Search & rescue operations continue in Surfside; 5 dead, 156 missing

Author: CBS Miami
Published: Updated:
In this aerial image search and rescue workers work the site of an oceanfront condo building that partially collapsed, in Surfside, Fla., Friday, June 25, 2021. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says rescue officials are continuing to search Friday and there’s still hope of finding survivors in the rubble more than 24 hours after the building collapsed. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Search and rescue teams continued scouring through the rubble on Saturday, looking for signs of life in the aftermath of Thursday’s condo collapse in Surfside.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Saturday evening that 156 people are still missing and five deaths have been confirmed.

Cava said earlier Saturday there was a fire in the debris, which is hampering efforts but fire and rescue teams continue to work non-stop.

Here is what she had to say, in part:

“Here we are two and a half days into this incredible tragedy and the world is watching and we thank everyone for their prayers, for their support. We feel it.”

“Our top priority now continues to be search and rescue. We continue to have hope. We’re continuing to search. We’re looking for people alive in the rubble. That is our priority.”

“Our teams have not stopped hour after hour through the night. They have been working at the same time. We know everyone wants to know what is the cause, what has happened here. And of course, we are going to conduct a full and thorough investigation with all of our local, state and federal resources coming on the scene.”

“At the county level, I am directing that our Department of Regulatory and Resource and Economic Resources will immediately commence an audit of all of the buildings at the 40-year point and beyond.”

“So we’re going to conduct this audit within the next 30 days and we are beginning right now.”

“To the community and the world, please be patient. Please stand with us. Please continue your prayers. We are not going to stop. We need your support.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis was also at the press conference. He urged everyone to pray for those affected by this tragedy.

Here is what he had to say:

“We just came back from the briefing of the families done by the fire department, as you know, they’ve been fighting these fires all night. And we were out back looking at the- at the wreckage. And if you were there the morning after, you didn’t see it smoldering like it is now. I mean, the stench is very, very thick. And it obviously has created, you know, quite, quite an obstacle. And they’re going to go into what they’re doing to do that.”

“From the state’s perspective, we fulfilled all requests. FEMA is on site. We’re working well. There’s resources available. We have the capacity to do more if that’s needed. But I think at this juncture, I mean, it really is dealing with those fires. It’s a very challenging circumstance. And they’re doing the best that they can. And, you know, just just pray for the folks who were- who were impacted either directly or the family.”

“It’s a really, really difficult time right now. You know, you wake up in the morning hoping that more and more people were pulled out and you know, you know that just news hasn’t been what we had hoped.”

On Friday, the first victim of the collapse was identified as 54-year-old Stacie Dawn Fang, the mother of 16-year-old Jonah Handler, a sophomore at Monsignor Edward Pace High School, who was pulled alive from the rubble Thursday, according to CNN.

Rescue crews are doing DNA tests with family members to identify victims.

“We will continue search and rescue because we still have hope that we will find people alive. That is exactly why we are continuing. That is why we are using our dogs and our sonar and our cameras, everything possible to seek places where there still may be people to be found,” Cava said.

The collapse happened Thursday, around 1:30 a.m., at the Champlain Towers South, located at 8777 Collins Avenue.

The 12-story condo building has 136 units, and officials said 55 units on the northeast side were involved in the collapse.

Families are desperate to find their loved ones.

“My mother is inside. She is in 603. I am hopeful. I see them working on the 03 line right now. I am just praying that they find her,” said Rachel Spiegel who came to the scene late Thursday with her family.

She said she wants her mother to know they are waiting for her to come home.

“She is always putting her family first, and her friends first. She is a very loyal person and we just want to bring her home,” said Spiegel.

The wait is just agonizing moments for family and friends desperately searching for loved ones. Nicolas Fernandez had visiting friends staying in the section of the building that collapsed.

“They were in one of our units, the unit is no longer there, it’s gone. It’s a piece of Earth,” he said. “I think they’re gone. I don’t want to be pessimistic, we’ve been calling them non-stop. No reply.”

A family reunification center has been set up for anyone looking for unaccounted or missing relatives at the Grand Beach Hotel, at 9449 Collins Avenue. People can also call (305) 614-1819.

Anyone who lives in the building is encouraged to complete a Wellness Check Form as part of efforts to ensure all tenants of the building are located.

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