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Surfside rescue workers running on ‘pure adrenaline’ to clear site ahead of Hurricane Elsa

Rescue efforts in Surfside, Fla. resumed late Thursday after a 14-hour pause over concerns about the remaining structure. Weather issues like heavy rain also affected work. Hurricane Elsa is on course to reach the Florida coast this weekend. Amna Nawaz discusses the risk with Michael Fagel, former safety and logistics officer after both the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11 attacks.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For more than a week, rescue teams have worked tirelessly to clear and search the rubble of that collapsed condominium building in Surfside, Florida.

    Amna Nawaz has this conversation, recorded this evening before news of the emergency order to demolish the remainder of the partly collapsed building.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, rescue efforts resumed late yesterday, after a 14-hour pause over concerns that parts of the building that remain standing could fall and endanger workers. Weather issues, including heavy rain and lightning storms, have also slowed or halted work in recent days.

    And now, as we reported earlier, Hurricane Elsa is on course to reach the Florida coast this weekend, all this as rescue workers continue their mission around the clock.

    We turn now to Michael Fagel. He served as a safety and logistics officer after both the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. He now teaches disaster management and has written a number of textbooks on the subject.

    Michael Fagel, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for being with us.

    We would say we're on day nine now of the search-and-rescue efforts on the ground there. Last night, the terrible news. They pulled the body of a 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter from the rubble there.

    Help us understand. For the rescue workers doing the work right now, what is it like? What's going through their minds?

  • Michael Fagel:

    They are on pure adrenalin right now. These folks are working-12 hour shifts, or not longer.

    And even when they stop to rest, they don't rest. They're still doing 100 miles an hour. These people are dedicated to try and find every person that they can. And they just don't want to stop.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    No survivors have been pulled from the wreckage since the hours after the collapse last Wednesday. They are still in a search-and-rescue mission. When does that turn to search-and-recovery?

  • Michael Fagel:

    When it changes to recovery will be what the on-the-ground commanders decide. Could be several days. Remember, it was 11 days with Mexico City and it was eight days with Haiti.

    So, they're evaluating every condition in their unified command as we speak. And that's a decision that's going to be a hard decision to make, because nobody wants to give up.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At that side, there is the collapsed tower, the south tower.

    There's also a north tower just about 100 yards away that is, of course, still standing, was built by the same developers at the same time. FEMA has now said that they will temporarily locate residents of that building if they wish to leave, but they haven't been ordered to evacuate.

    I wonder, from your experience, what your take is. Should those residents leave that other building?

  • Michael Fagel:

    I know that, when we did other evacuations, that, if you have an opportunity to leave while it's safe, I would highly recommend doing so.

    I'm not an engineer, but I suspect that various engineers have suggested there may be similar conditions. So, if I was given the opportunity to evacuate, I would.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As we mentioned, Hurricane Elsa is now threatening the coast.

    Give us a sense of how that's changing the rescue work on the ground.

  • Michael Fagel:

    Of course, with wind and the weather, those issues will certainly exacerbate the issues.

    But the crews are going to keep working as safely as they can for as long as they can. But when you add wind, weather, shifting debris, as we had yesterday, when a beam moves six to 12 inches, all those things just add to the entire problem that must be evaluated minute by minute.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I wonder, too, if you would weigh in on this, because, obviously, the safety of the workers is the foremost of everyone's minds right now.

    But what about the long-term safety? I think back to the rescue workers who were there after 9/11, and many of them inhaling the dust and who knows what else afterwards. Are you concerned, based on what you have seen, about the long-term health of those rescue workers at Surfside?

  • Michael Fagel:


    And it's something that will rear its ugly head at the very — unknown times. I tried to keep people safe when I was at Ground Zero. I succumbed to cancer 10 years later. So you just don't know. I lost a kidney and some lung function. These folks are going to be so — they need to be monitored so carefully. They need to say, I need medical attention. And they need mental health support as well.

    Don't be afraid, because the long-term effects of critical incident will last with them for their lifetime and for their families. Don't ignore it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michael Fagel, you know what it is to be in those rescue work and teams.

    And I wonder, if you had a brief message for those on the ground doing the work right now, what would that be?

  • Michael Fagel:

    Don't give up, don't panic, and stay safe, and, please, please, obtain medical attention and mental health support. Don't be afraid. It's OK.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Michael Fagel joining us tonight.

    And, of course, our thoughts remain with the people and those rescue workers down in Surfside, Florida.

    Thank you so much for your time.

  • Michael Fagel:

    You're welcome.

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