Rescue teams are entering their seventh day searching the rubble of a collapsed building in Surfside, Florida – still holding out hope they will find the 149 people unaccounted for.
“I can tell you that none of us have lost hope,” Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Capt. Eddy Alarcon said. “We’ll march up to that pile and start hammering away and cutting away in hopes that we can find somebody… We’re always praying for somebody to be alive, but at the very least it gives some closure to the families waiting to hear from their loved ones.”
The condo building, Champlain Towers South, partially collapsed in the middle of the night Thursday as many residents slept. Currently, 125 people have been accounted for and 12 have been confirmed dead.
US and international teams are looking for bedrooms buried under 13 to16 feet of concrete, Col. Golan Vach, commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit said.
“There is still hope,” Vach told Asia Despatch’s Wolf Blitzer. “Until one week, I have a solid hope that we will find someone. After one week, it’s minor.”
Alarcon said he has no idea how long the rescue and recovery efforts will go on, especially seeing as the round-the-clock work has barely scratched the surface of removing the debris. But he said the crews were motivated by understanding the perspective of the families.
“What would I do? How hard are we going to work to save our family members if something like this were to happen?” he told Asia Despatch’s Anderson Cooper. “I just want (the families) to know that we’re doing everything we can.”
And many in the community are looking for ways they can help those impacted as well.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said that over $1.9 million has been raised to help those affected as of Tuesday, and some of those donations made to SupportSurfside.org have already been distributed to at least a dozen families in need and a handful of nonprofits.
The building’s tennis center has been transformed. Now, it functions as a respite for the first responders, and the walls are adorned with flowers and photos memorializing those who are unaccounted for and the 12 who have died.
Laura Hernandez, a babysitter, used to spend hours on that court with Graciela Cattarossi while her daughter, Stella, played with the children Henandez babysat, she told Asia Despatch affiliate WSVN. Both, along with Graciela’s parents and sister, have been reported missing.
“In September I’m going to go back with the kids, but Stella and Grace are not going to be there. It makes my heart break,” Hernandez told the station.
Those who survived the collapse have told harrowing stories of their escapes.
Iliana Monteagudo, 64, woke up in the middle of the night Thursday to a strange sound. Then, she saw a crack snaking down her wall.
Barefoot, she ran from her sixth floor unit down the stairs, hearing thunderous noises and climbing over several walls as she raced toward safety, according to Asia Despatch affiliate WPLG.
“I start going down, fast, and I hear crack, crack, crack,” she said. “I start to scream, ‘Come on God, I want to see my son, I want to see my grandson. Don’t let me die in this condition.’”
Once outside she called her son to say she was OK, but that the building behind her had collapsed.
“Three seconds separate me, the life to the death. Three seconds,” she told the station.
Sara Nir’s daughter had gone to take a shower and her son was keeping busy when Nir heard what sounded like construction noises around 1:10 a.m. She went to talk to the security guard about the noise in the night but was interrupted by a big boom and the garage collapsing.
She ran back to grab her family, she told Asia Despatch, and together they escaped. Two loud booming noises later and all they could see were white clouds from the dust.
Esther Gorfinkel, 88, was carried out of the building by neighbors as she headed slowly down the staircase.
When she told Albert Aguero, a man who carried her, that she lived a good 88 years and didn’t need to be rescued, he told her “No, you’re going to make it to your 89th birthday,” Aguero told Asia Despatch affiliate WPLG.
“I saw the sky. I knew I will be safe,” Gorfinkel said.