, Fla. (AP) — The agonizing wait for word on nearly 160 people
still missing after an oceanfront condominium building collapsed near Miami
, killing at least four, is taking its toll on relatives who can only pray and hope their loved ones will be found alive in an increasingly desperate search for survivors.
Rachel Spiegel was anxious for any update on her missing mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, who lived on the sixth floor, as rescuers used big machines, small buckets, drones, microphones, and their own hands to pick through the mountain of debris that had been the 12-story Champlain Towers South
Jeanne Ugarte was coming to terms with what she feared was a tragic end for longtime friends
Juan and Ana Mora, as well as their son Juan Jr.
, who was visiting his parents in their tower condo.
“I know they won’t find them (alive) because it’s been too long,” Ugarte said.
The crews' ability to complete their grim, yet delicate task in Surfside, just a few miles north of Miami's South Beach, was critical to their hopes.
“Any time we hear a sound, we concentrate in that area,” Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said. “It could be just steel twisting, it could be debris raining down, but not specifically sounds of tapping or human voice.”
Two heavy cranes used large claws to remove debris from the pile Friday, creating a din of crashing glass and metal
as they picked up material and dumped it to the side while being buffeted by gusty winds and pelted by intermittent rain. A smoky haze rose from the site.
When the machines came to a halt, firefighters
wearing protective masks
and carrying red buckets climbed atop the pile to remove smaller pieces by hand in the hopes of finding spots where people might be trapped. In a parking garage, rescuers in knee-deep water
used power tools to cut into the building from below.
Charles Burkett said that crews were doing everything they could to save as many people as possible.
“We don’t have a resource problem, we have a luck problem,” he explained.
Officials said they still don't know how many residents or visitors were in the building when it collapsed, but they were looking for 159 people who were thought to be missing and could have been there.
Flowers left in tribute decorated a fence near the tower, and people waiting for news
about the search stood nearby, hands clasped and hugging, while congregants prayed at a nearby synagogue where some members were among the missing.
Faydah Bushnaq of Sterling, Virginia
, knelt on the beach near the collapsed structure and scratched in the sand, "Pray for their souls."
“We were supposed to be on vacation, but I have no desire to have fun,” Bushnaq said, adding, “It is the perfect time to pray for them.”
According to Miami-Dade Police
Director Freddy Ramirez, authorities are collaborating with the medical examiner's office to identify the bodies that have been discovered. Eleven injuries have been reported, with four people receiving treatment at hospitals.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said rescuers were putting themselves in "extreme danger
" as they worked through the rubble.
“Debris is falling on them as they work,” she explained, adding that “we have structural engineers on-site to ensure that they are not injured, but they are continuing because they are so motivated.”
Jonah Handler, a teen
, was rescued from the rubble hours after the collapse, but his mother, Stacie Fang, died. Relatives issued a statement thanking everyone for their "sympathy, compassion, and support."
It said, "There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie."
While no cause for the early Thursday collapse was determined, Gov. Ron DeSantis
said a “definitive answer” was required in a timely manner. Video showed the center of the building appearing to collapse first, followed by a section closer to the beach.
People from all over the world were among those who have gone missing.
According to Israeli media
, the country's consul general in Miami believes 20 of its citizens are missing, while another 22 people from Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Paraguay are still missing, including relatives of Paraguayan first lady
Silvana de Abdo Bentez.
This story was contributed to by Associated Press
writers Tim Reynolds and Ian Mader in Miami, Freida Frisaro and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale
, Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama
, R.J. Rico in Atlanta
, and Adrian Sainz in Memphis