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Rescue Crew Are Still Searching For Survivors From Collapsed Condominium

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The numbers tell a horrible story. It has been more than a hundred hours since a condominium collapsed in Surfside, Fla. There are nine confirmed deaths; 152 people remain missing. Rescue crews are still searching for survivors, but no one's been pulled alive from the rubble since the early hours after the building fell Thursday. NPR's Brian Mann joins us now from the site of the collapse in Surfside. Brian, good morning. What do you see right now? I mean, what's the status of the recovery effort?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel. Yeah, it's a massive operation here. You'll hear emergency vehicles around me, where I am. It's - searchers are already out again through the night and into this morning. One thing, though, that has just plagued this effort is terrible weather. We just went through another massive lightning storm, rain just pouring down on the rubble pile. It's tough work here. There is some good news. They managed to extinguish that terrible fire that had burned through much of the weekend inside the debris field. That's a major success. And structural engineers are down with these teams as they dig trenches through. That's helped them to find more remains.

And what's happening now is that authorities are taking the debris to a warehouse to look for more human remains. And they're also starting this investigation into why this building collapsed. A lot of questions, of course, swirling around that 2018 engineering report that raised concerns about the building's structural integrity and also errors that it found with the construction of this 40-year-old condo.

MARTIN: Right. So this has been central to your own reporting down there. This report in a story that aired yesterday, it shared details on this engineering study. You found there was a meeting with residents and a city official in 2018. A document that you got your hands on indicates that the town building inspector assured residents of the condominium that the building was in, quote, "very good shape." This is despite that engineer's warning that things weren't so good structurally. The mayor of Surfside, I understand, was asked about this yesterday. What did he have to say?

MANN: Yeah, that's right. Mayor Charles Burkett discussed this at a news conference. He was asked about it, and here's how he answered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLES BURKETT: I wasn't there, you know? I was there before, and I came after, but I wasn't there for that. But I'll tell you what we are doing.

MANN: And what Burkett means there is that he wasn't mayor in 2018. He then went on to say that he's ordered Surfside officials to find all the correspondence related to the building and put it on the city's website. He clearly wants answers about what happened with that building review. It is important to say, Rachel, it's not clear that that study found any of the actual issues and problems that caused this collapse. Those investigations, as I mentioned, are now underway.

MARTIN: Let's spend a few minutes talking about the people, the victims, at the center of this tragedy. You spent time yesterday, I understand, with members of the Jewish community, who have been hit very hard. What did they tell you?

MANN: Yeah. Rabbi Shalom Lipskar invited me to come and visit the shul and the synagogue that he leads here in Surfside. He told me roughly 35 people from his community are still among the missing.

SHOLOM LIPSKAR: This is an extraordinary traumatic circumstance where hope is still a glimmer. We're basically in a war zone waiting to hear the final verdict - alive or, God forbid, not.

MANN: Rabbi Lipskar has been sitting with families as they wait for that news. He said for many, it's grown unbearable.

LIPSKAR: As you can imagine, there's a lot of pain, a lot of frustration. And as time goes on, you know, the hope starts to turn to, really, sometimes a deep inner turmoil that cannot be addressed logically because it's not logical. Nothing here is logical.

(CROSSTALK)

MANN: The rabbi invited me to go downstairs, where people are working incredibly hard to provide relief and comfort for these families. It was really beautiful to see so many volunteers with food and other donations.

LIPSKAR: (Non-English language spoken).

MANN: During afternoon prayer, Rabbi Lipskar read out the names of the missing, a list that seemed to go on and on. Family members of those missing came forward to pray with members of the community gathering to hug them or touch their sleeves. Rabbi Lipskar told me this coming together is one of the comforts that remains.

LIPSKAR: The extraordinary outpouring of kindness and empathy and just being there for them.

MANN: The other comfort, according to the rabbi, is a belief in something good that lies beyond all this pain and loss.

LIPSKAR: When you believe in the soul, you believe in the eternity, you believe in God, you believe in a higher power, at least there's some element where there's continuity.

MANN: So, Rachel, you can hear; people are holding on to hope where they can. They're helping each other how they can. But this is a brutally hard time and harder as the days go by.

MARTIN: NPR's Brian Mann reporting from Surfside, Fla., this morning at the site of the collapse. Brian, thank you.

MANN: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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