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Officials Call For More Federal Help In Champlain Towers Search-And-Rescue Mission

Rescue workers search the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condominium, Saturday. Search and rescue teams found another victim buried underneath the rubble on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 12.
Lynne Sladky
Rescue workers search the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condominium, Saturday. Search and rescue teams found another victim buried underneath the rubble on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 12.

Officials leading a rescue mission at the site of a collapsed 12-story residential building in Surfside, Fla., are asking the federal government to send a search team to relieve the Florida personnel with severe weather expected in the coming days.

Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said his agency requested the new crew on Tuesday, saying state officials are preparing for more rain, thunderstorms and lighting. As search-and-rescue teams sifted through debris and rubble for the sixth consecutive day — sometimes by hand — Guthrie said the extra hands would ensure that the state rescue teams are available in case the storms don't let up.

The daily deluge of rain and lightning has drastically slowed recovery efforts since the catastrophic collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building last Thursday. Crews are forced to stop working whenever the summer storms roll in, which has typically been in the late afternoon.

As of Monday, the state fire marshal reported approximately 370 Urban Search & Rescue team members and five state task forces are working around-the-clock, according to WLRN. The crews are painstakingly sifting through concrete, steel and other debris in search of survivors.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said many families are frustrated and angry with the decision to halt the grueling rescue mission because of the inclement weather.

"There was frustration. There was a little anger," Burkett said during a Tuesday morning news conference. One family member noted first responders "are already risking their lives anyway. They're working under a building that could fall down. Why do we have to stop for lightning?"

Still, officials have pledged to continue searching for possible survivors even as they launch multiple investigations into the collapse of the 40-year-old ocean front building.

The death toll climbed to 12 on Tuesday after another victim was recovered. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said there are 149 people unaccounted for and 125 accounted for.

"Nobody is giving up hope here. Nobody is stopping. The work goes on full-force. We're dedicated to get everyone out of that pile of rubble and reunite them with their families," Burkett said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava remains optimistic that more survivors will be found, drawing hope from a 2013 tragedy in Bangladesh. She shared an article from The Guardian that told the story of a woman who had survived being buried under the ruins of a collapsed garment factory for 17 days.

"Some are feeling more hopeful, some less hopeful, because we do not have definitive answers," Levine Cava said, referring to the families of those still missing.

She added: "They have seen the operation. They understand now how it works, and they are preparing themselves for news, one way or the other."

No one has been found alive since shortly after the pancake collapse of building on Thursday.

Work at the site has been slow and treacherous from the start as first responders have been struggling to claw the tight, enclosed spaces of the rubble. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said so far crews have moved approximately three million pounds of concrete. They are using sonar and video equipment to search for any signs of life.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.