Latest updates on Surfside condo collapse


SURFSIDE, Fla. – Emma Guara, 4, was wearing a silver necklace her mother had given her recently when her body was discovered from the ruins of a Florida condominium collapse last month. The pendant was shaped like half a heart and read “Little Sis.”

Lucia Guara, 11, was not wearing her nearly-matching necklace, which was shaped like the other half of a heart and labeled “Big Sis,” when firefighters discovered her. According to their aunt, Digna Rodriguez, Lucia had suffered an adverse response and had temporarily stopped wearing hers.

“We’d like to get that jewelry back,” Rodriguez expressed his desire. “Those necklaces were a hit with them.”

Anaely Rodriguez and Marcus Guara, the daughters’ parents, were also slain in the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South, which killed at least 94 people and left 22 others missing. They were among the first people to be rescued from the wreckage. Last Monday, the girls were buried together in the same casket, Emma wearing her necklace.

Authorities are also trying to collect keepsakes for families who have lost relatives and for surviving inhabitants of the building as they hunt through tons of broken concrete and twisted rebar for more bodies. They’ve put up a database where users can submit missing property information.

Crews take images and use GPS to register the location of personal belongings every time they find them. They’ve built a grid of the pile, estimating the location of each family’s condo unit. The artifacts are placed in a bin by the detectives. They are transported to a location where they will be cataloged and sealed in bags. Then they’re loaded into a secure freight container and transported to a warehouse.

According to Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez, there would be a “estate process” to collect the deceased’s belongings and ensure that they reach the rightful heir.

Because the collapse of a residential tower “is not your everyday event,” Miami-Dade police Sgt. Danny Murillo, a commander of the operation, said the method had to be designed through “trial and error.” When a child’s toy is discovered, he says it might be upsetting.

He stated, “We are all human.”

Rachel Spiegel, whose 66-year-old mother, Judy Spiegel, died in the fall, is hoping that the teams will recover her family’s belongings. Her mother’s body was discovered on Friday.

Rachel Spiegel remarked, “All my parents’ things over a lifetime is gone.” “Their wedding album is no longer with us. My father’s wine collection is gone, as is all of my mother’s jewelry, clothing, and the dress she wore at my wedding, which I had hoped to wear one day. All of their possessions have vanished. We don’t have anything.”

Crews are finding objects as small as rings and jewels in the rubble, according to Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, who has visited the scene many times since the collapse.

Burkett stated, “The job is so delicate that we’re finding undamaged wine bottles.” Search teams frequently know what to look for in specific portions of the pile because of the information provided by families, he added. He showed a picture of a ring that was discovered in the wreckage near where searchers thought it would be.

“They’re expecting to find these things,” says the narrator. And they did in this situation,” Burkett added.

According to Ramirez, religious property is given special consideration. Rabbis examined the processing area to check that religious artifacts are maintained and handled properly. He stated that some of the items are quite important.

“It could be the tiniest of objects that to the untrained eye appear to be nothing more than a little container. It truly refers to generations. It’s incredibly spiritual, and I’m blown away. Our policemen are learning a lot about different cultures “he stated “There are so many different dynamics with melancholy and sorrow.”

Search at Florida condo collapse site revives memories of past tragedies.

Search at Florida condo collapse site revives memories of past tragedies. 1

SURFSIDE, Fla. – For retired Oklahoma City Fire Chief Greg Marrs, the broken concrete and twisted rebar from the collapsed high-rise near Miami brought back memories of his crew digging through the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in 1995.

Marrs sympathized with the Florida teams scouring the wreckage of the 12-story Champlain Tower South condominium building from afar. The images in Surfside reminded him of the desperate hunt for survivors following the Oklahoma City bombing, followed by the sadness of only finding bodies, he said.

Other rescuers who had responded to previous tragedies had experienced the same thing. They claim that the workers in Surfside will continue to work with the same dedication and care, despite officials’ announcement last week that they had given up hope of finding any survivors.

After the World Trade Center towers fell in 2001, Joseph Pfeifer, the former counterterrorism and emergency preparedness chief for the New York Fire Department, was one of the first commanders on the site. He stated that the Florida workers will save any human remains and remove any building fragments that may reveal the cause of the collapse.

“They’re going to physically take off every layer. They’ll clear the site down to the last piece,” said Pfeifer, who teaches crisis management at Harvard and Columbia colleges and is the author of the 9/11 memoir “Ordinary Heroes,” which will be released on Sept. 7.

Marrs said he was reminded of the destruction at the federal facility after a truck full of explosives was detonated outside when he first saw photos of the Florida collapse. 168 people were killed in the explosion.

