Rescue Workers At The Collapsed Condo Face Physical And Emotional Tolls : Live Updates: Miami-Area Condo Collapse Along with the emotionally taxing work of searching for missing residents, firefighters working at the collapsed condo are dealing with the threat of COVID-19 and unpredictable weather.

Firefighters Searching Condo Rubble Are Facing Physical And Emotional Tolls

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Search efforts are ongoing at the site of the building collapse nearly two weeks ago at a condominium complex in Surfside, Fla. Thirty-two bodies have been recovered from the rubble; 113 people are still missing. Jim Ingledue is a firefighter from Virginia Beach, now deployed as part of the FEMA response. We reached him yesterday at the site, as he supervised those removing the debris. His team asks friends and family members questions about their missing loved ones.

JIM INGLEDUE: Did they typically, you know, sleep at night, or were they day-sleepers? Do they have children? Do they have pets? And we try to gather as much intelligence about the lifestyle as we can so that when we are breaking down through the rubble, we focus on those areas that we predict they are.

FADEL: Chaya Lerner is a rabbi and licensed social worker in Miami. She's been at the site counseling families of the missing, including one family who later had the bodies of two loved ones recovered.

CHAYA LERNER: Someone asked me, you know, well, what do you do to help them right now? And the thing is, you really can't, expect to be there as witness to what's going on. I mean, what can you do?

FADEL: Maggie Castro is with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. She's a firefighter and a paramedic, and part of her task is briefing the families at the site every day on the progress of the search effort. She joins me now. Welcome, Maggie.

MAGGIE CASTRO: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So I first just want to ask how you and other first responders are holding up. It's been almost two weeks of searching for people's loved ones in dangerous conditions.

CASTRO: As you can imagine, it's a difficult task, emotionally taxing.

FADEL: Yeah.

CASTRO: But being able to spend time with these families and be there for them in whatever capacity they need has been extremely - I feel it's been extremely fulfilling for me in such a time of such tragedy to be able to be with them and just provide them something, even if it's just a shoulder to cry on. It's just really been, like, one of the best experiences of my career.

FADEL: Help us better understand the current search efforts. What teams, tools, strategies are being used?

CASTRO: We've gotten some new teams come in. We have - we had all eight state teams on site from - (inaudible).

FADEL: Maggie? We may have lost Maggie Castro, a firefighter in Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Are you still there? Maggie, can you hear me?

CASTRO: Hello?

FADEL: Hi. I think we lost you for a moment. You said that there are some teams coming in?

CASTRO: Hello. Hi. Oh, can you hear me?

FADEL: I can hear you. You said that there were some teams coming in?

CASTRO: Yeah, we have teams from other states. There's five - yes, we have some teams from other states here, and they are doing the search at this time. We have teams from Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania. And they're all helping out in the efforts to be able to locate these families' loved ones, to be able to give them some type of closure.

FADEL: All right. How have things changed since Sunday's controlled demolition in the search and rescue efforts?

CASTRO: It's given us access to areas that we did not have access to before because of the condition of the building that was remaining. It was unstable. There was areas of the parking garage and a part of the area of the rubble that we were unable to access. And now with the building no longer being a problem for us, we're able to access every area of the rubble pile and able to search every single area that we had not had access to before.

FADEL: But now you're dealing with bad weather, rain, wind. How has that affected things?

CASTRO: Yes, the weather has been a little bit of an issue. The rain is not so much of a problem. We can work through the rain. The wind - sometimes if it's extremely heavy wind, it may delay the use of some of the heavy machinery, the large cranes. But the problem is the lightning. Whenever there's a lightning strike within a 2-1/2-mile radius of the site, work has to stop by law for about 30 minutes. And if there's any additional lightning strikes in those 30 minutes, we have to pause an additional 30 minutes. So the lightning is really becoming a problem.

FADEL: So it really slows things down, then.

CASTRO: The lightning has. The rain makes conditions a little slick, but this is south Florida; we get rain all the time. So we can work through the rain.

FADEL: So today marks Day 13 since the collapse, and you spend a lot of your time with these families who are waiting for their loved ones to be found. Do they have hope that they're still alive?

CASTRO: We do have a lot of family members that have hope. And obviously, we're never going to say you shouldn't have hope, and we're not going to give up hope ourselves. We're always hoping for a miracle. But we do understand that with every day that passes, the chances of that happening becomes less and less.

FADEL: What resources do the families need most urgently in this moment?

CASTRO: Right now these families, they - what they need is closure. They need to be able to move on. And they're - all they want is an answer. They have all the resources they need. They have everything they need here. They just need an answer, and that's what we're working 24 hours a day to try to get to them.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, has there been anything you've recovered in the debris pile that sticks with you?

CASTRO: Personal effects are very difficult, especially ones that belonged to children. Those are really difficult.

FADEL: Firefighter and paramedic Maggie Castro is with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Thank you.

CASTRO: Thank you.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

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.