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Surfside police officers speak about initial moments after responding to collapse

‘I could see children waving,’ officer says

Hundreds of rescue crews have been carefully combing through the rubble in Surfside every day for more than a week. And now we're hearing from the very first crews who responded to the scene just moments after the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South.
Hundreds of rescue crews have been carefully combing through the rubble in Surfside every day for more than a week. And now we're hearing from the very first crews who responded to the scene just moments after the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South.

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Hundreds of rescue crews have been carefully combing through the rubble in Surfside every day for more than a week.

And now we’re hearing from the very first crews who responded to the scene just moments after the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South.

The initial call came in as a fire alarm. It took Surfside police officers one minute to respond.

“All I’ve seen was debris everywhere. I was looking for anybody in that debris on that south side of the building. There was nobody there, there was nobody. And at that moment, it was just a complete shock,” Officer Craig Lovellett said.

Lovellett said he could hear survivors crying.

“I was shining a light up there. I could see children waving,” he said. “I shined the light on myself waved to the kid, you know, and just to let them know that we were there for them.”

Officer Joe Matthew was working dispatch, taking hundreds of calls from people like Cassondra Stratton’s husband, who was on the phone with her moments before the catastrophe.

“He kept calling me. I was like, ‘Michael, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t what to do. Call me every 20 minutes.’ And he did,” Matthew said.

On Thursday, the officers along with other law enforcement and search and rescue teams met with President Joe Biden.

“It was just…there’s no words to describe it,” Officer Kemeul Gambirazio said. “The amount of support that he showed was, we felt it. Yeah, we felt it.”

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About the Author:

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.