Both buildings’ shells were still standing, or teetering, over mounds of broken concrete and twisted metal in the aftermath, with the interiors exposed.

The dead toll from the South Florida disaster rose to 86 on Saturday, with another 43 people still missing. Although authorities determined that there was “no prospect of life” in the leftover rubble, the demand on rescue personnel to discover victims so that families can bury their loved ones has not abated.

Marrs was confident that the Florida teams would be just as polite in their search for the dead as they had been in their hunt for the living, based on his own experience.

“They certainly aren’t going in there with bulldozers and taking that stuff out, you know, not caring if they run over a body or not,” Marrs added.

The move from a rescue mission to a recovery endeavor, according to Marrs, does not lessen the urgency.

He explained that because there is no longer a race against time, they are doing things in a more cautious and safe manner. It’s likely that crews will be encouraged to take less risks.

“It’s a challenging task,” Pfeifer admitted. First responders understand how crucial this is to the families. Even though it’s a challenging work, they want to do it.”

There are situations when no identifiable remains are discovered. According to Pfeifer, almost 40% of the more than 2,600 people murdered at the World Trade Center on 9/11 have yet to be physically recognized.

Crews in Florida have removed 13 million pounds of concrete and debris from the site with the use of heavy machinery.

Heavy equipment has arrived, making the removal of layers of debris easier, according to Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky.

“With our recovery efforts, we expect progress to move at a faster pace,” Cominsky added. He has stated that locating all of the victims may take several weeks.

Retired Chief Dave Downey of Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue was part of a South Florida squad ordered to help in Oklahoma City, and he may have run into Marrs. After terrorists struck the World Trade Center, he too hurried there.

“Each calamity is unique. Every calamity has its own twist,” Downey explained.

Downey has been in Surfside for the past two weeks, assisting with the rescue mission and now the recovery effort.

“What happens now is you change your mindset,” Downey said, describing the shift from looking for survivors to “knowing that we’re going to offer closure to these families, but not in the way that we all hoped.”

He added, “That doesn’t mean we won’t work as hard as we can.”

Families of Florida condo collapse victims bond together


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A spacious and previously impersonal ballroom at the Seaview Hotel in Surfside has become a shelter — a shared space of hope and anguish where bereaved families console each other while waiting for word of relatives trapped within a collapsed condo building.

For more than two weeks, family of the 79 who died and 61 who remain missing have congregated in the spacious room twice a day, every day, a new daily pattern thrust upon them by an unfathomable calamity.

Many members of this beleaguered community have begun arriving early and lingering late at meetings. They congregate in small groups and converse. They hug and deliver water and tissues to each other. On days when information is scant, rescuers from several countries circulate the room, delivering more comprehensive information.

Officials stated on Wednesday that their aim will shift from rescue to recovery, but Maggie Castro, a Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic who keeps relatives updated and has formed her own bonds with them, said there are no plans to cease the private briefings for the families.

“Obviously, this is a horrible tragedy, but if there’s any silver lining, it’s being with these families, watching their emotions come and go and… watching them progress through their stages and then also watching them bond,” Castro added.

Brad Cohen, Soriya Cohen’s spouse, is still missing. Her brother-in-law Gary Cohen was rescued on Thursday, and her two children are pleading with rescuers to look for their father along a similar grid line.

“In the days after the collapse, the community outpours so much love,” she said, recounting how volunteers covered her in a blanket, brought her food and coffee, and “surrounded me with so much emotional support.”

She claimed in a text on Friday that she still has the blanket.

Rachel Spiegel, whose mother, Judy, is still missing, said she, her father, and brother had developed relationships with other families inside the room as well, although she didn’t go so far as to call it reassuring.

“I’m not sure I’d call it comfort just now because we still don’t know where my mother is. She has yet to be found.”

While sobs could be heard in the background as officials declared the move from rescue to recovery, thus putting an end to any hope of survivors, several families stated they won’t feel any differently until they had definitive word on their loved ones.

In a phone interview, Spiegel remarked, “It’s difficult to digest.” “Many folks have stated that they have seen a change. We simply want to find my mother and reunite with her. We’re still holding out hope. Once we discover her and reunite with her, we’re going to have this shift.”

It was difficult for the Cohen family not to have any updates about Brad Cohen.

“I don’t believe the distinction between rescue and recovery is significant. Soriya Cohen explained, “It’s semantics.” “They’ll find folks in whatever state they’re in,” says the narrator.

Other families told rescuers that once workers began looking for victims instead of survivors, they felt a sense of closure.

