U.S.

Florida building collapse search efforts aided by Israeli team

SURFSIDE, Florida — A team of Israeli search-and-rescue specialists has joined efforts to find survivors and recover bodies from the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse, where authorities say 156 people remain missing and five are confirmed dead.

The approximately 10 members of the team from Israel’s Home Front Command are experts in engineering and social care efforts. They marched onto the site Sunday morning to join the dangerous search at the 12-story beachfront building, where air conditioners and furniture still occasionally fall. Families are growing increasingly anguished at the slow pace of recovery, and authorities have been DNA-testing relatives to help make IDs.

Many of those who were in the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building were Jewish, and as many as 20 of the 159 people who remained missing Friday are of the faith, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, Israel’s consul general in Miami, told USA TODAY.

A wing of the residential building collapsed at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, video footage capturing the rapid disintegration of the building’s center and wing in a cloud of dust. Since then, fires and flooding have hampered search-and-rescue efforts, and authorities have been proceeding cautiously, using lasers to measure debris shifts. 

The American Red Cross set up a reunification site for family and friends near the site of the partial building collapse of a 12-story condominium early Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. About 70 people crammed into a room with chairs and blue gym mats on the floor.

“You’ve the fires that have been happening, ultimately that creates expansion in the metal, expansion in the concrete, it creates smoke. But those also take a chance of weakening an already compromised building,” said Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s state fire marshal. Rescuers are “trying to work as fast as they can, at the same time looking out for the safety and well being of those doing the job to save the lives of others. It’s a real delicate balancing act.”

Patronis said search-and-rescue teams from across Florida, and from Mexico, have also joined the effort, which was temporarily paused Sunday morning as the rubble shifted. Crews were working 12-hours shifts in high temperatures with occasional downpours.

People hug outside the Surfside Community Center as they wait for news on June 25, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. The 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building partially collapsed Thursday in Surfside.

At the building, the smell of electrical fires wafts through nearby streets although it’s eerily quiet. The public is being kept far away from the site, where dust still fills the air in between rainstorms.

The building was erected in 1981 and was due for a required 40-year inspection before its collapse. Authorities said it’s unclear why the building collapsed, but researchers and engineers have pointed to a variety of possibilities, including sea-level rise, the corrosive effect of saltwater, the stability of the ground underneath, shoddy construction or lax oversight. 



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