survivors was all but over.
The news followed increasingly somber reports from emergency officials, who indicated they had been preparing families for the worst outcome.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava called it an "extremely difficult decision."
CONDO COLLAPSE LATEST
"At this point we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search and rescue mission," Levine Cava said.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jadallah told families at a private briefing Wednesday afternoon that the emergency crews would remove the rescue dogs and sound devices, but otherwise would continue to search through the rubble for the bodies of their relatives.
“Our sole responsibility at this point is to bring closure,” he said, as relatives sobbed in the background.
Unlike some collapses that create W-shaped spaces where people can survive, a “pancake collapse" like the one in Surfside tends not to leave livable spaces, Jadallah said.
’“Where a pancake collapses, unfortunately it is a floor or a wall on top of a floor on top of a floor on top of a floor," he said. “Typically, an individual has a specific amount of time in regards to lack of food, water and air. This collapse just doesn’t provide any of that sort."
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said he expected the recovery operation to take several more weeks.
The formal transition was to take place at midnight. Hours before the official change of mission, rescue workers, their helmets held to their hearts and their boots covered in dust, joined local officials, rabbis and chaplains in a moment of silence beside the rubble. The rabbis and chaplains then walked down a line of officials, many of them sobbing, and hugged them one by one.
On a tall nearby fence, families and well-wishers had posted photos of the victims, supportive messages and flowers. Firefighters hung a banner atop the fence that read “Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Mourns With You.”
For about two weeks after Champlain Towers South collapsed, officials stressed their focus on finding survivors — a hope that was rekindled after workers demolished the remainder of the building, allowing rescuers access to new areas of debris. The hope was that they might find “voids,” or open pockets in the rubble where someone could have survived.
Some of those voids did exist, mostly in the basement and the parking garage, but no survivors were found. Instead, they recovered more than a dozen additional victims. Because the building fell in the early hours of June 24, many were found dead in their beds. The death toll as of Wednesday was 54, with 86 people potentially unaccounted for.
No one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the 12-story building fell.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the consensus of those closest to the rescue efforts said the possibility of someone still being alive was "near zero," but he said he would still hold out hope.
"While there seems to be no chance of finding life in the rubble, a miracle is still possible," Burkett said.
During a news conference earlier Wednesday, Levine Cava repeatedly tried not to weep, paused and shook her head as she described the effect of the tragedy on rescue workers and the families of the victims.
“Our commitment to this mission is deeply personal. This is our community, our neighbors, our families. And our first responders have truly searched that pile every single day since the collapse as if they’re searching for their own loved ones," she said.
Twice during the search operation, rescuers had to suspend the mission because of the instability of the remaining part of the condominium building and the preparation for demolition.
After initially hoping for miraculous rescues, families have slowly begun bracing themselves for the news that their relatives did not survive.
“For some, what they’re telling us it’s almost a sense of relief when they already know (that someone has died) and they can just start to put an end to that chapter and start to move on,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue firefighter and paramedic Maggie Castro, who has updated families daily at private briefings.
Authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse and at least six lawsuits have been filed by Champlain Towers families.
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