August 1, 2021

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Rescue teams hold tearful moment of silence for victims of the collapsed Surfside condo – Daily Mail

8 min read

Rescue workers who have labored for 13 days to find survivors in the rubble of a collapsed Florida condo building have shifted their efforts from rescue to recovery.

An hour after the official announcement on Wednesday at 7.15pm they held a moment of silence for the victims to mark the end of their efforts to find anyone alive in what remained of the demolished structure.

‘At this point we’ve truly exhausted every option available to us in the search and rescue mission,’ Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters earlier that evening. ‘So today is about beginning the transition to recovery to we can help to bring closure to the families who have been suffering and waiting for news.’

The official transition in operations will take place at midnight, she said. 

The death toll as of Wednesday rose to 54, with 86 still missing, she announced. Of those, 33 victims have been identified, and 200 people have been accounted for. 

A member of the Israeli search and rescue team dispatched to help with the effort saluted during Wednesday's moment of silence to mark the end of rescue operations at the collapsed Surfside condo

A member of the Israeli search and rescue team dispatched to help with the effort saluted during Wednesday’s moment of silence to mark the end of rescue operations at the collapsed Surfside condo

The search and rescue teams that had labored for nearly two weeks held vigil at 7.15pm

The search and rescue teams that had labored for nearly two weeks held vigil at 7.15pm

The decision came Wednesday after officials said they had lost all hope of finding survivors of the collapse alive

The decision came Wednesday after officials said they had lost all hope of finding survivors of the collapse alive

The workers stood outside the site where they had been searching for survivors

The workers stood outside the site where they had been searching for survivors

Miami-Dade County officials joined with the rescue workers for Wednesday's moment of silence

Miami-Dade County officials joined with the rescue workers for Wednesday’s moment of silence 

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava prayed alongside other officials

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava prayed alongside other officials

Rescue workers tearfully embraced after Wednesday's moment of silence

Rescue workers tearfully embraced after Wednesday’s moment of silence 

A relative of a victim of the collapse mourned alongside the rescue workers

A relative of a victim of the collapse mourned alongside the rescue workers 

The workers held a moment of silence for the victims as they marked the transition in their operations from search and rescue to recovery

The workers held a moment of silence for the victims as they marked the transition in their operations from search and rescue to recovery

After 13 days searching the rubble of the building, however, they had found only remains since the first hours after the collapse

After 13 days searching the rubble of the building, however, they had found only remains since the first hours after the collapse 

A rescue worker embraced a mourner at the memorial set up for the victims outside the site of the destroyed building Wednesday evening

A rescue worker embraced a mourner at the memorial set up for the victims outside the site of the destroyed building Wednesday evening  

On Wednesday, officials also identified another victim of the collapse, Elaine Lia Sabino, 71, who was a flight attendant

On Wednesday, officials also identified another victim of the collapse, Elaine Lia Sabino, 71, who was a flight attendant 

Additionally, Miami-Dade police officials announced the identity of another victim, Elaine Lia Sabino, 71, at around 9pm Wednesday. 

Sabino was a flight attendant, working for years with US Airways and JetBlue.

She lived on the top floor of the condo with her friend, Richard Augustine, 77, who remains missing.

She was often known to give a helping hand, and even volunteered in 2009 to help with the rescue effort when US Airways Flight 1549 struck a flock of birds and made an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

‘We were like sisters and stayed in touch pretty often,’ Sabino’s friend Shelly Angle told the Miami Herald. ‘The main thing people know about Elaine is she’s always there to give you a hand in everything you’re doing.’

Also confirmed on Wednesday was the discovery of the body of Dr. Gary Cohen, 58.

Cohen traveled down to south Florida from his Alabama home to visit his elderly father in Boynton Beach, before fatefully deciding to spend time with his brother, Brad, at his 11th floor apartment in the condo. 

His brother is still missing.  

Cohen was a psychiatrist at the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center. 

He and his brother grew up in Dix Hills, New York, with father Morton and mother Debra, 84, who now lives in Boynton Beach, Florida. 

