SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — 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.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide 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.
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 46, with 94 people unaccounted for.
No one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the 12-story building fell.
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.
Sign up for the WTAJ Newsletter for the latest local news, weather and community events that matter to you.