Reporter's Notebook: Eyewitness News coverage from Josh Einiger in the Miami-area building collapse

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Friday, July 2, 2021
Search and rescue operations resume at FL condo collapse site
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Rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed Florida condominium building resumed Thursday afternoon, about 15 hours after the work was halted.

SURFSIDE, Florida (WABC) -- Eyewitness News' Josh Einiger is reporting from Florida at the site of the Miami-area building collapse where scores of people are missing.

About 150 people remained missing after an oceanside condominium building collapsed into a smoldering pile of rubble, and searchers using both big machines and their hands to comb through a twisted, shifting heap of concrete and metal feared the death toll of at least four could go much higher.

With scores of firefighters working overnight to reach any possible survivors both from under and atop the remains of the building, hopes rested on how quickly crews using dogs and microphones to sift through the wreckage could complete their grim, yet delicate task.

Here are some of the headlines from Josh's reports


Thursday, July 1

Search and rescue operations resume at FL condo collapse site

Rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed Florida condominium building resumed Thursday afternoon, about 15 hours after the work was halted out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure, the mayor said.

Rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed Florida condominium building were halted Thursday out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure after crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column, officials said.

President Biden pays his respects

No stranger to grief himself, the president paid his respects to a community in crisis. He spent nearly three hours meeting with families of those trapped when their condo crashed to the ground, turning their worlds upside down.

The president also met with first responders on day eight of the search -- which is now on pause.

Safety concerns halt search at collapsed Florida condo;

Rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed Florida condominium building were halted Thursday out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure after crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column, officials said.

The stoppage that began shortly after 2 a.m. threatened to keep search teams off the rubble pile for an unknown period and dim hopes for finding anyone alive in the debris a week after the tower came down.

New Jersey team to assist in Florida condo collapse search

New Jersey's urban search and rescue team deployed to Florida on Thursday to help with rescue and recovery efforts one week after a 12-story beachfront condominium building came crashing down.

New Jersey Task Force 1 sent 70 members who specialize in 21 technically skilled positions and 10 ground support personnel. It is the unit's eighth deployment under FEMA since 2016.

The team's past experience with structural collapses includes the Twin Towers in the Sept. 11 attacks, the Tropicana Hotel 's parking garage and the Hackensack parking garage.

Wednesday, June 30

President Biden, First Lady to travel to Surfside

President Joe Biden and the First Lady will travel to Surfside, Florida Thursday morning. They plan to be in attendance for the morning briefing at the site of the Florida building collapse. They will also be on hand to thank the first responders and rescue teams for their tireless effort.

New Jersey Task Force 1 travels to Surfside, Florida

New Jersey Task Force 1 is heading down to Surfside, Florida to help with rescue and recovery efforts at the scene of the collapse. They are deploying as a team consisting of 70 team members, in 21 technically skilled positions, and 10 ground support personnel.

The team will be responding vi; two crew carriers, three tractor-trailers, two box trucks, five F-450 crew trucks, two passenger vans, two K-9 units, two utility terrain vehicles, and a fleet service truck. A water rescue component of six boats with trailers and a water support trailer are also being deployed.

Bodies of 2 children found at Florida collapse site, death toll climbs to 18

Search crews going through the ruins of a Florida condo tower pulled six more bodies from the rubble Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 18. It was the highest one-day toll since the building collapsed almost a week ago into a heap of broken concrete.

Among the dead, two children are on the list. Eleven-year-old Lucia Guara died with her father, and her 4-year-old sister Emma. Her mom is still missing.

VIDEO: Tourist records water pouring from Florida condo, rubble moments before collapse

There's new video shot just seven minutes before the condo gave way. You can see water gushing into the garage, and debris on the ground.

It was the last in a parade of warnings -- and too late. But engineers had been sounding alarms about the Champlain Towers south for years. A federal agency is now the latest to promise an investigation.

4 more bodies found at Florida collapse site, bumping death toll to 16

Four more bodies have been found in the rubble of a collapsed Florida condo tower, officials said Wednesday, raising the death toll in the disaster to 16 people.

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members at a morning briefing that rescuers found the bodies Tuesday night. He said relatives have not yet been identified.

Power outage

A small power outage had little, if any, impact on rescue operations -- but shows just how difficult the past week has been for the rescue specialists.

Hundreds of responders are now involved in the search and for the first time they have uncovered voids in the rubble large enough to sustain life.

Tourist records water pouring from Florida condo, rubble moments before collapse

Video recorded at Champlain Tower South minutes before its deadly collapse Thursday appears to show water pouring out of a ceiling in a parking garage and rubble on the ground, ABC News has confirmed.

Adriana Sarmiento told ABC News that she and her husband were on vacation and swimming in the pool at the nearby Bluegreen Vacations Solara Surfside Resort when they heard a loud noise.

They went out into the street to investigate and recorded water flowing from the parking garage and what appears to be rubble on the ground. Phone records show that the video was recorded at 1:18 a.m., minutes before the collapse.

