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Top Tier Crews Continue Rescue Efforts In Florida

Search and rescue crews work among the rubble at the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla. Rescuers are combating fire, smoke and a complex debris field as they search for survivors.
Gerald Herbert
Search and rescue crews work among the rubble at the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla. Rescuers are combating fire, smoke and a complex debris field as they search for survivors.

Unrelenting rescue efforts are still underway in South Florida. Search and rescue workers and first responders have recovered four bodies from a 12-story building that partially collapsed early Thursday morning.

But 159 people were still unaccounted for as of Saturday. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava remained optimistic of finding more survivors despite none being found in at least 24 hours.

"We continue to have hope," she said Saturday morning. "We're continuing to search. We're looking for people alive in the rubble. That is our priority and our teams have not stopped. Hour after hour through the night they have been working."

Some of those people working through the night are members of Florida Task Force-1, based in Miami-Dade County. It's one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Urban Search and Rescue units used to deploy to disasters across the globe.

Since the task force's inception in the early 1980s, it has responded to the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as well as the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

They have seen it all.

This group of top tier specialists is primarily comprised of members of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, with outside specialists as needed, according to the group. FL-TF1 is just one of 28 urban search and rescue national task organizations capable of rapid deployment to assist in natural and human-caused disasters.

FEMA says each task force is comprised of 70 specialists — including canine teams used to help sniff out survivors — which can break down into two 35-person-groups that rotate in 12-hour shifts. Each unit also comes complete with an extensive equipment cache. FL-TF1 brings its own rations for 10 days, housing facilities, hazardous materials monitoring equipment, an array of search gadgets and medical equipment.

The loadout totals a whopping 50,000 lbs.

Now, FL-TF1 is desperately working alongside several other task force units — including another South Florida unit, Florida Task Force Two, and rescue workers from Mexico and Israel — in the 6,000-person town of Surfside, just seven miles north of Miami Beach.

Family and friends of the 159 people presumed to be buried beneath 30 feet of rubble continue to anxiously await updates from authorities on the massive undertaking.

But conditions are becoming more challenging. As of Saturday morning, firefighters were still unable to find the source of a fire deep within the debris pile. As a result, the smoke has impeded an already complicated search and rescue mission.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky described the process as "strategic and methodical." Rescuers are using all of the tools at their disposal, including sonar, thermal imaging technology, canine units and boots on the ground to continue the search.

"A search with this type of collapse is extremely difficult," he told reporters Friday evening. "As this equipment comes in, we will use it to assist to move certain pieces of debris. We cant just move it all at one time. It has to be a very slow process."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.