Surfside officially switches from rescue to recovery operation


Rescue workers who have labored for 14 days to find survivors in the rubble of a collapsed Florida condo building have shifted their efforts from rescue to recovery. 

‘At this point we’ve truly exhausted every option available to us in the search and rescue mission,’ Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters Wednesday evening.  

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told families earlier on Wednesday that after searching all areas of debris, they have concluded that it will now be next to impossible to find people alive.

The decision to transition to a recovery effort starting Wednesday night came after rescuers finished searching new areas of rubble that became accessible after workers demolished the still-standing portion of Champlain Towers South. 

Rescuers had hoped to find pockets where people could have survived in the new areas. 

Instead they found more than a dozen victims, many of them dead in their beds. The death toll as of Wednesday rose to 54, with 86 still missing. Of those, 33 victims have been identified, and 200 people have been accounted for. 

Rescue crews worked amid the debris Wednesday. Work there was announced to switch from rescue to recovery that evening as hopes of finding anyone alive dimmed 

Crews recovered 10 bodies from the rubble of the collapsed condo in Surfside Wednesday, the highest single-day total, bringing the death toll to 46

Crews recovered 10 bodies from the rubble of the collapsed condo in Surfside Wednesday, the highest single-day total, bringing the death toll to 46

Officials had maintained earlier in the day that the search remained a rescue operation. 'We're exhausting every effort,' Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky (pictured) said

Officials had maintained earlier in the day that the search remained a rescue operation. ‘We’re exhausting every effort,’ Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky (pictured) said

The announcement came after crews pulled 10 more bodies from the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building Wednesday, and the emotional toll mounted as officials fought back tears and lamented the ordeal of exhausted families still awaiting word on missing loved ones.

The 14th day of the search yielded the highest number of bodies found in a single day.

Workers sifted through the rubble of the areas opened up Sunday when the still-standing portion of the Champlain Towers South building was demolished

Workers sifted through the rubble of the areas opened up Sunday when the still-standing portion of the Champlain Towers South building was demolished

Crew members departed from the scene Wednesday on the 14th day of operations at the site

Crew members departed from the scene Wednesday on the 14th day of operations at the site 

During a news conference, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava repeatedly tried not to weep, paused and shook her head as she described the effect of the tragedy on rescue workers and the families of the victims.

‘Our commitment to this mission is deeply personal. This is our community, our neighbors, our families. And our first responders have truly searched that pile every single day since the collapse as if they’re searching for their own loved ones,’ she said.

The latest retrievals reflect what rescue officials have said would be a ramped-up pace of work after the remaining portion of the condo building was demolished Sunday night. 

So far 94 people remain unaccounted for, as rescue crews continued their efforts Wednesday

So far 94 people remain unaccounted for, as rescue crews continued their efforts Wednesday

Rescue efforts were complicated Tuesday as winds and rain from Tropical Storm Elsa battered the area

Rescue efforts were complicated Tuesday as winds and rain from Tropical Storm Elsa battered the area

Crews had hoped to find voids in the rubble where victims might have been able to survive

Crews had hoped to find voids in the rubble where victims might have been able to survive

Operations were slowed Tuesday by the storm, but picked up the pace Wednesday

Operations were slowed Tuesday by the storm, but picked up the pace Wednesday 

Crews ‘did some significant removal of the pile,’ Jadallah said. ‘They were able to get down to various areas to inspect.’

Rescuers had not discovered any new ‘voids,’ or pockets in the rubble that might have harbored survivors as they had hoped, Jadallah said.

No one has been rescued from the site since the first hours after the building collapsed on June 24 when many of its residents were asleep.

Levine Cava said detectives were working continuously to determine whether all of the 94 people still unaccounted for were actually in the building when it came down.

Efforts continued through the night Tuesday into Wednesday as crews continued to search the piles of rubble

Efforts continued through the night Tuesday into Wednesday as crews continued to search the piles of rubble 

Officials, however, have lost hope that anyone would be found alive as of Wednesday

Officials, however, have lost hope that anyone would be found alive as of Wednesday

Jadallah told families earlier in the day that the work continued to be a search-and-rescue operation and had not yet transitioned to a recovery mission.

‘We’re not there yet,’ he had said.

Later, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky sighed when asked during the news conference if officials were giving families a false sense of hope.

‘Obviously, it’s very difficult,’ he said. ‘We’ve been exhausting every effort, and that’s where we are right now, is exhausting every effort, and we’ll go from there.’

Levine Cava then stepped up to the microphones: ‘I just want to say that these families — they’ve been briefed twice a day. Every question has been answered. They’ve been supported to come to closure as soon as possible.’

Gini Gonte visits the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial on Wednesday as she honors her friends Nancy Kress Levin and Jay Kleiman, who were identified among the dead the previous day

Gini Gonte visits the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial on Wednesday as she honors her friends Nancy Kress Levin and Jay Kleiman, who were identified among the dead the previous day

Lucia Gutierrez visits the memorial Wednesday that has pictures of some of the missing from the collapse

Lucia Gutierrez visits the memorial Wednesday that has pictures of some of the missing from the collapse

Maggie Castro, a Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic, said the families are physically and emotionally exhausted.

‘It’s a lot, a lot of emotional roller coasters that they’ve been on, just trying to stay positive and hold out the wait,’ said Castro, who has given daily updates to the families.

‘There has been a sort of shift, I think, towards acceptance, but also obviously with that comes some sadness,’ she told The Associated Press in an interview.

Workers on Tuesday dug through pulverized concrete where the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside once stood, filling buckets that were passed down a line to be emptied and then returned.

Workers demolished what remained of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside on Sunday evening in a bid to open up further areas for rescue, but after searching those areas, officials have concluded that nobody further would be found alive

Workers demolished what remained of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside on Sunday evening in a bid to open up further areas for rescue, but after searching those areas, officials have concluded that nobody further would be found alive

The up-close look at the search, in a video released Tuesday by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department, came as rain and wind from Tropical Storm Elsa disrupted the effort.

Reporters got their closest in-person look at the site Tuesday, though it was limited to the portion of the building that workers tore down Sunday after the initial collapse left it standing but dangerously unstable. 

A pile of shattered concrete and twisted steel stood about 30 feet high and spanned roughly half the length of a football field. 

A pair of backhoes pulled rubble off the pile, which blocked any view of the search effort. 



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