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Ceremony Ends Firefighters' Search

Crews rejoin their families after camping at the site of the collapsed condo building
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 23, 2021 4:15 PM CDT
Ceremony Ends Firefighters' Search
Enrique Calvo greets his son, Enrique, 2, as his wife, Joceline, looks on Friday, as rescue crew members rejoin their families   (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

(Newser) – Firefighters on Friday declared the end of their search for bodies at the site of a collapsed Florida condo building, concluding a month of painstaking work removing layers of dangerous debris that were once piled several stories high. The June 24 collapse at the oceanside Champlain Towers South in Surfside killed 97 people, with at least one missing person yet to be identified. The site has been mostly swept flat and the rubble moved to a Miami warehouse, the AP reports. Although forensic scientists are still at work, including examining the debris at the warehouse, there are no more bodies to be found where the building once stood. Except during the early hours after the collapse, survivors never emerged. Search teams spent weeks battling the hazards of the rubble, including an unstable portion of the building that teetered above, a recurring fire, and stifling heat and storms. They went through more than 14,000 tons of broken concrete and rebar, often working boulder by boulder, rock by rock, before declaring the mission complete.

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Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's urban search-and-rescue team pulled away Friday in a convoy, slowly driving to headquarters for a news conference to announce that the search was officially over. At a ceremony, Fire Chief Alan Cominsky saluted the firefighters who worked 12-hour shifts while camping out at the site. "It's obviously devastating. It's obviously a difficult situation across the board," Cominsky said. "I couldn't be prouder of the men and women that represent Miami-Dade Fire Rescue." Officials have not clarified whether they have one additional set of human remains that pathologists are struggling to identify or whether a search for that final set of remains continues. If found, Estelle Hedaya would bring the death toll to 98. She was an outgoing 54-year-old who loved to travel and was fond of striking up conversations with strangers. Leah Sutton, who knew Hedaya since birth and considered herself a second mother to her, is worried that she will be forgotten. "They seem to be packing up and congratulating everyone on a job well done," she said Friday. "And yes, they deserve all the accolades, but after they find Estelle."

(Read more Florida condo collapse stories.)

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