Ex-official who said Surfside condo was sound leaves new job

A former city official who assured leaders that a Florida condo building was in "very good shape" three years before it collapsed has left his new job. A statement from the city of Doral says Rosendo "Ross" Prieto is on a leave of absence from his temporary job with a contracting company that does business with governments.

Doral is located about 20 miles west of Surfside where the Champlain Towers South condominium is located. When he was a building official for Surfside in 2018, Prieto told Champlain Towers South board members that their building was sound. That was a month after an engineering firm identified structural deficiencies needing repair. The building partially collapsed last week.

Tuesday, June 29

The search continues on day 6

Convoys of dump trucks ran up and down Collins Avenue all day under police escort -- transporting some of the 3 million pounds of debris already excavated from the collapse site.

"As we're moving debris we're just finding more debris that's just concrete pulverize, you know it's extremely difficult," the fire chief said.

Trying to understand what happened

As investigators are looking into what caused the tower to fall, the Miami Herald printed pictures from a pool contractor just last week and reported standing water all over the parking garage, along with cracked concrete and severely corroded rebar.

And just this April, the condo board president sent a letter to owners that worsening conditions had dramatically deteriorated. The building was about to embark on a multimillion dollar project to fix the problems. They just didn't get it done in time.

Bidens traveling to Florida

Also Tuesday, the White House announced that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden would travel to Surfside on Thursday.

Monday, June 28

Vigil held for victims

As day five faded away, family members gathered by the sea in sight of the ruins that trapped the people they love. They held hands, laid down flowers and prayed.

Florida building collapse death toll rises to 11

Rescue workers digging for a fifth day into the remnants of a collapsed Florida condo building stressed Monday that they could still find survivors in the rubble, a hope family members clung to even though no one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the structure fell.

Another body was recovered Monday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 11. But more than 150 people are still missing in Surfside. Their families rode buses Sunday to a nearby site to watch the intense rescue effort, which included firefighters, sniffer dogs and search experts using radar and sonar devices.

Voids found in rubble

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Andy Alvarez says there are more than 80 rescuers at a time are breaching the walls looking for survivors. He says they have found voids in the building and have been able to tunnel through the building.

Balcony for family members of victims

Florida officials say they are working to construct a balcony where family members of victims can go at their leisure and watch the search and rescue process.

Before collapse, $9 million in repairs needed

Nearly three years before an oceanfront building collapsed near Miami, an engineering firm estimated that major repairs the building needed would cost more than $9 million, according to newly released emails.

The email from the firm of Morabito Consultants was among a series of documents released by the city of Surfside as rescue efforts continued at the site of the collapsed building, where more than 150 people remained unaccounted for. At least five people were killed in the collapse.

Family finds 92-year-old matriarch's mementos in rubble of Florida condo collapse

When a father and son rushed to the site where a Florida condominium tower had collapsed, they hoped for any sign that their family's 92-year-old matriarch, Hilda Noriega, had somehow survived.

Among the flying debris, they stumbled across mementos that bore witness to Noriega's life on the sixth floor of the 12-story building known as Champlain Towers South: an old picture of her with her late husband and their infant son, and a birthday card that friends from her prayer group sent two weeks earlier with the acronym "ESM," Spanish for "hand-delivered," scrawled across the yellow envelope with a butterfly etching.

"There was a message in the mess of all this," said Mike Noriega, who last spoke with his grandmother the day before the disaster. "It means not to give up hope. To have faith."

Sunday, June 27

Family members learn fates of loved ones

All-day, convoys of buses cruised up and down Collins Avenue carrying terrified family members to the collapse site, to see it for themselves.

"I didn't have to go," Josefina Henriquez said. Henriquez and her daughter Nicole had already gotten the news they'd been dreading.

"They took us into a room, and they told us the news that they found the rest of my sister and my nephew. And that the DNA matched 100%" the victim's Nicole Ortiz said.

"You're losing your daughter and your grandson, that hurts a lot," Henriquez said. Search crews found four more bodies Sunday and made several more identifications, including Henriquez's daughter Anna and her son Luis. Anna's husband is still missing, along with more than 150 others.

"I know she had the strength if she needed to survive, but whatever happened, I know God was with them until the end because they died together," Ortiz said.

4 more victims identified in Florida building collapse; Death total remains 9

Florida officials identified four additional victims amongst the 9 confirmed fatalities in the Miami-area building collapse. They say there is still no progress in finding more survivors, but the number of unaccounted people now drops by four, to 152.

Motorcade of victims' family members drive past collapse site

On Sunday, a sacred motorcade cruised up Collins Avenue. Two buses, filled with family members, had driven past the collapse site to finally get a firsthand look, at the nonstop work to rescue survivors in the blistering heat.

"I think it's important, transparency will help them come to grips with how hard the state is working with resources to save lives," Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said.

Florida gets international support

Some of the international support includes a group of EMTs and psychologists from Israel. They arrived on the ground Sunday morning - complete with a comfort dog to help take care of the hundreds of family members. This Hatzalah team from Israel is well seasoned in dealing with grief.

