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Florida building collapse: death toll rises, search and rescue continues

The search and rescue for at least 150 unaccounted for people has entered the fourth day after a condominium building in Florida collapsed on Thursday. The death toll from the accident has gone up to nine as questions arise on the faulty building structure. Officials say they are notifying families as they recover more bodies from the rubble. NPR Correspondent Brian Mann joins with the latest.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the building collapse and the dangerous conditions facing first responders, I spoke with NPR Correspondent Brian Mann who is covering the story in Surfside, Florida.

  • Brian Mann:

    And what we've heard from officials here is that they have actually made some progress, they've managed to extinguish that terrible fire that was burning inside the rubble pile that's made things a lot safer and easier for rescuers. They're also digging this enormous trench that's slowly penetrating the debris, giving them more access. Unfortunately, so far, that hasn't brought news of survivors as of the time we're speaking today, the confirmed death toll is at nine. Still more than 150 people still missing and unaccounted for. So, again, while there has been some progress technically there, the news has not been good again today.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are some of the structural challenges that this might be an engineering question that the rescuers are facing here as they go into some of these tight spaces?

  • Brian Mann:

    They're talking a lot about that to reporters here, but also to families, because there is a lot of impatience, a lot of questions and frustration about why this isn't happening faster. And so during these briefings, what they're explaining is that this is an extremely unstable, dangerous site. They have to shore up the rubble pile as they move along. They say the debris is incredibly compacted. So as they move forward, not only do they have to make sure that the rescuers are safe, but they also have to be sure that they don't disturb any pockets or vacuum areas where survivors could theoretically still be. So they can't just barrel through here. They have to go meticulously, sort of step by step to do that. They're rotating crews in aggressively so that people stay fresh. But from all accounts, it's a really grueling operation out there again today.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what of the families now? What are the authorities telling them?

  • Brian Mann:

    Well, what they're telling them in briefings really several times a day is we're doing what we can. The mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, said today that family members had actually asked the Israeli response team that's arrived here, do you believe that officials are doing everything right and everything that they can? And according to the mayor, the Israeli team said absolutely, this is what we would be doing. This is being handled appropriately. And so they're trying to reassure family members, but again, this kind of waiting as the days go by, it's just the most emotionally destructive thing you can imagine. So much uncertainty. This disaster happened in an instant and now the waiting is playing out over days.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what are the authorities saying about finding who's responsible for this?

  • Brian Mann:

    NPR has been looking at this. And, of course, town officials and county officials say that they were unaware of this very troubling engineering report that showed that this structure was in very precarious shape as long as three years ago. What NPR has found is that at least one town official was aware of this report and in fact, met with residents.

    According to minutes from a meeting that we've reviewed, that town official gave them the all clear back in 2018. So there are questions being raised about what kind of oversight there is, how these buildings are inspected. People are talking about possible new regulations and policies being put into place. And another thing that is happening right now is that the mayor of Miami-Dade county has instituted a 30 day inspection process for other older buildings in the community to make sure that other structures here in the area are safe.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    NPR's Brian Mann joining us from Surfside, Florida. Thanks so much.

  • Brian Mann:

    Thanks for having me.

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