SURFSIDE, FLA. (WSVN) - After spending 29 grueling days searching for victims at the Surfside condo collapse site, first responders of Florida Task Force One and Two said their goodbyes and headed back to their stations.
Meanwhile, an engineer hired by town officials to probe the collapse wrote a letter warning the lower underground walls at the site could cave in.
Before leaving the area on Friday, the first responders also took a moment to pay their respects to the lives lost at the site.
The first responders worked around the clock since the collapse on June 24.
Task Force One is comprised of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue members, while Task Force Two is comprised of City of Miami, Coral Springs, Parkland, Hialeah, West Palm Beach Fire Rescue members and others.
The crew members could be seen paying their respects to the victims at the memorial wall along Collins Avenue and 85th Street.
It was an emotional moment as the emergency personnel saw the faces of those who they worked so hard to find and save.
7News cameras captured first responders wiping away tears as they passed the memorial wall.
“Providing closure to families was the ultimate test of everybody here and I think we did our best to do that and to make sure that everybody knew that we were in it one thousand percent to make sure that they had the closure they needed for this disaster,” said Miami Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Scott Dean.
Eight state, five federal and two international rescue teams worked at the site to recover the victims.
The crew members’ work has come to an end at the site a month later.
“This whole tragedy has been an emotional roller coaster for everybody involved, not just the Urban Search and Rescue teams but the local fire departments, the police departments [and] all the volunteers that came out to assist,” said Dean. “It’s tragic and it hurts.”
As of Friday evening, there were 97 people confirmed dead and one still unaccounted for.
A fire boat water cannon salute greeted members of Task Force Two as they drove across the causeway to Miami, where family members were waiting at Miami Fire Rescue headquarters.
Task Force One ended their journey at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue headquarters in Doral.
While these men and women are moving, they’ll always carry with them the weight of what may have been their toughest mission yet.
“We left everything on the pile — mentally, physically, emotionally,” said MDFR Firefighter David Varona. “I never thought in a million years I’d be digging in my backyard for victims in a building collapse, but it’s been an honor to serve the community of Surfside.”
On the investigation front, with the debris pile cleared, many are asking when Collins Avenue will reopen.
In his letter to Surfside, engineer Allyn Kilsheimer wrote, “We believe there is a potentially dangerous situation at the site, where the wall is in danger of collapse.”
The engineer went on to write, “If the wall fails in the above situation, it would probably behave in a blow-out mode for a substantial extent of the length, which would put people inside the open hole, as well as those walking or driving by the site when the roadways reopen (which we understand is imminent), at substantial risk.”
Miami-Dade County officials said they have hired a company to reinforce the underground walls before Collins Avenue reopens to traffic. As of late Friday night, no date has been set on when that might happen.
As for the task force crews who reunited with loved ones, they said they are looking forward to some rest and some much overdue time with their families.
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