“I think there has been a change toward acceptance, but with that obviously comes sadness,” Castro said, adding that the families are physically and emotionally weary. “They’ve been on a lot of emotional roller coasters,” she said, “just trying to be positive and hold out the wait.”

The family briefings are heavily guarded, with multiple checkpoints to ensure their privacy.

Organizations set up stations throughout the area, offering anything from free international phone calls and counseling to clothing and lodging. Rabbi Yakov Saacks, a family friend who traveled in from New York to console the Cohens, stated that other snowbirds are offering their Surfside houses to displaced survivors. For the month of July, the owner of a 16-unit building offered rent-free housing to Surfside survivors.

Huge platters of catered food, including glatt kosher dinners, sit day and night, all donated by community members hoping to alleviate the suffering.

Meanwhile, Support Surfside has raised $2 million for victims and has offered another $2 million, while GoFundMe has raised $1.7 million for various families.

The neighboring Shul has been converted into a massive clothing and dry goods store where families may shop while they wait.

At times, the ballroom was excruciatingly quiet, according to Saacks.

“While families sat or stood together, for the most part, they were just silently and sadly waiting for news,” he said. “At that point, some families would welcome any news, while others would only want positive news.”

Miami building collapse: Cat found alive, returned to family

Miami building collapse: Cat found alive, returned to family 2

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Officials confirmed on Saturday that Binx the cat, who lived on the ninth level of the South Florida condo complex that collapsed last month, had been found safe and restored to his family (AEST).

On Thursday night, a black cat resembling Binx was spotted near the ruins of the Surfside building and taken to The Kitty Campus’s neighboring site in Miami Beach, according to Gina Nicole Vlasek, co-founder of The Kitty Campus.

On Friday, a former Champlain Towers South resident came to The Kitty Campus and confirmed that the kitten was hers, according to Vlasek.

Vlasek added, “We are so grateful to be able to contribute in whatever tiny manner.”

Binx was recognized by a volunteer who had been feeding cats near the fallen building, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference Friday evening.

“I’m delighted that this minor miracle may bring some joy to a mourning family today and give a bright spot for our entire community in the face of this awful tragedy,” Levine Cava said.

Animal control workers are continuing to deploy live traps in the area, according to the mayor, in the hopes of collecting pets who may have escaped the catastrophic collapse.

On June 24, the 12-story structure fell in the early morning hours.

After the discovery of more than a dozen bodies, the death toll jumped to 79 confirmed casualties.

On Friday evening, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava reported 61 individuals are still missing. 53 people have been recognized out of the 79 confirmed deceased.

The identities of eight more victims were revealed by Miami-Dade police on Friday afternoon. Sophia López Moreira, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady, was among them, as was Moreira’s husband, Luis Pettengill, and one of their three children, 3-year-old Luis Lopez Moreira III.

Crews continued to work around the clock despite a somber shift in mission from rescuing people to recovering remains.

“The pile, which was once four or five stories high, is now practically at ground level,” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, who praised the initiatives’ recent success.

On-site staff have also devised a protocol for collecting and returning personal objects found among the wreckage, according to Burkett.

The recovery mission, according to Levine Cava, is “moving forward with great urgency” to deliver families news and closure as soon as possible. According to Levine Cava, more than 6 million kilos of concrete and debris have been removed from the site as of Friday.

Tears, prayers mark end to search for Florida condo survivors


SURFSIDE, Fla. – The two-week search for survivors of a Florida condominium collapse ended with a sorrowful moment of silence, as rescue personnel stood at solemn attention and church members hugged a line of local authorities, many of whom were sobbing.

At midnight Wednesday, authorities said they had arrived to the heartbreaking conclusion that there was “no hope of life” beneath the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, and that the search for survivors had changed to a recovery mission.

“It took a small piece of the hearts of this community when the decision to transfer to recovery mode was made,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said during a news conference on Thursday.

The dead toll was at 60 as of Thursday morning, according to Miami Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. Officials reported 80 individuals were missing, but detectives were still trying to confirm that everyone listed as missing was in the building at the time it collapsed.

Rescuers had spent two weeks crawling through the rubble, looking for any sign of life, but had come up empty-handed, according to Levine Cava.

She stated, “They’ve utilized every imaginable tactic and technology available to them to find people in the rubble.” “Over 7 million pounds of concrete and debris had been removed from the mound.” Sonar, cameras, dogs, and heavy gear have all been deployed. They’ve looked for void places as well as potential victims. They dashed into a structure that was said to be on the verge of collapsing, braving fire, smoke, torrential rain, and powerful winds in the hopes of finding survivors.”

Those emergency workers joined local authorities, rabbis, and chaplains in a moment of silence only hours before the formal switch from rescue to recovery mission.