Before FL building collapse, $9 million in repairs needed

New documents today revealed the condo board had planned a $9.1 million project to fix what a 2018 engineer's report called "major structural damage and failed waterproofing." But around that time, one resident told NPR, the town of Surfside said the building was still safe.

Death toll rises to 9 overnight

Overnight the death toll rose to 9, with four more victims pulled from the rubble. Search crews insist they haven't lost hope some victims may still be alive.

"We are working 24 hours a day, nonstop, nothing else on our mind, with the only objective of pulling their family members out of that rubble," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said. Now 370 highly trained searchers are on the ground in the sweltering Florida heat. They cycle on and off in small teams. The work is delicate, but the stakes are impossibly high.

Saturday, June 26

Death toll rises to 5; 156 remain unaccounted for

The death toll has risen to five following the partial collapse of a condominium complex near Miami, Florida. During a news conference Saturday, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said another body had been found, as have some human remains.

She said the total number of people unaccounted for after Thursday's disaster now stands at 156. Another 130 people have been accounted for, the mayor said.

Fire has spread amid rubble of collapsed condominium, hampering rescue efforts; 159 remain unaccounted for

"It's a really really difficult time right now. You wake up in the morning hoping more and more people were pulled out, and that news just hasn't been what he had hoped," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.

The only development this morning was that the fires burning under the debris had spread, causing more smoke, more heat and more complication for the already impossible task at hand -- the urgent search to find anyone alive.

2018 report pointed out 'major structural damage' at Miami condo before collapse

Nearly three years before Thursday's deadly partial collapse of a South Florida residential building, an engineer raised concerns about structural damage to the concrete slab below the pool deck and "cracking and spalling" located in the parking garage, according to documents.

A structural field survey report from October 2018 was included in a series of public records documents that were published overnight on the Surfside, Florida, town website. The New York Times was the first media outlet to publish a story about the field survey report. It was released as rescuers continue to scour the rubble at Champlain Towers South in Surfside.

Now, county officials have ordered a safety audit of all similar buildings in the area, including a sister complex, developed at the same time, by the same builder.

What we know about the missing

At least 159 people were unaccounted for Saturday, two days after the collapse of part of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida, authorities have said.

Search and rescue teams have been feverishly scouring the site since shortly after 55 of the building's 136 units fell. Four people are dead, officials have said. One was identified as Stacie Fang, the mother of a boy from the rubble.

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Fifty-year-old Michael Altman, left, was described as as a selfless man who had a love for life.

Friday, June 25

Miami-Dade County mayor says 'no news'

In Surfside Friday night, nearly two full days after the condo tower crashed down, a weary county mayor announced she had no news.

"Unfortunately, the numbers are the same that they were this morning," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. "We have not found anybody else in today's search, but through the night we will continue and god willing there will be some good news."

Officials say the fire is "deeply seeded" under the structure and it's not accessible because of flareups.

Families post pictures of missing loved ones

Families have posted the pictures of missing loved ones on a chain-link fence near the site of the building collapse.

Missing family members like Benny and Malky Weiss, and Malky's father Harry Rosenberg. Their cousin Mike Silber flew down from Long Island and insists they're still alive.

"There's absolutely survivors in there, there's no question about it there are survivors in there. I hope it's my family and I hope it's everybody," Silber said.

Crime scene vans pass collapse site

Video captures a convoy of the Miami-Dade Police Department crime scene vans passing the building collapse site.

"It's a struggle": Family of missing victim speaks out about rescue efforts

With each passing hour and each passing minute, the situation at Champlain Towers seems to be getting worse.

"Because of the smoke and fires that are breaking out they're putting water on the fire but that only creates more smoke," Kevin Spiegel said.

Somewhere in that smoky mountain of debris is Spiegel's wife Judy.

"She connected with everybody. She was the glue in our family," Spiegel said.

He and his family are among hundreds of horrified loved ones waiting for word that just won't come.

"It's a struggle. We are praying every minute. We are hopeful she's there alive and we're gonna see her soon and we love her so much and we're gonna see her soon," Spiegel's son Josh said. "This is gonna be an extremely long process and this excavation may take weeks if not longer and we're gonna be here fighting every second," Josh Spiegel said.

"I'm praying for a miracle": Daughter of missing mother speaks out

"I don't even know how to begin to communicate what's happening. I don't even know," Rachel Spiegal said.

Spiegal believes her mom Judy is in that pile. She's barely left the site as she waits for word. but with every passing minute, her panic turns to dread.

"I'm praying for a miracle but clearly there's fires clearly there's other stuff happening and I don't know if they can even get in there fast enough. When you watch the video of it collapsing, it's just horrifying. I don't know," she said.

Search continues, NJ family lucky to be alive

As the hours ticked by the painstaking work continued. An elite squad of expert rescue workers are using every tool imaginable in the shifting, molten pile of concrete and steel.

"We're one of the best in the nation. And we're working nonstop doing everything we can trying to find everyone's loved ones," Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said.

But for families waiting for news, there's been maddeningly little progress in a wait for news that's grown even more unbearable.

A New Jersey family made it out, but so many didn't. Their families are now receiving briefings every four hours on the search.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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