Cohen eventually relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife Mindy.  

Rabbi Yossi Friedman, program director of Chabad, Alabama, said: ‘Gary was always coming over to me and sharing what he had learned online or had read. With a unique persistence, he would always probe, ask, debate and discover.

‘He was not shy about sharing his understanding, but he was always willing to listen to others and concede to them when he thought they were right.’

During Wednesday’s official announcement, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said: ‘The possibility of finding someone still alive is near zero.’

However, he added that he was still holding out hope for a miracle. 

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told families earlier in the day that after searching all areas of debris, they have concluded that it will now be next to impossible to find people alive.

He said that there were a number of factors that led to the decision to shift in operations. 

Also among the victims identified Wednesday was Dr. Gary Cohen, 58 (left). He  is seen with his wife Mindy Cohen with son Jared and his fiance Stephanie in May of 2020

Also among the victims identified Wednesday was Dr. Gary Cohen, 58 (left). He  is seen with his wife Mindy Cohen with son Jared and his fiance Stephanie in May of 2020

Levine Cava said Wednesday evening that the death toll from the deadly condo collapse in Surfside on June 24 had risen to 54, with 86 still unaccounted for as she announced that operations at the site of the collapse would transition from rescue to recovery

Levine Cava said Wednesday evening that the death toll from the deadly condo collapse in Surfside on June 24 had risen to 54, with 86 still unaccounted for as she announced that operations at the site of the collapse would transition from rescue to recovery

Rescue crews worked amid the debris Wednesday. Work there was announced to switch from rescue to recovery that evening as hopes of finding anyone alive dimmed

Rescue crews worked amid the debris Wednesday. Work there was announced to switch from rescue to recovery that evening as hopes of finding anyone alive dimmed

Officials said the decision to switch to recovery operations was based on a number of factors, including the nature of the collapse

Officials said the decision to switch to recovery operations was based on a number of factors, including the nature of the collapse 

The shift in operations came as the search efforts entered their 13th day

The shift in operations came as the search efforts entered their 13th day 

Crews recovered 18 bodies from the rubble of the collapsed condo in Surfside Wednesday, the highest single-day total, bringing the death toll to 54

Crews recovered 18 bodies from the rubble of the collapsed condo in Surfside Wednesday, the highest single-day total, bringing the death toll to 54

Among them, he said, included the nature of the collapse, which he described as a ‘pancake,’ which left few voids, or spaces amid the debris, where victims could have survived.

That type of collapse, he said, ‘gives you the lowest probability of survivability.’ 

Additionally, after 13 days, Jadallah said there was little possibility victims could have survived without access to food, water or air. 

‘We could easily base this decision on emotions, and you just can’t do that,’ he said.

Chiefly, he said, the main difference in operations would be a shift away from taking care not to injure survivors in the search efforts, and instead to ensuring remains removed from the site suffer as little damage as possible.  

The decision to transition to a recovery effort starting Wednesday night came after rescuers finished searching new areas of rubble that became accessible after workers demolished the still-standing portion of Champlain Towers South. 

Rescuers had hoped to find pockets where people could have survived in the new areas. 

Instead they found more than a dozen victims, many of them dead in their beds.  

The announcement came after crews pulled 18 more bodies from the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building Wednesday, and the emotional toll mounted as officials fought back tears and lamented the ordeal of exhausted families still awaiting word on missing loved ones.

The 13th day of the search yielded the highest number of bodies found in a single day.

Workers sifted through the rubble of the areas opened up Sunday when the still-standing portion of the Champlain Towers South building was demolished

Workers sifted through the rubble of the areas opened up Sunday when the still-standing portion of the Champlain Towers South building was demolished

Crew members departed from the scene Wednesday on the 13th day of operations at the site

Crew members departed from the scene Wednesday on the 13th day of operations at the site 

During the earlier news conference, Levine Cava repeatedly tried not to weep, paused and shook her head as she described the effect of the tragedy on rescue workers and the families of the victims.

