SURFSIDE, FLA. (WSVN) - As emergency crews work tirelessly to search for survivors of the partial condominium building collapse in Surfside, rescuers said they face a number of challenges when they go under the mounds of debris.
According to the state fire marshal, there are about 370 Urban Search & Rescue team members and five state task forces at the site of Champlain Towers’ South building on Collins Avenue.
“Our biggest concern is causing more harm than good, causing the pile to collapse even more,” said Steve Lawrence with Florida Task Force 3.
As day five of search-and-rescue efforts got underway, the state fire marshal said this is the largest non-hurricane deployment ever in Florida’s history. He said crews have the same amount of resources that they had during Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, back in 2018.
“This afternoon, we’ll be switching positions as a result that most of the individuals have come up upon larger concrete areas that now require heavy machinery,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Raide Jadallah.
“It’s not our community, but it’s our state, and our response team does respond statewide, and we’re here for our neighbors,” said Lawrence.
Over the weekend, crews faced several challenges. Inclement weather forced operations to pause from time to time.
Crews also had to battle a fire underneath all the rubble. They said the source of it came from deep beneath the debris.
Rescuers have built a trench in the debris that’s 125 feet long, 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep. It has several purposes, such as trying to find the source of the fire that ignited on Friday and hampered search efforts.
The trench also enables crews to look for new areas where people may be trapped.
“The primary goal with the trench is to assist us in suppression fire, suppress the smolder fire activities and smoke as well to prevent any spread,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky. “By creating that trench, its also given us opportunities to look for different areas in regards to access points to search from.”
Crews are using al kinds of tools, equipment and heavy machinery to get the job done.
Another big challenge crews are facing is the instability of the portion of the building that is still standing.
7News was told at one point the building shifted on Saturday and crews had to evacuate.
Officials stressed they still consider this a rescue mission, and it will continue to be until further notice.
“In regards to the sounds, so that there’s no misunderstanding, it’s not sounds of people talking or yelling out,” said Jadallah. “As I’ve mentioned to the families, it could be a tap, it could be a scratch. It may be nothing more than some of the metal that’s contorting, but at the end, all variables, all facts have to be made before we make a decision to move to the next phase.”
“There’s always hope to find a survivor in this scenario,” said Lawrence. “Like anything else, you look at some of the survivals that have gone on in other countries, that they’ve been in there, trapped victims, for seven to 10 days, so, yeah, our hopes are up. That’s one of the reasons all of us are down here.”
This isn’t only a statewide effort. A team from Mexico and a task force comprised of Israeli reserve officers have joined in the search-and-rescue efforts.
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