Surfside collapse: Heartbreak for familes as rescuers give up with condo set for demolition

Rescuers at the collapsed Surfside building in Miami stopped the search operation for victims as it is set to be demolished


                            Surfside collapse: Heartbreak for familes as rescuers give up with condo set for demolition
Maria Fernanda Martinez and Mariana Cordeiro watch as rescue operations continue at Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The search for victims of the Miami condo collapse was halted on Saturday afternoon, July 3, with officials intending to use explosives to dismantle the rest of the structure. The remaining structure will be demolished on Sunday, July 4, according to a top Miami-Dade fire officer.

The search and rescue effort at the skyscraper was temporarily halted on July 1 over concerns that the remaining building may collapse, especially as National Hurricane Center forecasters said tropical storm Elsa could hit Miami-Dade county by July 5.

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The decision was made after mounting worries that the damaged building may collapse on its own, endangering the employees below and complicating the search for casualties. Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said the decision had to be made since the drilling of holes to hold the explosives could cause the fragile building to collapse. "Every victim we remove is very difficult," he said. Since the initial hours following the collapse on June 24, no one has been rescued.

The US Sun reported a relative of a missing person calling it “devastating” that the search had to stop. She asked if rescuers could work the site's perimeter so that the operation isn't stopped for "so many painful hours”. On July 3, a Miami firefighter working at the site recovered the remains of his own child. The body of the firefighter's 7-year-old daughter, who has been identified as Stella, was found in the rubble. In a heartbreaking scene, the distraught father had kept vigil for eight nights after his daughter’s home came crashing down in the collapse of Champlain Towers in Surfside. 

Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors and remains in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 30, 2021, in Surfside, Florida (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

'Hoping for a miracle'

Miami-Dade police identified two more victims on July 3 and one of them happened to be the mother of another 7-year-old, the Miami Herald reported. She was identified as Graciela Cattarossi, 48, a lifestyle photographer who was born in Argentina, and a single mother to her child. “Her devotion to her child was unparalleled,” Catarossi’s friend Kathryn Rooney Vera told the Herald. The second victim was Gonzalo Torre, 81.

Among others missing are a pregnant Bhavana Patel, her husband Vishal and their daughter Aishani. “I work with a lot of couples,” said Silvia Lugo, who shot family photos for the young family. “And when you talk about a couple being one, they were one. They were amazing to one another and they loved their daughter enormously. All we can do is keep hoping for a miracle.”

People look at a memorial that has pictures of some of the missing from the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on July 2, 2021, in Surfside, Florida (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

'The waiting is unbearable'

“The grief here is really deep,” Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun of the Skylake Synagogue in North Miami told Wall Street Journal. “As a rabbi, you deal with grief. But not like this.” He added that they haven't had funerals yet. "People are just waiting to hear the fate". Another man, Rabbi Hadar, said there was more “peace and appreciation" this time as compared to the anger and frustration with the rescue process seen at previous meetings. “I think a lot of people are either resigning themselves, or understanding that there is hope, and the best hope is to work with these guys and to hear what they have to say,” Rabbi Hadar added

President Joe Biden met the families of the aggrieved on Saturday, July 3. “I sat with one woman who had just lost her husband and her little baby boy, didn’t know what to do,” the president said, according to a report by The New York Times. “I sat with another family that lost almost the entire family, cousins, brothers, sisters. And to watch them, and they’re praying and pleading and God let there be a miracle.” Many families have been waiting for more than a week for news on whether anyone was still alive beneath the concrete and steel. “The waiting is unbearable,” Biden said. 

The president's words were a source of comfort to some. “For him to take his time like he’s taking right now just walking around and talking to every single family, it’s just an amazing act and we appreciate it very much. It’s comforting for us,” said Erick de Moura, a resident of the collapsed building who stayed over at his girlfriend's residence on the night of the collapse.

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