The early morning chat message on Thursday from my managing editor said we had a huge story developing with a building collapse in Surfside. It’s a condo, he wrote, with people inside.
The first Miami Herald reporter on the scene was Joey Flechas, our local government reporter, who covers the city of Miami. The seaside condominium Champlain Towers South is about 10 minutes away from Joey’s apartment. He said the rubble and rescue operation could be seen from a stretch of beach that he loves to visit on the weekends.
Joey said there was little information available when he arrived, but the seriousness was clear. He’d never seen so many police and fire rescue vehicles in one place. Firefighters already looked haggard, he said, some of them saying they didn’t expect many survivors. It was dark, and the mood was grim.
Joey witnessed a man get the call from his wife, a caretaker inside the part of the tower that still stood, saying she was being rescued. The relief on his face and the tears in his eyes represented a small moment of reprieve. Joey would later share Santo Mejil’s story with our readers. Joey told Mejil’s story and the gut-wrenching chronicles of other families who walked out of their front door to find the rest of their building missing. In less than 24 hours our headline on miamiherald.com went from ‘Collapse’ to ‘Heartbreak.’
Today, our community is hurting like no other. The last few days have been pure hell for families who are still waiting, clinging to hope, putting their faith in the possibility of miracles. These families are enduring the unimaginable.
South Florida has been hit by tragedy — what could end up being one of the deadliest building collapses in American history.
In times of crisis, we come together. Moments like this show the power of community. While we may not always agree or even get along with our neighbors, communities will come together to provide support and encouragement in our darkest moments.
It’s human instinct. This is a time when we all need to channel positive energy in the right direction to help those in need.
The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald are part of this community. Our journalists are committed to giving you the information you need. We are working this story around the clock to bring you the latest breaking news through words, pictures and video. Our visual journalists have shared powerful images.
We are also working on stories of accountability and impact. Immediately after the disaster, our investigative team began digging to report on the collapse. Early Saturday morning, Miami Herald reporters were the first to report ‘major errors’ flagged in a 2018 inspection report of the collapsed building. And, we will continue digging as questions loom about how something like this could have happened. We are committed to finding the answers.
In times of need, real-time credible local journalism is more valuable than ever and plays a crucial role in helping communities stay connected and come together. With timely reporting comes the responsibility to stay true to our values and bring out the best of our human element to be considerate of our community, the victims, survivors and their loved ones.
Needless to say, the community was, and is still, devastated beyond imagination. after this horrific incident. Many of those missing, as we have reported, are from Latin America. Surfside is home to a large Jewish community, many of its members Orthodox. It’s a place where the families often crowd the sidewalks before sunset as they walk to services for the Sabbath. This community is praying for miracles, and we are praying with them.
Throughout the process of learning about, reacting to and managing this tragedy, our community is revealing to us an amazing power through its connectivity and activism.
We are committed to making sure our coverage contributes to that connection as we investigate how this disaster happened.
“We have a tremendous responsibility to tell this story about our community, our neighbors, while we process this tragedy for ourselves,” reporter Flechas said.
He added: “I’m a member of this community who has talked to some of these first responders, politicians and neighbors before. And I’m just one of many of us who can say the same thing. I think that familiarity and the investment that our local journalists have in our community yields to reporting with more depth, humanity and thoughtfulness. The Heralds are in the best position to tell [the Surfside and] Miami’s story, especially when tragedy strikes.”
We salute our community’s real heroes, the first responders and their families who were first on the scene and continue to work around the clock putting their lives at risk.
If you haven’t done it today already, my advice to you is to hug your loved ones or call and tell them you love them. You can also help these families. The Miami Herald has partnered with the United Way of Miami-Dade and other trusted organizations through Operation Helping Hands to allow you to safely make donations. And there are other ways to help the victims. But in addition to your donations there is one simple thing that we can all do that has a big effect: Pray!
Our heart goes out to the impacted families. We’re grieving together.
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