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Emergency crews continued searching the rubble for those still missing Friday as the Surfside, Florida community grieves the lives lost. Stephanie Sy has our report with Patricia Mazzei, the Miami bureau chief for The New York Times.
It has been another long day of watching and waiting just outside Miami Beach, where a residential building collapsed early Thursday.
Officials have now confirmed four are dead, with 159 still unaccounted for leaving families cling to hope.
Stephanie Sy has our report.
It's been over 24 hours since part of the 12-story Champlain Towers condominium collapsed in Surfside, Florida.
Search-and-rescue crews spent last night and all day today methodically combing through concrete and twisted metal, eyes and ears alert for potential survivors.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says it's risky work.
Daniella Levine Cava (D), Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Florida: We are going to work as hard as we can to continue our search-and-rescue effort. That is our priority. That is where we're focused and protecting our first responders who are on the scene.
The crews started in the flooded basement parking garage of the building, trying to tunnel upward into the wreckage. The disaster has touched people from many countries and communities, united by hope that missing relatives will be found alive.
Yuby Cartes, Relative of Missing Residents: It's unbelievable. Everything comes to your mind, except positive things. You just believe in God and let God guide you to this.
Joshua Spiegel, Son of Missing Resident Judy Spiegel: It's a struggle. We are praying every minute. We are hopeful that she's there alive and we're going to see her soon and be able to hold her hand and kiss her. And we love her so much.
President Biden commented on the situation before commemorating pride month at the White House.
Joe Biden, President of the United States: We sent the best people from FEMA down there. We're going to stay with them with the disaster declaration we made, provide for everything from housing to, God forbid, whether there is a need for a moratoria, for the bodies to be placed, everything in between.
It's a tough, tough time. There are so many people waiting. Are they alive? Will they be — what will happen? So, our heart goes out to them.
Back in Surfside, Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis promised the cause of the building's collapse will be identified.
Gov. Ron Desantis (R-FL):
We need a definitive explanation for how this could have happened. And that's an explanation that needs to be an accurate explanation. It's an explanation that we don't want to get wrong, obviously. But, at the same time, I do think it's important that it's timely.
Mayor Charles Burkett said they need answers, but the more urgent priority is getting to possible survivors.
Charles Burkett, Mayor of Surfside, Florida: Those buildings should have never fallen down. Buildings like that don't fall down in America. This is a First World country. That doesn't happen here. There is something very wrong. But that's for another day.
Today, we are going to save lives. That's what we are going to do.
And for the latest, I'm joined by Patricia Mazzei, Miami bureau chief for The New York Times. She's in Surfside, Florida, covering the ongoing search-and-rescue operation.
Patricia, thank you for being with us.
You know, Governor DeSantis described the scene there as traumatic. You're on the ground. How would you describe it?
Patricia Mazzei, Miami Bureau Chief, The New York Times:
It is devastating to see.
You don't expect a building to have half of its apartments sort of sheered off, just looks — it looks like an earthquake and — or a bomb, I mean, not the sort of thing you expect to happen, as one survivor put it, just your building.
And this is a lady who saw the apartment next to her was gone. So, she said everything but — up to my apartment. Everything else was gone.
They thought it was a earthquake, so they left the building. And then they realized it was just part of their building that had fallen down. It's truly shocking.
So, FEMA, Patricia, the federal rescue workers were called in.
What is currently going on with the search-and-rescue effort, and how intense is it?
It is massive in terms of the number of people we have seen roll in here, convoys of state emergency workers from the city of Miami, from every local municipality, from other counties in the state. The big task forces that FEMA runs are here.
But there are limitations and challenges. When you are working in the tunnels underground, only small teams can go in a time and do the sort of backbreaking work of drilling through concrete, and then seeing how much more you can drill, using specialized cameras to see where it is safe to shore up the area, using special listening equipment to see if you can hear any signs of life.
And that's not just voices. That's tapping, scratching, the movement of metal, and any signs that somebody might be in there. And then you have to battle sort of the elements. It is not a Sunday with a nice ocean breeze. There have been intermittent thunderstorms that have hampered their — the visibility of the crews.
There is so much humidity that every time there is a fire — and we have seen several, which tends to happen the breeze shifts around — every time there's fire, the smoke lingers and the rain sort of comes down and it affects people's breathing.
So, it's a complicated scene. It's not sort of the optimal conditions to be working in.
What is the mood there, Patricia? And, as more time passes without more survivors being rescued, have you seen that mood change?
The relatives of the people who are missing have grown increasingly frustrated.
At first, they seemed frustrated because they couldn't visually see with the naked eye from afar the movement of the crews. That's because they were working underground. Now there is more heavy machinery and more movement above ground.
But you understand people who are desperate. They sort of wanted to go in themselves and move the rubble with their own bare hands. And what the authorities say is that it is very precarious and dangerous work, and that it has to be done slowly and methodically.
But, of course, as every hour passes, people are less and less hopeful.
And we should say that the medical examiner there has identified the first victim, 54-year-old Stacie Fang, a mother.
Patricia Mazzei with The New York Times.
What an anxiety-provoking wait for all those folks.
Thank you for joining us with the latest.
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Stephanie Sy is a PBS NewsHour correspondent and serves as anchor of PBS NewsHour West. Throughout her career, she served in anchor and correspondent capacities for ABC News, Al Jazeera America, CBSN, CNN International, and PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior to joining NewsHour, she was with Yahoo News where she anchored coverage of the 2018 Midterm Elections and reported from Donald Trump’s victory party on Election Day 2016.
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