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State fire marshal provides insight into efforts to locate victims while fighting fire at Surfside building collapse site

Special teams from Israel, Mexico arrive to assist

 Fire chief discusses rescue and recovery efforts at building collapse site
Fire chief discusses rescue and recovery efforts at building collapse site

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Rescue teams and fire units have been working around the clock at the site of the Champlain Towers South, where part of the condo building collapsed early Thursday morning.

As of Sunday morning there have been five confirmed deaths while 156 people remain unaccounted for, according to local authorities.

Search-and-rescue efforts have been ongoing, but fires beneath the rubble have made things even more difficult for the dozens of crews working both above and below ground.

Assistance has been arriving in South Florida at the state, federal and international level. A unit from Mexico has been on site, a team from Israel arrived Sunday morning and help has also been offered all the way from South Africa.

“It’s a difficult site,” said Israeli Task Force NRU Commander Golan Vach. “It’s a pancake, very tight, but we’ve seen this before, a thousand miles from here. Ten years ago, I found a man in the same place, he was alive, in Haiti.”

Florida State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis provided an update to Local 10 News’ Annaliese Garcia early Sunday morning as day four of those efforts continued.

“To tell you the magnitude of what is taking place right now, my hometown was Panama City and when Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, we’ve got the same amount of resources that were in urban search and rescue over a 12-county area, here on the Surfside condominium site,” Patronis said.

Watch the full interview with Jimmy Patronis below:

State fire marshal gives update on search-and-rescue efforts
State fire marshal gives update on search-and-rescue efforts

Throughout the day on Saturday, smoke could be seen pouring through holes and cracks in the massive pile of debris, with officials explaining that they were trying to locate and extinguish the source.

“The fires definitely complicate things,” Patronis said. “The trenching that has been taking place has been in essence to help that.”

That trench, which was built underneath the rubble, is 120 feet long and 20 feet wide, and according to Patronis, it serves a multitude of purposes.

“It’s almost like a firebreak, a way to try to contain the fire,” he said. “But add access also for those men and women that are doing the urban search and rescue.”

So far, those rescue efforts have been a slow and deliberate process due to the flames and the unstable building remains that are extremely dangerous to navigate.

That’s why units are using all kinds of technology in an attempt to locate victims and find the safest ways to reach them.

“The building right now is being shot with lasers,” Patronis said. “Those lasers detect movement. If you’ve got a building that is structurally violated, if the building starts to shift and there’s a potential collapse, there’s men and women on the ground doing a search and rescue so the risk that they’re taking, we have to be sensitive to that.”

Patronis explained that rescue teams have already been evacuated once due to a shifting in the building’s remains.

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About the Authors:

Annaliese Garcia joined Local 10 News in January 2020. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami, where she studied broadcast journalism. She began her career at Univision. Before arriving at Local 10, she was with NBC2 (WBBH-TV) covering Southwest Florida. She's glad to be back in Miami!

David Dwork joined the WPLG Local 10 News team in August 2019. Born and raised in Miami-Dade County, David has covered South Florida sports since 2007.