Families of 150 missing in Florida condo collapse are seeking answers

ORhonde Chapman

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SURFSIDE, Fla. – Six days after a condo building outside Miami collapsed, families of the 150 missing people are desperately waiting for answers.

The death toll remains at 11, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Tuesday. Levine Cava stated that all of the families have been notified by authorities.

As the Surfside community mourns, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday he would visit the site of the collapsed building Thursday.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he has received questions from frustrated families about why rescue efforts stopped during thunderstorms. Burkett said the fire chief told relatives he would get back to them with an answer. “We have people waiting and waiting and waiting for news,” Levine Cava told reporters. “We have them coping with the news that they might not have their loved ones come out alive and still hope against hope that they will. They’re learning that some of their loved ones will come out as body parts.

This is the kind of information that is just excruciating for everyone.”

Families also wondered how long a person could survive under the large amounts of rubble, Burkett said in a news briefing, adding he remains hopeful survivors will be found. Authorities reiterated that work at the site was a search-and-rescue effort. Workers sifted through the rubble, listening and looking for signs of life.

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"Nobody is giving up hope here," Burkett said.

Here's what I know Tuesday:

President Biden plans to visit Florida, and urges a federal investigation about the condo collapse.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president wants to thank rescuers for their work and "meet with the families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy, waiting in anguish and heartbreak for word of their loved ones, to offer them comfort as search-and-rescue efforts continue."On Monday, Psaki said Biden believes the reasons for the collapse need to be investigated, and various federal agencies are already providing expertise.

Prosecutors in Florida are pursuing a grand jury investigation into the deadly collapse, officials said Tuesday.

Levine Cava said at a news conference that she fully supports such an investigation. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she would bring the matter before grand jurors soon.

A federal investigation into what caused the Champlain Towers South collapse is already underway, officials said Monday afternoon at a news conference.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said he spoke with representatives of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who will conduct an investigation into the causes of the collapse. The NIST, founded in 1901, investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks and other incidents, including the Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003, a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011 and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017.

"They have never done just a straight building collapse that wasn't involved with either hazards or acts of terrorism," DeSantis said. "This is going to be something that is important, and it is something that is going to be very thorough. ... It is going to take a long time. That is the kind of horizon they work on.''

DeSantis said more immediate investigations conducted by Miami-Dade County and the town of Surfside could shed some light more quickly and alluded to the possibility of state regulatory changes if necessary after those assessments. 

"If there are things that need to be done at the state level, we obviously would want to get information as soon as possible," DeSantis said.

This comes after more victims were identified late Monday.The bodies of 11 people have been recovered from the site. Monday night, Miami-Dade police released the names of victims who have been identified: Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, whose body was recovered Saturday; Frank Kleiman, 55, whose body was recovered Monday; and Michael Davis Altman, 50, whose body was recovered Monday.

Sunday night, the police identified Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermudez, 26, and his mother Ana Ortiz, 46; all of whom were recovered Saturday. Christina Beatriz Elvira de Oliwkowicz, 74, who was married to Leon Oliwkowicz, was recovered Sunday. 

The first victim to be identified was Stacie Fang, 54, whose 15-year-old son was pulled alive from the wreckage. Also identified Monday: Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel LaFont, 54.

Community members gathered to mourn the losses after hearing the news.

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The flicker of candles and glowsticks were seen on the oceanfront Monday night as a group gathered for ameditation and moment of silence on the beach near the rubble.

After the gathering, the group walked to a growing memorial near the building to lay flowers, notes and candles. A chain-link fence is so full of sentimental ornaments that it is barely visible.

“Seeing this makes it a bit more real, which is saddening for me, but it's the truth," said Ciena Falcon, 11, who has a friend among the missing.

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"When you are with people who are all grieving for the same cause, it just makes you feel a little better," she said.

While this tragic situation has left many uncertain, many are holding onto the hopes that their loved ones will be found alive.

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ORhonde Chapman is a breaking news reporter who has a passion for writing local, national , and world news stories.

Atlanta, GA
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