Rescuers and first responders who've been working for two weeks to find survivors at the site of the fatal condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, are refusing to quit even as the mission moves from rescue to recovery.
On Thursday, the death toll had risen to 60, with 35 victims identified. Some 80 people are still missing, the Miami Herald reported.
"Our Miami-Dade County Task Force 1 members, who’ve been here since the beginning … they could go home, but they are still here," Miami-Dade Mayor Levine Cava said at a news conference Wednesday, according to WSVN.
Even though survivors are no longer expected to be found, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the community and rescue workers haven't given up hope.
"We are still praying for a miracle," said Burkett, according to CNN.
This decision to move from rescue to recovery came after rescuers searched the last area where they expected to find “voids” or pockets of debris where people could survive, according to Fox News.
The mayor said the recovery effort is "proceeding just as rapidly with just as many people on the pile," and authorities are "taking as much care as ever" to find victims to “bring closure to the families as fast as we possibly can.”
"Our hearts still hoped to find survivors, but our experience and expertise indicated that was no longer possible," fire chief Alan Cominsky said.
On Wednesday morning, Miami-Dade rescue teams held a moment of silence and prayer near the site in tribute to the lives lost.
“With heavy hearts, we begin search & recovery efforts, and will continue to give our all as our commitment still remains to reunite families with their loved ones,” Miami-Dade Fire Rescue tweeted, along with a video of the solemn moment of remembrance.
As large parts of Florida were hit by Hurricane Elsa earlier this week, the rescuers continued to work, day and night, pausing only briefly when wind gusts became too strong to remove the heavy debris.
"Active search and rescue continued throughout the night, and these teams continue through extremely adverse and challenging conditions," the mayor said, according to DW. "Through the rain and through the wind, they have continued searching."
Of the victims’ bodies found in the wreckage last Thursday, one was Stella Cattarossi, the 7-year-old daughter of a firefighter who responded to the fatal collapse. The firefighter's daughter was found dead with her mother, Graciela Cattarossi.
“She was a member of our fire family,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said, saying the fire department was grieving, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The 12-story Champlain Towers South waterfront condominium collapsed suddenly around 1:20 a.m. on June 24, destroying about 55 apartment units.
The cause of the collapse remains unknown, but the condo had experienced accelerating signs of deterioration in recent years.
In 2018, the condo board notified residents that renovations to fix structural damage would cost $16 million.
"Engineering consultant Frank Morabito had been hired in 2018 to get a start on a 40-year recertification process, as is required under the Miami-Dade County building code. His report indicated that there was “abundant cracking” and crumbling in the underground parking garage of the 12-story building," NBC News reported.
The collapse is among the deadliest mass-casualty building collapses in U.S. history, excluding fires or acts of terror.
At least six lawsuits have been filed by Champlain Towers' families so far.
President Joe Biden’s emergency declaration authorizes federal funds to cover 100% of eligible costs related to the collapse for 30 days.
Biden visited Surfside last week, along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
"I sat with one woman who had just lost her, her husband and her little baby boy,” Biden shared during his visit to Surfside, ABC News reported. “Didn’t know what to do. I sat with another family that lost almost an entire family, cousins, brothers, sisters. And to watch them and ... they're praying and pleading that, God, let there be a miracle. Let there be something happen for me that's good.”
Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org