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Search-and-rescue team at Surfside building collapse site finds firefighter’s daughter dead

Official death toll of collapse increases to 20

A City of Miami firefighter found the body of his own daughter Thursday night as he was searching through the debris of the Champlain Towers South collapse, officials confirmed on Friday.

SURFSIDE, Fla. – A search-and-rescue team found a Miami firefighter’s 7-year-old daughter dead Thursday night at the site of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Miami-Dade County’s town of Surfside. The official death toll increased to 20 victims.

On Friday afternoon, Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius “Iggy” Carroll said Miami’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, Florida Task Force 2, recovered the girl’s body. The grieving firefighter was there to assist in the removal of the body, but he was not the one who recovered the body, Carroll said.

The Miami firefighter used his jacket to drape his daughter’s body and placed a small U.S. flag on the gurney, a witness said. Fire Rescue personnel escorted them through a group of police officers who lined up on the roadway, a witness said.

“We can confirm that a member of our City of Miami Fire Department family has lost his 7-year-old daughter in the collapse,” Miami Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Zahralban said in a statement.

Zahralban released a statement asking reporters to respect the privacy of the firefighter’s family. He also said the department’s hearts and prayers are with the families affected by the horrific tragedy.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Friday the girl and the body of one other person had been recovered from the site of the collapse Thursday night. She said 128 people remain unaccounted for.

As was evidenced Thursday night, the mayor said the rescue effort is taking a toll on first responders and she asked that everyone keeps them in their thoughts and prayers.

“They truly represent the very best in all of us and we need to be there for them as they are here for us,” she said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he has directed the Florida Department of Emergency Management to begin planning for a potential state of emergency as he said it’s possible that we could see tropical storm force winds in South Florida as early as Sunday night.

Officials said rescue crews will continue their search as long as it is safe for them to do so.

The mayor announced just before 5 p.m. Thursday that the search had resumed after a temporary halt due to safety concerns regarding the standing structure.

Families of the victims and rescuers were all desperate for the search to resume after it was halted early Thursday morning, but engineers said the stop was necessary.

Fortunately, after an assessment by engineers, first responders were able to get back to work.

More heavy machinery was seen moving in Friday.

“Operations resumed at 4:45,” Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said Thursday. “At this time, rescue squads will be working in three of the nine grids.”

When the work stopped, people were frustrated, but the safety of first responders was in jeopardy after structural engineers and their monitoring systems detected movement of 6 to 12 inches in a column of the structure still standing.

This was just after 2 a.m. Thursday.

“The building itself has not moved, however debris in the pile below the building as well as debris on the building, of significant size had displaced,” said Scott Nacheman, a structural specialist with the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Incident Support Team.

Operations resumed Thursday afternoon.

“We will continue to search feverishly, as we have done all along in the parts of the collapse that we currently have access to,” Levine Cava said.

“Right now, we feel that it is safe to continue operations and that monitoring will continue until the operations are complete,” Nacheman said.

With the remaining structure severely damaged, plans to demolish what’s left of the Champlain Towers South is now something officials are considering for the safety of the crews down below.

“Any demolition process takes time,” Nacheman said. “Takes time to evaluate the current conditions, the planning for the demolition scheme and the actual on site preparations for the demo. So best case scenario, we are looking at weeks.”

Nacheman added that they would be bringing in more equipment and more sensors to closely watch portions of the building for the safety of the crews down below.

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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!

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.