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.