Crews spend day 5 on top of a collapsed concrete pile
SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – Rescuers looking for a fifth day for survivors of a Florida condominium collapse used bucket brigades and heavy machinery on Monday as they worked at the top of a precarious mound of pulverized concrete, twisted steel and the remains of dozens of households.
Authorities said the efforts are still a search and rescue operation, but no one has been found alive for hours after Thursday’s collapse. Ten people were killed and more than 150 others are still missing in the community of Surfside, just outside of Miami.
The crepe collapse of the 12-story building left layer upon layer of intertwined debris, frustrating efforts to reach anyone who could have survived in a pocket of space.
“Every time there is action, there is a reaction,” Miami-Dade Deputy Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said at a press conference. “That’s no problem, we could just tie a few ropes to a concrete rock and lift it up and call it a day.” Some concrete pieces are smaller, about the size of a basketball or a baseball.
Emphasizing the dangerous nature of the work, he noted that families who took buses to visit the site on Sunday saw a rescuer tumble 25 feet from the pile. Both workers and victims must be taken into account, he said.
“It’s going to take time,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight. It is a 12 storey building.
Relatives continued their visits on Monday. From outside a nearby building, more than two dozen family members watched teams of researchers search the site. Some clung to each other for support. Others hugged and prayed. Some people took pictures.
The intense effort includes firefighters, sniffer dogs and research experts using radar and sonar.
Early Monday, a crane lifted a large concrete slab from the debris pile, allowing around 30 rescuers wearing hard hats to move around and carry smaller debris in red buckets, which are emptied into a larger bin for a crane to be removed. The work was complicated by intermittent showers, but the fires that hampered the initial research were extinguished.
Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal, said it was the largest non-hurricane deployment of such resources in Florida history. He said the same number of people were on the ground in Surfside as during Hurricane Michael, a devastating Category 5 hurricane that hit 12 counties in 2018.
“They work around the clock,” Patronis said. “They work 12 hours at a time, from midnight to noon to midnight.”
Andy Alvarez, deputy incident commander with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that rescuers may have found voids or spaces inside the wreckage, mostly in the basement and parking.
“We have over 80 rescuers at a time breaking through the collapsed walls, in a frantic effort to try to save those that are still viable and to reach the voids we typically experience in these buildings,” Alvarez said.
“We were able to tunnel through the building,” Alvarez added. “It’s a frantic search to seek that hope, that miracle, to see who we can get out of this building alive.”
Others who saw the wreckage up close were disheartened by the task ahead. Alfredo Lopez, who lived with his wife in a corner apartment on the sixth floor and narrowly escaped, said he found it hard to believe anyone was alive in the rubble.
“If you saw what I saw: nothingness. And then you go over there and see, like, all the rubble. How can anyone survive this? Lopez told The Associated Press.
While most of the rescue teams were from the area, others came from elsewhere, including a small group of rescue workers from the Mexican group Cadena International.
The group used a suitcase-sized device that uses microwave radar to “see” through concrete slabs and pick up heartbeats and other sounds up to 40 feet in and under. rubble. But on Monday, the group had detected no heartbeat or sound, Ricardo Aizenman said.
“We are still working to the end and we hope for a miracle,” he said, adding that the best rescue window is in the first 72 hours.
After this period, hydration becomes the biggest challenge, he said. He added that the intermittent rain that has been occurring since the collapse could actually help as a water source.
“People can live up to 15, 16 days on just water, water drops,” he said. “There are still chances. We must keep high hopes. “
Authorities insisted on Monday that they were not giving up hope.
“We will continue and work tirelessly to exhaust all possible options in our search,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on Monday.
Deciding to switch from search and rescue to a recovery operation is agonizing, said Dr. Joseph A. Barbera, professor at George Washington University. This decision is fraught with considerations, he said, that only those on the ground can make.
Barbera co-authored a study examining disasters where some people survived under rubble for long periods of time. He also advised teams where to look for potential survivors and when to conclude “the likelihood of continued survival is very, very low.”
“It’s an incredibly difficult decision, and I never had to make that decision,” Barbera said.
Over time, he said, teams will begin a process called “rapid delamination, where you take more risk moving larger amounts of rubble, as you recognize that you are running up against the time factor of survival. “.
How long a person survives depends on a host of issues, including availability of water, severity of injuries and degree of entrapment, Barbera said.
“The human dimension is huge – the uncertainty that you might leave someone alive by ending too soon,” Barbera said. “The families continue to have hope, as do the rescuers, which is why you continue to see them pushing so hard in these difficult conditions.”
The final decision to move on to the recovery phase, he said, will have to be taken “with the participation of the political authority, as it is the ultimate authority on this matter.”
The building collapsed just days before a deadline for condo owners to start making large payments for more than $ 9 million worth of repairs that had been recommended almost three years earlier, in a report putting warning against “major structural damage”.
A federal team of scientists and engineers who examine structural failures are conducting a preliminary site investigation and will determine whether to launch a full investigation into what caused the building to fall. The National Institute of Standards and Technology also investigated disasters such as the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and a fire at a Rhode Island nightclub that killed 100 persons. Previous investigations have gone on for years.
Associated Press editors Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida; Julie Walker in New York and others in the United States contributed to this report.