SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Rescue crews pulled 10 more bodies from a collapsed condo building Wednesday, and the emotional toll mounted as officials fought back tears and lamented the ordeal of exhausted families still awaiting word on missing loved ones.
The 14th day of the search yielded the highest number of bodies found in a single day and pushed the death toll up to 46.
During a news conference, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava repeatedly tried not to weep, paused and shook her head as she described the effect of the tragedy on rescue workers and the families of the victims.
“Our commitment to this mission is deeply personal. This is our community, our neighbors, our families. And our first responders have truly searched that pile every single day since the collapse as if they’re searching for their own loved ones,” she said.
The latest retrievals reflect what rescue officials have said would be a ramped-up pace of work after the remaining portion of the condo building was demolished Sunday night.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members about the newly discovered remains Wednesday morning in a private briefing.
Crews “did some significant removal of the pile,” Jadallah said. “They were able to get down to various areas to inspect.”
Rescuers still have not discovered any new “voids,” or pockets in the rubble that might have harbored survivors, Jadallah said.
No one has been rescued from the site since the first hours after the building collapsed on June 24 when many of its residents were asleep.
Jadallah told families the work continues to be a search-and-rescue operation and has not yet transitioned to a recovery mission.
“We’re not there yet,” he said.
Later, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky sighed when asked during the news conference if officials were giving families a false sense of hope.
“Obviously, it’s very difficult,” he said. “We’ve been exhausting every effort, and that’s where we are right now, is exhausting every effort, and we’ll go from there.”
Levine Cava then stepped up to the microphones: “I just want to say that these families — they’ve been briefed twice a day. Every question has been answered. They’ve been supported to come to closure as soon as possible.”
Maggie Castro, a Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic, said the families are physically and emotionally exhausted.
“It’s a lot, a lot of emotional roller coasters that they’ve been on, just trying to stay positive and hold out the wait,” said Castro, who has given daily updates to the families.
“There has been a sort of shift, I think, towards acceptance, but also obviously with that comes some sadness,” she told The Associated Press in an interview.
Workers on Tuesday dug through pulverized concrete where the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside once stood, filling buckets that were passed down a line to be emptied and then returned.
The up-close look at the search, in a video released Tuesday by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department, came as rain and wind from Tropical Storm Elsa disrupted the effort.
Reporters got their closest in-person look at the site Tuesday, though it was limited to the portion of the building that workers tore down Sunday after the initial collapse left it standing but dangerously unstable. A pile of shattered concrete and twisted steel stood about 30 feet (9 meters) high and spanned roughly half the length of a football field. A pair of backhoes pulled rubble off the pile, which blocked any view of the search effort.