Hope Dims For Any Chance Of Surivors From Florida Condo Collpase
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
For two weeks now, rescue workers in Surfside, Fla., have been removing concrete rubble from a site that used to be a condominium building.
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FADEL: Wearing hard hats and respirators, search and rescue teams from around the country and around the world have used shovels, 5-gallon buckets and their hands to remove more than 120 tons of debris. The confirmed death toll is now 46 victims. And at this point, officials say they're not sure how many people are still missing. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Miami. Good morning, Greg.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning.
FADEL: So it sounds as if this effort will be going on for some time. Are officials still calling it search and rescue at this point?
ALLEN: Well, they're calling it that, but rescue workers have said for some time that they haven't seen any signs that there could be possible survivors. Miami-Dade's mayor says she believes families waiting for word of their loved ones are prepared when the search for survivors officially ends and crews transition to the recovery phase. There's still this unimaginable mountain of crumbled concrete, though, that has to be sifted through and removed. Workers are looking for bodies, but also personal belongings that are logged for possible return to families. Officials say the debris being removed is all being treated as evidence. It's being taken to another site where it's being sorted. And relevant material will be stored in a warehouse, where it'll be available to investigators.
FADEL: You know, it's been two weeks. Why are officials now uncertain about how many people are still missing?
ALLEN: Well, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says detectives have been going through this list that was compiled of people who were reported missing. And right now she says there's 109 names on that list.
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DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: This list includes many reports that were received with partial or incomplete information - sometimes only a name, sometimes no other identifying information and not even a return phone number for us to follow up.
ALLEN: Levine Cava said yesterday the number of missing people known to have been in the building when it collapsed, instead of 109, is actually close to 70.
FADEL: Now, you mentioned investigations. Can you talk about who is investigating the building collapse?
ALLEN: Right. Well, there's a team from NIST - the National Institute of Standards and Technology - that's tagging evidence being gathered at the site. They've been using computer-based imaging to create a 3D model of the rubble pile and the remaining building before it was demolished. Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez says his detectives are helping with the investigation. They're treating the site like a crime scene.
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FREDDY RAMIREZ: We're collecting evidence with our partners, with NIST. Our state attorney's office is embedded with us as well. But right now we're in a search and rescue mode. It's an active investigation. And we're focused right now - our primary goal right now is to bring closure to the families.
ALLEN: That federal NIST investigation may take years. More immediately, a local grand jury will likely be taking up the matter. Some lawsuits have already been filed. Mayor Levine Cava says the whole world wants to know why the condominium building collapsed.
FADEL: Now, while all this is going on, some families are getting closure, are beginning to mourn and bury their loved ones, right?
ALLEN: That's right. There were funerals yesterday in Miami Beach and in Brooklyn for people who were killed in the building collapse. Hundreds of mourners paid their respects to Tzvi and Ingrid Ainsworth in Brooklyn. A family of four - Marcus Guara, his wife Ana and daughters Lucia and Emma - were remembered in a service at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Miami Beach. It was a sad day, but there's going to be many more like this to come as the search for victims continues.
FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thank you, Greg.
ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.