In the hours after the Champlain Towers South condo building partially collapsed last Thursday in Surfside, Florida, a group of fire rescuers focused their efforts on trying to save a woman who was heard calling from inside the building for help.
The woman, who was trapped inside the caved-in garage, told rescuers, “I’m here, get me out. Get me out,” according to a rescue worker who spoke to Local News 10 on the condition of anonymity, reported the news agency on Wednesday.
But with a wall of concrete and metal blocking their way, rescuers were unable to reach her in time.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, get this lady out and comfort her,” said the worker, also adding that “she was asking for help and she was pleading to be taken out of there.”
“We were continuously talking to her … ‘Honey, we got you. We’re going to get to you,’” said the source, reports the outlet.
Local News 10 also reports:
Local 10 News also learned of an email sent by a supervisor worried about the effects of this loss on his crews, saying they were “involved with an active conversation with the female trapped next to the bed about 10 to 11 hours after the collapse. … She was aware her parents were also trapped next to her.”
The email says a fire that broke out forced crews to move back “as we know she passed.” Chiefs on scene reported, “They saw the wind knocked out of our guys…”
During a press conference Thursday morning, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said that rescuers “heard audible sounds” from underneath the structure. “They were searching for — a female voice is what we heard for several hours — and eventually we didn’t hear her voice anymore. We continued searching,” said Cominsky.
He said everyone has been “trying to do the best we can in these heroic efforts,” but noted that they were unsuccessful in saving that woman’s life. It’s unclear whether officials have determined the identity of the woman who was trapped on the lower level.
Earlier Thursday, rescue teams were forced to halt search and rescue operations out of concern that the rubble and remaining structure were too unstable. The pause, which Cominksy described as “temporary,” comes a week after the building collapse trapped numerous residents and killed at least 18 people. More than 140 people remain unaccounted for.
Cominsky said on-site structural engineers had several concerns, including movement in a column that could cause damage to other support columns in the garage area if it fell, “slight movement” in the concrete slabs in the “north and south corner of the building,” and “movement in the debris pile” near the south end of the structure.
“We’ve been working in a very very unsafe environment,” said Cominsky, who added that search and rescue teams couldn’t point to one specific “trigger” for the unstable movement he described in the debris pile.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava declined to speculate on the cause of the building’s collapse, noting that the investigation remains ongoing.
Cava, during a roundtable briefing with President Joe Biden, pledged that officials would be “examining every inch of this catastrophe, with the full might of the federal, state and local government” to figure out what happened. She also praised Governor Ron DeSantis for having an “amazing” team and for personally providing a “steady, calming, reassuring but forceful voice” amidst the disaster.