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Florida building collapse: no new survivors found as search rescue ops continue

A fire underneath the rubble of the collapsed residential building in Florida is slowing the work of the search and rescue teams. At least 150 people are still missing and four deaths have been confirmed. While the Miami-Dade mayor has announced an investigation into the collapse, a 2018 report released overnight points to a “major error” in the design of the building. NPR Correspondent Brian Mann joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the search and the engineering reports, I spoke with NPR Correspondent Brian Mann who is in Surfside, Florida.

    Brian, first, the news that the city has been looking at engineering reports that showed that even as of three years ago, there were problems with this very building. Now, it's not saying that that's the cause of why this disaster happened, but what are the officials telling you?

  • Brian Mann:

    Well, they're clearly concerned. The town of Surfside has begun its 30 day sort of emergency audit to try to look at other older buildings like this one. They're also talking about a possible evacuation of another structure built by the same firm. But there clearly were real red flags raised by this engineering study almost three years ago. While they don't point to any kind of smoking gun, experts we've spoken to suggest that this really should have caused people to dig deeper and really look at the underlying structure that was holding this building up.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What's the status of the people that are working on that pile? I mean, I can see from where you're standing, it's hot out there. It's probably raining from time to time. And these people have been working nonstop.

  • Brian Mann:

    It's been really an intense effort. I was just speaking to one of the rescue crews that's come in from outside the Miami Beach area. What they're trying to do is rotate crews rapidly, rescue dog operations rapidly because it is so dangerous and exhausting. There's this really persistent fire that's burning inside the rubble. You can see, and where I'm standing now, you can smell the plume that's still coming off of this. They say they're trying to extinguish it, but even the ventilation systems that they brought in to try to clear the air, they're worried that that has further fanned the flames. So you can imagine these crews that are tunneling into this debris pile, looking for cavities where it is plausible that survivors might still be there, working in extremely hazardous, physically trying situations and also just emotionally devastating as the hours go by with no success.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Have rescuers heard any sounds or anything that gives them hope that there might be people still alive underneath that?

  • Brian Mann:

    You know, officials have spoken about hearing knocking sounds. That's the term that they used, but they haven't said that they've been able to confirm that any of that is a real hit. Whenever they've heard that kind of noise, they've focused their search effort there. They say that they do still believe professionally that there is a chance. But at this point, I think that this is one of those situations where hope is driving this. But I want to say again, the conditions are so harsh. You know, the rain that's been falling, lightning storms sweeping over this area. It has really been a tough couple of days. They have not had a single break.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And let's not forget about all the families of those that might be trapped underneath that are waiting in the wings.

  • Brian Mann:

    Yeah, it's brutal. I spoke yesterday with a Father, a Roman Catholic priest, who has had about a dozen families with members who lived in the building. And he said that this is a very difficult time. I will say also, though, there has been just an enormous outpouring of support for these families; donations, president Biden signed a disaster declaration bringing new resources in. So it is really all hands on deck to support people as much as possible.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

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

  • Brian Mann:

    Thanks for having me.

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