The arduous and heartbreaking task of recovering the bodies of victims at the site of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo began overnight and continued into a somber Friday morning in Surfside.
Shortly before 7:45 Friday morning, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said authorities have now confirmed four deaths.
No additional survivors had been found since Thursday morning.
State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also serves as the state fire marshal, said on CNN early Friday morning the rescue mission would continue into the day, with search-and-rescue teams from Naples and Orlando coming to relieve Miami-Dade searchers who had been working their way through the rubble for more than 24 hours.
He said search and rescue teams were using everything at their disposal in the desperate search for life, cutting into the concrete with saw, using infrared cameras after boring through holes in the rubble, sonar and specially trained dogs.
“The live active rescue will continue,” Patronis said without going into how long he thinks a person can survive under the debris. “The families deserve it.”
Miami Beach Sen. Jason Pizzo was at the scene overnight Thursday and into early Friday morning, where he watched as tactical teams of six worked to extricate bodies from the rubble.
He saw one body taken in a yellow body bag and another that was marked.
A homicide unit tent was set up along the beach, Pizzo said, and staff under Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Dr. Emma Lew were carrying the yellow bags.
A short distance away at the Surfside Community Center, dozens of families were maintaining a vigil at the family reunification site 24 hours since the building partially collapsed. A gust of wind and rain forced people seated outside the center to take refuge under the building’s central walkway.
Close to midnight, it was a soggy scene. Some relatives of the victims, who had been there since Thursday morning, were awaiting results to DNA swabs that would help identify their loved ones. Volunteers continued to bring in food, and others offered T-shirts, towels and blankets.
On television, Local 10 cameras captured the scene as one body wrapped in a yellow bag was brought out of the debris.
After the rain subsided, dust and smoke from the ongoing work on the debris pile had not settled.
At about the same time, President Joe Biden signed an order declaring a disaster in Florida and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide financial and logistical support to local officials and individuals. Earlier on Thursday, Levine Cava and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed their own disaster declarations, triggering the process for the president to activate FEMA’s response.
Surfside is now a warren of coned-off streets, one-ways, and detours as crews limit access to the site. Harding Avenue, the usually bustling commercial southbound route parallel to Collins Avenue, was completely cleared of any parked cars.
Day began breaking over the site around 6 a.m., the rising sun partially obscured by plumes of dust and ash as crews continued to try to drill their way into the collapsed structure. Another small fire appeared to have broken out, filling the air with an acrid, smoky scent.
This is a breaking news story that will be updated frequently.