On a neighboring tennis court, an accordion player played Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” followed by a piccolo playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” There were additional firefighters from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the federal government, and other places.

Families and well-wishers had posted images of the victims, supporting notes, and flowers on a towering neighboring fence. A banner reading “Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Mourns With You” was hoisted atop the fence by firefighters.

Officials vowed to keep searching until all of the missing people’s bodies were discovered.

During a private meeting, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah informed families that rescue dogs and listening devices would no longer be used.

As family sobbed in the background, he continued, “Our main obligation at this time is to deliver closure.”

Later, during a press conference, Jadallah stated that crews are devoted to completing the task no matter what it takes.

“There are still resources available. The men and ladies have not vanished. The help is still available “After he finished speaking, Jadallah began crying quietly.

Chief Alan Cominsky of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue expects the recovery effort to take several more weeks.

Crews will use heavy equipment in a “top down approach” to methodically lift material off the debris pile, place it in containers, and evaluate it for evidence of human remains, according to Dennis Dirkmaat, an anthropology professor and chair of Mercyhurst University’s Department of Applied and Forensic Sciences. He predicted that the procedure would be repeated as the crews progressed to the next floor.

“Removing all of this trash is still a process, a slow, painstaking process. As a result, it’ll take some time,” he said.

Workers dismantled the remainder of the building, providing rescuers access to new regions of wreckage, rekindling hope of finding alive.

There were some of such voids, especially in the basement and parking garage, but no survivors emerged. Instead, rescuers discovered almost a dozen more victims. Many people were found dead in their sleep when the building collapsed early in the morning.

Since the initial hours after the 12-story building collapsed on June 24, no one has been rescued alive.

Because of the fragility of the remaining part of the condominium building and the preparation for demolition, rescuers had to postpone the mission twice throughout the search.

Families have gradually prepared themselves for the news that their relatives would not survive, after first hoping for miracle rescues.

“For some, it’s almost a sense of relief when they already know (that someone has died) and they can just start to put that chapter behind them and start to move on,” said Maggie Castro, a Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic who has kept families updated on a daily basis.

The collapse is being investigated by a grand jury, and at least six lawsuits have been filed by Champlain Towers families.

Sisters Killed in Surfside Condo Collapse Buried in Same Coffin.


The bodies of two little sisters, who were salvaged from the ruins of a South Florida condo complex and were so small that the 4 and 10-year-olds were placed in the same casket, were buried alongside their parents on Tuesday, their white coffin wrapped in innocent pink and purple ribbons.

“Lulu bear” Lucia Guara enjoyed watching “Jeopardy” with her father, as well as dancing and practising yoga with her mother. Emma, her baby sister, was the family’s princess, a natural artist who adored her father’s piggyback rides and cuddling with her mother, according to family member Digna Rodriguez.

The Guara sisters, their parents, Marcus and Anaely Guara, and 42 others were killed when the Champlain Towers South building partially collapsed, killing them all. The hour-long funeral was held in the family’s Catholic parish, St. Joseph, just three blocks away. More than a hundred people are still missing. Rescuers in Surfside resumed digging amid mounds of pulverized concrete and twisted steel for the 13th day on Tuesday, despite severe rains and winds from a tropical storm.

The parking lot of the church where Emma was baptized in 2016 and Lucia received her first communion in 2019 overlooks the now-demolished condominium building.

The Rev. Juan J. Sosa requested that prayers be continued.

“About 15 of our other parishioners are still missing,” he continued. The pastor reminded the congregation that death does not define them, and that God’s strength is always present, especially during difficult times.

Throughout the service, family members wiped away tears and embraced each other in heartfelt embraces, especially during the singing of “Amazing Grace” as the caskets were brought out of the church at the conclusion.

“May we all be able to connect with our families as Lucia did. May we all move as gracefully as Emma. “May we all be as dedicated and faithful as Marcus and Anaely,” Rodriguez said.

Peter Milián, Marcus Guara’s cousin, encouraged others to follow the family’s lead by totally embracing the present moment and loving everyone around them.

“This dad was so cool he melted all over his daughters. Milián described how he enthusiastically participated in Lucia’s made-up news shows and Emma’s obstacle courses, saying, “He adored being a parent.”

Marcus, 52, a talented athlete and successful salesperson, relished the simple pleasures of life, such as going on the beach with his family. Anaely was a thinker and problem solver, as well as a protective mother who encouraged Emma’s creativity and served as a role model for Lucia, according to Rodriguez.