‘Our commitment to this mission is deeply personal. This is our community, our neighbors, our families. And our first responders have truly searched that pile every single day since the collapse as if they’re searching for their own loved ones,’ she said.

The latest retrievals reflect what rescue officials have said would be a ramped-up pace of work after the remaining portion of the condo building was demolished Sunday night. 

So far 86 people remain unaccounted for, as rescue crews continued their efforts Wednesday

So far 86 people remain unaccounted for, as rescue crews continued their efforts Wednesday

Rescue efforts were complicated Tuesday as winds and rain from Tropical Storm Elsa battered the area

Rescue efforts were complicated Tuesday as winds and rain from Tropical Storm Elsa battered the area

Crews had hoped to find voids in the rubble where victims might have been able to survive

Crews had hoped to find voids in the rubble where victims might have been able to survive

Operations were slowed Tuesday by the storm, but picked up the pace Wednesday

Operations were slowed Tuesday by the storm, but picked up the pace Wednesday 

Crews ‘did some significant removal of the pile,’ Jadallah said. ‘They were able to get down to various areas to inspect.’

Rescuers had not discovered any new ‘voids,’ or pockets in the rubble that might have harbored survivors as they had hoped, Jadallah said.

No one has been rescued from the site since the first hours after the building collapsed on June 24 when many of its residents were asleep.

Levine Cava said detectives were working continuously to determine whether all of the 86 people still unaccounted for were actually in the building when it came down.

Efforts continued through the night Tuesday into Wednesday as crews continued to search the piles of rubble

Efforts continued through the night Tuesday into Wednesday as crews continued to search the piles of rubble 

Officials, however, have lost hope that anyone would be found alive as of Wednesday

Officials, however, have lost hope that anyone would be found alive as of Wednesday

Jadallah told families earlier in the day that the work continued to be a search-and-rescue operation and had not yet transitioned to a recovery mission.

‘We’re not there yet,’ he had said.

Later, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky sighed when asked during the news conference if officials were giving families a false sense of hope.

‘Obviously, it’s very difficult,’ he said. ‘We’ve been exhausting every effort, and that’s where we are right now, is exhausting every effort, and we’ll go from there.’

Levine Cava then stepped up to the microphones: ‘I just want to say that these families — they’ve been briefed twice a day. Every question has been answered. They’ve been supported to come to closure as soon as possible.’

Gini Gonte visits the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial on Wednesday as she honors her friends Nancy Kress Levin and Jay Kleiman, who were identified among the dead the previous day

Gini Gonte visits the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial on Wednesday as she honors her friends Nancy Kress Levin and Jay Kleiman, who were identified among the dead the previous day

Lucia Gutierrez visits the memorial Wednesday that has pictures of some of the missing from the collapse

Lucia Gutierrez visits the memorial Wednesday that has pictures of some of the missing from the collapse

Maggie Castro, a Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic, said the families are physically and emotionally exhausted.

‘It’s a lot, a lot of emotional roller coasters that they’ve been on, just trying to stay positive and hold out the wait,’ said Castro, who has given daily updates to the families.

‘There has been a sort of shift, I think, towards acceptance, but also obviously with that comes some sadness,’ she told The Associated Press in an interview.

Workers on Tuesday dug through pulverized concrete where the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside once stood, filling buckets that were passed down a line to be emptied and then returned.

Workers demolished what remained of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside on Sunday evening in a bid to open up further areas for rescue, but after searching those areas, officials have concluded that nobody further would be found alive

Workers demolished what remained of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside on Sunday evening in a bid to open up further areas for rescue, but after searching those areas, officials have concluded that nobody further would be found alive

The up-close look at the search, in a video released Tuesday by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department, came as rain and wind from Tropical Storm Elsa disrupted the effort.

Reporters got their closest in-person look at the site Tuesday, though it was limited to the portion of the building that workers tore down Sunday after the initial collapse left it standing but dangerously unstable. 

A pile of shattered concrete and twisted steel stood about 30 feet high and spanned roughly half the length of a football field. 

A pair of backhoes pulled rubble off the pile, which blocked any view of the search effort. 

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