Florida condo rescue and salvage crews collapse over stress of tragedy: NPR


Rescue and recovery crews in Surfside, Florida are among those suffering the most from the condominium collapse. Some who do this job over and over have found ways out.


The confirmed death toll continues to rise in Surfside, Florida. Crews find more bodies as they work through the rubble. The grief in Surfside is palpable, and not just from the families. Joe Hernandez of NPR tells us how first responders and the community are dealing with the collective pain of this tragedy.

JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: It’s hot and humid here, but Ryan Hogsten wears long sleeves and pants, a helmet and somewhere between 15 and 30 pounds of gear. He’s one of the first responders deployed to Surfside to help sift through the rubble pile literally by hand.

RYAN HOGSTEN: Hand tools like shovels and garden tools, just digging through the rubble that we walk through.

HERNANDEZ: Hogsten is here with the Ohio Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team. Next to him is another member of the team, Jack Reall. Reall is an emergency response veteran. He has decades of experience, but he says he’s not immune to the emotional toll of disaster response, including here in Surfside.

JACK REALL: I had a bad day at the start. You know, we all have our – kind of our triggers that set us off and say, you know, it’s real.

HERNANDEZ: When the Champlain Towers South condo building fell, countless grieving friends and family were shocked. The first responders who rushed to the scene also felt this unspeakable loss. Hogsten says one of the ways he’s able to get away with this is by confiding in his teammates.

HOGSTEN: The brotherhood and brotherhood that we have as a fire department is probably one of the best things besides having your own family here. We have our second family together, and we really lean on each other.

HERNANDEZ: The trauma of what happened at Surfside has been overwhelming, even for those who don’t physically dig through the rubble. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who has helped manage recovery efforts, broke down during a press conference last week while asking people to keep families in their prayers.


DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: (Speaking Spanish).

HERNANDEZ: Authorities say they are doing everything they can to prioritize the mental health of first responders, providing everything from on-site counselors to emotional support dogs.

In a makeshift memorial covered in photos of the victims and other items like stuffed animals and flags, Charlie Clark searches for mourners. He’s here with Billy Graham’s Rapid Response Team, providing emotional support to anyone who wants it.

CHARLIE CLARK: We try to be very careful, very sensitive because there is a lot of mixed community here. So you just want to be sensitive.

HERNANDEZ: Clark says anyone who comes to the memorial, even if they don’t know any of the victims, can feel how devastating the collapse was.

CLARK: So for those who pass, they can really sense that this is a real event, that people have really lost their lives.

HERNANDEZ: Jack Reall of the Ohio Task Force won’t soon forget what happened at Surfside. This is because he plans to return, as he did after working at Ground Zero after 9/11.

REALL: It’s a big part of – a big part of the shutdown for me, it’s like, you know, I went back to New York after a few years, see what – how things go there. I will probably go back this year to see how it goes after 20 years. But you never really forget that stuff. It’s just how we respond to it and how we recover from it.

HERNANDEZ: For now, Reall continues to work hard on the collapsed site, hoping to find more casualties and close the doors to families whose road to recovery has only just begun. Joe Hernandez, NPR News, Miami.


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