SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – The tortuous wait of nearly 160 people missing after a beachfront condominium collapsed near Miami, killing at least four people, is wreaking havoc on loved ones who don’t can do nothing but pray and hope their loved ones will somehow be found alive in an increasingly terrible hunt for survivors.
As dozens of rescuers used large machines, small buckets, drones, microphones, and their own hands on Friday to pick up the mountain of debris that had been the 12 floors of the South Champlain Towers, Rachel Spiegel was eager to receive information about his missing mother, Judy Spiegel, 66, who lived on the sixth floor. “I’m just praying for a miracle,” Spiegel said. “We are heartbroken that she is even in the building.”
Jeanne Ugarte faced what she feared would be a tragic end for her longtime friends Juan and Ana Mora and their son Juan Jr., who was visiting his parents in their tower block condo.
“I know they’re not going to find them (alive),” Ugarte said. “It’s been too long.”
Hopes rested on how quickly the crews could complete their dark but delicate task at Surfside, a few miles north of South Beach in Miami.
“Whenever we hear a sound, we are focusing in that area,” said Miami-Dade Deputy Fire Chief Raide Jadallah. “It could be just a twist of steel, it could be debris raining down, but not specifically tapping sounds or the sounds of a human voice.”
Shaken by gusts of wind and bombarded by intermittent rains, two heavy cranes removed debris from the pile using large claws on Friday, creating a din of glass and metal crashing down as they scooped up materials and threw them aside. A haze of smoke rose from the site.
After the machines had stopped, firefighters wearing face masks and carrying red buckets climbed onto the job to remove small pieces by hand in hopes of finding places where people could be trapped. In a parking garage, lifeguards in knee-deep water used power tools to cut through the building from below.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said crews were doing everything possible to save as many people as possible.
“We don’t have a resource problem, we have a luck problem,” he said.
Officials said they still did not know exactly how many residents or visitors were in the building when it fell, but they were trying to locate 159 people who were believed to be missing and who may or may not be present.
Flowers left in tribute decorated a fence near the tower, and those awaiting news of the research watched from afar, hands clasped and hugging. Worshipers prayed at a nearby synagogue where some members were among the missing.
On the beach near the collapsed structure, visitor Faydah Bushnaq from Sterling, Va., Knelt and scratched “Pray for their souls” in the sand.
“We were supposed to be on vacation, but I have no motivation to have fun,” Bushnaq said. “This is the perfect time to say a prayer for them.”
Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said authorities were working with the medical examiner’s office to identify the bodies found. Eleven injured were reported, including four people treated in hospitals.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said rescuers were at “extreme risk” of walking through the rubble.
“Debris is falling on them as they do their job,” she said. “We have structural engineers on site to make sure they don’t get injured, but they keep going because they’re so motivated. “
Teenager Jonah Handler was rescued from the rubble hours after the collapse, but his mother, Stacie Fang, has died. Relatives issued a statement expressing their thanks “for the outpouring of sympathy, compassion and support we have received.”
“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” he said.
While officials said no cause for the collapse as of Thursday morning had been determined, Gov. Ron DeSantis said a “definitive response” was needed in a timely manner. The video showed the center of the building appearing to collapse first, followed by a section closer to the beach.
The missing included people from all over the world.
Israeli media said the country’s consul general in Miami believed 20 of its citizens were missing. 22 other people are missing from Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay, including relatives of Paraguayan first lady Silvana de Abdo Benítez.
Associated Press editors Tim Reynolds and Ian Mader in Miami; Freida Frisaro and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; RJ Rico in Atlanta; and Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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