Mayor: Child alone outside collapse site brings tragedy home

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Surfside, Fla., Mayor Charles Burkett, right, joins worshipers, late Saturday, June 26, 2021, during a prayer vigil for the victims and families of the Champlain Towers collapsed building in Surfside, at the nearby St. Joseph Catholic Church in Miami Beach, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for two days after Thursday's fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SURFSIDE, Fla. – The mayor of a Florida town where a beachfront condo tower collapsed says his recent encounter with a little girl sitting alone in a chair near the site reminded him what an enormous impact the tragedy has had on the community.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he came across the girl, who appeared to be about 11 or 12, sitting near the site where the Champlain Towers South collapsed early Thursday.

He had seen her earlier, with one of her parents, and talked to them. The other parent was in the building when it collapsed and was among the more than 150 people still missing, Burkett said.

The mayor said he knelt down beside the girl Sunday night and asked if she was OK.

“She said, ‘Yes,'" he said. He said she was looking at her phone, reading a Jewish prayer to herself.

“And that really brought it home to me," Burkett said. “She wasn’t crying, she was just lost. She didn’t know what to do, what to say, who to talk to."

Burkett said he looked for the child Monday morning when he and other officials went to the family reunification center to talk to relatives of those who lived in the condominium building. He didn't see her.

“But I am going to find her, and I am going to tell her that we’re all here for her and we are going to do the best we can to bring out that parent," the mayor said.

“It’s horrific,” he said. “This is disturbing, but that is just a tiny, tiny example of the impact that this collapse has had on our community.”