Lucia was a big-hearted child who quickly connected with others and had a passionate love for her extended family. She urged her father to send all of her birthday and tooth fairy money to St. Jude Children’s Hospital a few months ago, saying, “They need it more than I do,” according to her father’s Facebook post.

Milián considered it a blessing that the family died together.

He remarked, “I firmly believe God protected them by not allowing them to suffer without Lucia and Emma.”

10 more victims found in Florida condo collapse.


SURFSIDE, Fla. – On Wednesday, the search for victims of a Miami-area high-rise condominium collapse entered its 14th day, as workers unearthed 10 more bodies from the rubble and officials grew increasingly pessimistic about the chances of finding anyone alive.

In a private briefing Wednesday morning, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah informed family members of the discovery of the additional bodies and human remains. The death toll has now risen to 46.

The latest recovery reflects what rescue officials have predicted will be a faster pace of activity throughout the debris field after the condo building’s last half was dismantled Sunday night.

Crews “removed a major portion of the pile,” according to Jadallah. “They were able to investigate a number of different areas.”

Jadallah also shared the depressing news that no fresh “voids” had been identified in the places that were made accessible for the first time following the demolition. Rescuers had hoped to uncover additional pockets where survivors might be hiding.

Nonetheless, Jadallah informed relatives that the effort is still in search and rescue mode and has not yet switched to recovery mode.

He stated, “We’re not there yet.”

Since the early hours after the building fell on June 24, when many of its tenants were sleeping, no one has been recovered from the site.

On Tuesday, workers dug through pulverized concrete at the site of the former Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, filling buckets that were then transferred down a line to be emptied and returned.

The footage, released Tuesday by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department, provided an up-close view at the search as eight more deaths were reported — the highest for a single day since the search began — until Wednesday. The attempt was further hampered by rain and wind from Tropical Storm Elsa.

“Unfortunately, we are not seeing anything positive,” county fire chief Alan Cominsky said Tuesday night, alluding to rescuers’ failure to uncover any open spots among the rubble mounds where additional survivors might be found.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade said Tuesday that the relatives of the missing were expecting “tragic loss” news. President Joe Biden, who was in the area last week, called on Tuesday to express his continued support, according to her.

“I believe that when it comes time to move on to the next step, everyone will be ready,” she stated.

Reporters had their first look at the scene on Tuesday, albeit it was limited to the section of the structure that workmen demolished Sunday after the initial collapse left it standing but extremely unstable. A 30-foot (9-meter) high pile of shattered concrete and twisted steel spanned almost half the length of a football field. Backhoes removed rubble from the mound, blocking any view of the search activity.

Elsa’s severe weather hampered search efforts to some extent. Early Tuesday, rescuers were forced to take a two-hour break due to lightning, according to Jadallah. Winds of 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) with greater gusts impeded efforts to transport heavy debris with cranes, according to officials.

According to Cominsky, crews have cleared 124 tons (112 metric tons) of debris from the site. According to officials, the debris was being sorted and stored in a warehouse as possible evidence in the investigation into why the building collapsed.

Elsa’s heavy rain can’t stop Florida condo collapse search


SURFSIDE, Fla. – A stepped-up rescue attempt at the collapsed condo complex faced additional weather threats as Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall in Florida, avoiding South Florida for the most part.

Elsa increased on Tuesday, possibly becoming a hurricane again before making landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend and across northern Florida, with bands of heavy rain forecast in Surfside. Officials stated that while search personnel can operate in the rain, lightning from unrelated thunderstorms has forced them to pause at times, and a garage area in the rubble has filled with water.

Rescue teams were frustrated by the delays, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

“They truly live to save lives, and they’ve pushed through no matter what obstacles have been thrown in their way,” she remarked during a press conference later that evening.

Nonetheless, the unstable remaining piece of the Champlain Towers South structure fell down Sunday, giving rescuers a huge boost. Officials stated that the demolition, which was spurred by concerns that the structure would collapse, provided rescuers access to previously inaccessible areas, including bedrooms where individuals were believed to be sleeping at the time of the catastrophe.

Four more victims have been identified, bringing the total number of individuals killed to 28. Another 117 persons were still missing.

“Now that the damaged building is down, the site is busier and more busy than it has been since we started,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said, adding that heavy equipment can now move freely about the site.

As they searched for anyone remaining trapped beneath the fallen wing of the building, rescuers hoped to gain a clearer picture of gaps that may exist in the rubble, but they found very few voids, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah informed family members late Monday.

Although no one has been rescued alive since the fall, rescuers were still hopeful that loved ones could be reunited.

“We continue to focus on our core purpose, which is to leave no stone unturned in our search for as many people as we can in order to help deliver either answers or closure to family and loved ones,” stated City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll.