Surfside Families Grow Desperate as Search Continues: "It's Not Enough!"

Jose Padilla and Angel David watch as cranes go through the rubble of the collapsed building in Surfside.
Jose Padilla and Angel David watch as cranes go through the rubble of the collapsed building in Surfside. Photo by Andrea Sarcos/AFP via Getty
As she addressed the anguished family members of the victims of Surfside's catastrophic condo collapse, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava grew flustered as tensions rose inside the room Saturday morning.

"We're going to answer questions," said Cava, who was flanked by numerous other public officials, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. "We also need to stop a second. We need to stop, because this is obviously so painful for everyone. We know that, and we just need to be calm for a moment and listen to God. So please take a moment everyone, let's listen to God, and then we will continue with questions."

"We have no moments here!" one family member cried out.

"No moments!" another said.

"There are no moments for people down under the debris!"

As time runs out for the victims of Champlain Towers South, so does hope for their loved ones. There are 156 people unaccounted for, with five confirmed dead. And as another day passes with no meaningful progress, frustration swells, even as the families continue to express gratitude to the rescue teams.

"I want an answer — not a Band-Aid, not a Tylenol, not something to assuage my pain," said a middle-aged woman in the crowd. "My daughter is 26 years old and in perfect health. She could make it out of there....

"I'm a mother. I don't know the best way to go about this, but it's impossible that in four days, nobody has emerged dead or alive. Please don't tell me about the two people [taken from the rubble shortly after the collapse]. I know about it. It's not enough! Imagine if your children were in there! You're going to leave here and you're going to take a nice picture, and I know you're doing everything you can, but it's not enough!"

While there were no answers during the 10 a.m. briefing, there were explanations for the tortuous standstill. Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jadallah tried to describe for the room full of tearful and grieving family members what he called "the most complicated situation we've ever encountered."

It's not the debris that is the most pressing concern, he told the families, but the fire underneath it that has stopped search-and-rescue efforts in their tracks. Firefighters have had to extinguish several fires at the site since the rescue efforts began early Thursday.

"This fire is deep-seated, meaning that it's in the parking garage. We have no access to it," Jadallah said. "As we continued to make cuts and remove debris, the smoke started coming out of various areas of the pile. It started coming out of four areas of the pile. So last night, rescuers that were on top of the pile and underneath the parking garage area had to be removed."

He said that every minute overnight from Friday into Saturday, there were 300 gallons of water poured onto the debris, along with several hundred gallons of firefighting foam. The rescue teams also embarked on a massive mission to dig their way to the fire, beginning at 1 a.m. Saturday.

"We started cutting a trench, it's a line from the north, down approximately 75 feet, to cut off the fire," Jadallah said. "About 75 feet in and 20 feet deep, as they continue to remove the debris and the concrete. We found no victims — again, no victims."

That effort was continuing with deeper cuts, lengthening the trench to get to the fire that is overwhelming rescuers and all but stopping the search effort. A family member asked if the rescue teams had considered the use of large fans to blow the smoke away so the first responders could work.

"Have we considered large fans to push the smoke? And we have," answered Jadallah. "However, with every action, there is a reaction. We start pushing the smoke, oxygen starts feeding the fire. It increases the size of the fire, so we have to pick one of the two options."

Later in the day, a rescue team was able to get the fire contained. But beyond the catastrophic effect of the fire on the rescue efforts, there's an even more significant problem: the lack of space at the site for the heavy machinery required to optimally excavate the 12 now-pancaked floors of the collapsed building.

"Remember the biggest problem that we've encountered, that this area is very tight. We can't put any more heavy machinery [there]," Jadallah said.

On the east side is, of course, a beach of soft sand that won't support heavy machinery. On the north and south sides are two buildings closely bordering the property along development-packed Collins Avenue. And on the west side is the remaining building of the stricken Champlain Towers.

"We can't put any more machinery, and we can't put any other personnel as a result of the area we're covering," said Jadallah. "So we're rotating personnel as we've done since day one, 24 hours a day, all day."
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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman