A harsh silence marked the end of a two-week search for survivors of the Florida apartment collapse when rescuers stood solemnly and clergy embraced a row of local officials, many of whom were sobbing.
At midnight on Wednesday, the authorities said they had reached the painful conclusion that after “there is no chance of life” in the rubble of the Surfside Champlain Tanan apartment complex, they began recovery work.
“We have all asked God for a miracle, so the decision to transition from rescue to recovery is an extremely difficult one,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
The death toll on Wednesday night was 54. The authorities stated that 86 people were missing, but detectives were still trying to verify that everyone listed as missing was indeed in the building when the building collapsed. Rescuers spent two weeks digging through the rubble, looking for any signs of life to no avail, Levin Kava said.
Kava continued, “They’ve used every possible strategy, and every possible technology available to them to find people in the rubble. They’ve removed over 7 million pounds of concrete and debris from the mound. They’ve used sonar, cameras, dogs, heavy machinery. They’ve searched for void spaces and they’ve searched for victims. They ran into a building they were told could collapse, and they braved fire, smoke, torrential rain, and strong winds in the hopes of finding people alive.”
A few hours before the official transition from the rescue mission to the recovery mission, these emergency rescuers stood in silence with local officials, rabbis, and priests. An invisible accordionist played Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” on a nearby tennis court, and then Piccolo played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Firefighters from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the federal government, and other places were also present. On the nearby high fence, family members and supporters posted photos of the victims, supporting messages, and flowers.
Firefighters hung a banner high on the fence that read: “Miami-Dade Fire Department mourns with you.” Officials promised to continue their efforts to recover until the remains of each missing person were found. A private briefing about the staff will stop using rescue dogs and monitoring equipment.
“Our sole responsibility at this point is to bring closure,” he said, as relatives cried in the background.
Later, at a press conference, Jadala said that the staff is still committed to making every effort to complete the work.
“The resources are still there. The men and women are still there. The support is still there,” said Jadallah, crying silently after he spoke.
Miami-Dade Fire Department Chief Allen Kominsky said he expects it will take several weeks to resume work. Dennis Dirkmaat, Dean of the Department of Applied Science and Forensic Medicine at Mercyhurst University and Professor of Anthropology, said he hoped that the staff would use heavy equipment in a “top-down approach” and orderly get rid of the rubble. Take out the materials, box them and evaluate them for evidence of human remains. He said that this process may be repeated as staff move to subsequent floors.
“It’s still a process, slow, tedious process of removing all of this debris. And so it’s going to take a while,” he said.
After the workers demolished the rest of the building, the hope of finding survivors was briefly rekindled, allowing rescuers to enter the new rubble area. Some of these voids existed, mainly in basements and parking lots, but no survivors appeared. Instead, these teams found more than a dozen victims. As the building collapsed in the early hours of the morning, many people were found dead in bed. No one has been captured alive since the first hour after the 12-story building collapsed on June 24.
During the search and rescue operation, as the remaining part of the apartment building was unstable and was about to be demolished, rescuers had to suspend their mission twice. After initially waiting for the miraculous ransom, these families have slowly prepared for the news that their relatives did not survive.
The authorities are investigating the collapse by a grand jury, and the Champlain family filed at least six lawsuits.