The tragedy turns into private to the Miami-Dade rescue groups

Miami-Dade search and rescue teams are considered the best and most experienced in the world and are deployed to epic disaster sites well beyond their Florida base – from the rubble of the World Trade Center to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Mexico and the Philippines.

This time the disaster struck at home.

Rescuers are urgently looking for the myriad of souls buried under the collapsed 12-story wing of the Champlain Towers condominium. On Tuesday morning, more than five days after the collapse, the death toll was 11, with 150 people missing.

“It’s personal,” said Dave Downey, former Miami-Dade County fire chief, a 37-year veteran of the department who retired two years ago but joined the search.

“I’d much rather help than ask for help, but right now it’s in our own back yard,” he said of a command vehicle near the pile of broken concrete and twisted metal.

Crews from across Florida as well as Mexico and Israel have come to Surfside to join the effort. More than 400 rescue workers are on site and rotate in the rubble every 45 minutes in 12-hour shifts. At any given time, six or seven troops – each with six members – are trudging over or digging into the rubble.

The search for survivors continued amid painful requests from the family that the rescuers work faster. The crews did not stop the rain again and again. There was also no smoky fire that smoldered deep in the ruins. The stifling heat in Florida didn’t help either.

Joseph A. Barbera, a search and rescue expert at George Washington University, met a Miami-Dade team in 1990 while advising rescue workers in the Philippines.

“They have a very good reputation,” said Barbera, noting that the Miami-Dade search and rescue team is ahead of many other teams in the United States and internationally. “I am very confident that you will continue to do a great job.”

You practiced a lot.

In 1985, a Miami Dade team rushed to Mexico City, where an 8.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed homes and buildings, killing approximately 5,000 people. A decade later, the division sent personnel to Oklahoma City after 168 people were killed in a truck bomb attack on a federal building.

Then on to earthquakes in Turkey, Taiwan and Colombia.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 sent crews in Florida to the World Trade Center, a particularly emotional task. Many of the dead pulled from the rubble were first responders rushing to save lives.

But in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, there were glimmers of hope when rescuers pulled out a survivor. A reporter for the Christian Science Monitor reported how a Miami Dade crew walked into a collapsed building to rescue three children, ages 5, 7, and 14 while a desperate mother watched from the street.

There were other tragedies at home, including the collapse of a parking garage under construction at Miami Dade College in 2012, killing four workers. But maybe nothing has hit as hard as this recent disaster.

No one has been taken out of the ruins alive since the first hours after the building collapsed. Rescue workers had to move carefully in the midst of the precarious heap of rubble.

Alfredo Lopez, who lived on the sixth floor of the apartment complex, in a section that stopped, was reluctant to hear complaints that the crews weren’t working hard enough or not working fast enough.

“When we got out of there that night, I could only see ambulances and fire trucks and police cars,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t get in there early enough because they didn’t know what the hell was going on. like none of us. “

For the first time, a seven-person search and rescue team from the Mexican Jewish community used a suitcase-sized device valued at $ 23,000 that uses microwave radar to see through 12 meters of shattered concrete and detect signs of breathing and heartbeats. The team has also used dogs to sniff out victims.

“We hope for a miracle,” said Ricardo Aizenman, one of the saviors of Cadena International. It happened before, he said. “People can live up to 15, 16 days with just water, water drops.”

Dr. Howard Lieberman also believes that survivors could still be found.

“As a trauma surgeon, I’ve learned never to count anyone. I’ve made this mistake once or twice, ”said Lieberman. “And you know what? You proved me wrong.”

Lieberman was on site hours after the breakdown Thursday and now leads a five-person medical team that is part of the Miami-Dade search and rescue unit. He has treated rescue workers for blisters and injured feet, heat exhaustion and fatigue from working in near 90 degrees of heat.

“These guys work on a 12-hour cycle. I see them come from the pile at noon and they are exhausted and working their way back to their tents, ”said Downey, the former Miami-Dade fire chief who now serves on the Urban Search and Rescue Committee of the International Association of Firefighters

“You will be cleaned up. You get some nourishment. A couple of hours later, I’m talking to my boys. They say, “We are ready to go, boss. Put us in. We want to get to work. ‘”


Calvan reported from Tallahassee. Contributors to this report were associate press writers Mike Schneider in Orlando, Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, and Adriana Gomez Licon and Terry Spencer in Surfside.

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