SURFSIDE, Fla. — Authorities said the painstaking, 14-day search-and-rescue mission at a collapsed Surfside condominium building has shifted to a recovery operation as hope dwindles of finding survivors.
The heartbreaking news comes after officials said a total of 18 additional victims were found in the rubble on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 54.
"It is with deep, profound sadness that this afternoon I am able to share that we made the extremely difficult decision to transition from operation search-and-rescue to recovery," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. "At this point, we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search-and-rescue mission."
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The mayor said 86 people are still potentially missing and 200 are accounted for.
Levine Cava said the transition will officially take place at 12 a.m. Thursday and is being done to bring closure to the families of the missing.
"Nothing we can do can bring back those we've lost, but we can and we will do everything in our power to identify the victims and to offer closure to the families in this time of unimaginable grief," Levine Cava said.
In delivering the somber news, the mayor praised the hundreds of first responders from around the world who've dedicated their time to the grueling search-and-rescue effort.
Over the past two weeks, emergency crews have removed more than 7 million pounds of concrete and debris from the Champlain Towers South condominium building site, worked tirelessly in 12-hour shifts, and braved severe weather to find any signs of life.
"The possibility of someone still alive is near zero," said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett. "In the end, God is still in charge. And while there seems to be no chance of finding life in the rubble, a miracle is still possible."
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said the decision to shift to a recovery operation was based on the severity of the collapse, the viability of life surviving underneath the rubble, as well as engineering, medical, and other factors.
"Crews worked under arduous conditions. Through rain, smoke, fire, and even imminent danger of a secondary collapse," Cominsky said. "These courageous individuals saw the possibility to save lives at the risk of losing their own."
Officials said this type of "pancake" collapse has the lowest probability of survival and very few voids to sustain life.
"Typically, an individual has a specific amount of time in regards to lack of food, water, and air. This collapse just doesn't provide any of that," said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah. "There was no voids. It was unprecedented in regards to the lack of voids for surviveability."
Fire-Rescue officials said it will likely take several weeks for first responders to reach all of the victims still underneath the rubble.
"We're gonna continue doing everything we can to find everyone's loved one," Cominsky said.
On Wednesday evening, rescue teams held a moment of silence to honor the victims.
In tribute to lives lost, our rescue teams held a moment of silence & prayer near the Surfside building collapse. With heavy hearts, we begin search & recovery efforts, and will continue to give our all as our commitment still remains to reunite families with their loved ones. pic.twitter.com/FJ7GKWXhXn— Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (@MiamiDadeFire) July 8, 2021
Earlier in the day, the gravity and emotion of this painful tragedy particularly impacted Levine Cava as she delivered the latest information at a Wednesday morning news conference.
"Our hearts break for those who are mourning, and those who are waiting and waiting," Levine Cava said. "Our commitment to this mission is deeply personal. This is our community, our neighbors, our families."
The mayor, who's been a strong and steadfast leader since the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building, fought back tears and repeatedly paused to compose herself during Wednesday's address.
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"As the magnitude of this catastrophe continues to grow each and every day since the collapse, our community and the world are grieving with all of the families who are living with this unthinkable tragedy," Levine Cava said.
Search-and-rescue officials said there is no indication that any of the 54 victims survived the initial collapse.
"These families, they've been briefed twice a day. Every question has been answered. They are being supported to come to closure as soon as possible," Levine Cava added.
As the search-and-rescue shifts to a recovery operation, families are dealing with the difficult task of laying their loved ones to rest.
Among the first were grandparents Tzvi, 68, and Ingrid Ainsworth, 66, whose service was held this week in New York City.
The Ainsworths moved to Surfside several years ago from Australia. They had seven children together and had just celebrated the birth of a new grandchild the day before the collapse. The couple's rabbi described Tzvi as a devoted husband who never missed a service. The couple was also known for helping anyone in need.
A funeral was held for Hilda Noriega, 92, the mother of the North Bay Village police chief and an active member in her church. She lived on the sixth floor of the Champlain Towers South property for more than 20 years. Her grandson said she was full of life and energy.
The Guara family was laid to rest on Tuesday at the family’s Catholic parish, St. Joseph, just three blocks from where the Champlain Towers South building partially collapsed. Lucia, just 4 years old, and her sister 7-year-old Emma were placed in the same casket and were buried alongside their parents, Marcus and Anaely Guara.
Officials have publicly identified the following victims of the collapse:
- Hilda Noriega, 92
- Claudio Bonnefoy, 85
- Antonio Lozano, 83
- Gonzalo Torre, 81
- Leon Oliwkowicz, 80
- Magaly Elena Delgado, 80
- Gladys Lozano, 79
- Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74
- Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69
- Tzvi Ainsworth, 68
- Ingrid Ainsworth, 66
- David Epstein, 58
- Bonnie Epstein, 56
- Frank Kleiman, 55
- Staci Dawn Fang, 54
- Manuel LaFont, 54
- Marcus Joseph Guara, 52
- Michael David Altman, 50
- Graciela Cattarossi, 86
- Gino Cattarossi, 89
- Simon Segal, 80
- Anna Ortiz, 46
- Anaely Rodriguez, 42
- Luis Bermudez, 26
- Andreas Giannitsopoulous, 21
- Lucia Guara, 10
- Emma Guara, 4
- Nancy Kress Levin, 76
- Jay Kleiman, 52
- Francis Fernandez, 67
- Elaine Lia Sabino, 71
Officials have also confirmed the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter was also those killed in the collapse. That girl's name has not been made public at the request of the family.
Investigators are seeking the assistance of the community in obtaining information from anyone who witnessed the Surfside building collapse. Anyone who has videos or photos is asked to call the Surfside Collapse Witness Tip Line at 305-428-4417 from 8:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.
A family information and reunification center continues to operate at the Surfside Recreation Center, located at 9301 Collins Avenue, for people who are unable to locate their relatives who live in the building.
You can open a Missing Person Report by clicking here or calling 833-930-3701.
If you live at the Champlain Towers property or you know a person who lives there who has been found safe, click here.