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Rescue Crews In Surfside Still Hold Hope In Their Search For Survivors


One of the first funerals for victims of the condominium building collapse in Surfside, Fla., was held today. Marcus Guara, his wife Ana and daughters Lucia and Emma were remembered in a service at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Miami Beach. Just miles from the church, search and rescue continued today at the site of the building collapse. Rescue crews pulled eight more bodies from the rubble, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 36. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says federal investigators are also on the scene gathering information about what caused the collapse.


DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: The whole world wants to know what happened here and especially those who are the victims, the survivors, the family members of those who are in the pile.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Allen joins us from Miami. Hi, Greg.


SHAPIRO: As crews conduct the search and rescue today, they're having to deal with a strong tropical storm that is bearing down on the state. How is that affecting their work?

ALLEN: Well, it appears the tropical storm is on a track that's going to miss this area. It's now expected to make landfall along Florida's west coast early tomorrow. There were fears, though, that if Tropical Storm Elsa targeted Miami, high winds could further destabilize, even topple that building that was remaining standing. Because of that, the building was taken with an implosion early Sunday. But bands of heavy rain and strong wind gusts have been coming through here today and have slowed the effort. Crews were forced to stop work for a couple hours today because of wind gusts and lightning. But officials say with the demolition, they can now access all parts of the pile, and they're making progress.

SHAPIRO: Any idea how many victims are still trapped or buried in the pile of rubble?

ALLEN: That's not entirely clear. Currently, officials say they have 109 people who have been reported missing, but Miami-Dade Mayor Levine Cava says much of that information is still incomplete.


LEVINE CAVA: We may only have a name without an apartment number, without a date of birth or other details.

ALLEN: Earlier today, the mayor said police detectives have been going through the list and can only confirm about 70 of those reported missing were actually in the building when it collapsed.

SHAPIRO: It's now been 12 days since the building collapsed, and dozens of families are still waiting to find out what happened to their loved ones. Are officials holding out any hope at this point?

ALLEN: Well, not really. In nearly two weeks of searching, rescue workers have found very few empty spaces or voids in the rubble where they say someone may have possibly survived. Asked about it today, Miami-Dade's fire chief, Alan Cominsky, says we're not seeing anything positive. Officials aren't saying when they will officially give up the search for survivors and move into the next recovery phase. But Mayor Levine Cava has been talking to the families. She says they understand the situation.


LEVINE CAVA: They know what is happening. They understand that the news of their loved ones may be tragic loss. And they - as they're contacted to let them know that a loved one has passed, they're prepared for it. And so I think everybody will be ready when it's time to move to the next phase.

SHAPIRO: And is there anything new on the investigation into what caused the collapse?

ALLEN: Well, officials say investigators with the National Institute of Standards and Technology are on site, and they're tagging all the evidence that's been gathered. They have also been using computer-based imaging to create a 3D model of the pile and of the remaining building before it was demolished. In the meantime, a local grand jury will also be taking up the matter in an investigation. A number of lawsuits have been filed. And Miami-Dade is convening an expert panel to look at went wrong and to make recommendations on how to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Allen in Miami, thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.