Some of the victims of the devastating condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., may have been alive for hours after the building first caved in — but were never found alive by rescue teams, a report said Tuesday.
An investigation by USA Today found that at least nine of the 98 people killed in the tragedy initially survived the June 24 collapse, including one woman who was possibly still alive under the rubble 10 hours later.
“That’s a horrifying thought,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told the outlet. “Families deserve to know what really happened to their loved ones. It’s the only way they can heal.”
Fire-rescue logs obtained by the paper showed that search dogs found signs of life in the Champlain Towers South wreckage site multiple times in the hours after the 1:25 a.m. collapse.
At 11:05 a.m., about 10 hours after the condo caved-in, the logs noted that rescuers “lost voice contact” with a female victim and requested backup and canines to scour the basement. Crews searched for hours but were unable to find her, the report said.
The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office has released initial reports for 67 of the victims, listing the cause of death as either “blunt force injuries” or “building collapse.” Only one autopsy was performed, according to the report.
“Sometimes, if we’re not sure if it’s blunt force trauma, the doctor will choose to put the general overarching event,” Darren Caprara, director of operations at the medical examiner’s office, told USA Today about using “building collapse” as the cause of death.
Some of the medical examiner’s reports reviewed by the newspaper showed injuries — such as broken legs, “possible” fractures or small cuts — that wouldn’t have resulted in immediate death, the report said.
“Just because the body gets mangled doesn’t mean that’s what killed you,” Caprara said. “If the cause of death could have been multiple things, and we don’t have enough evidence to say definitely what it was, we don’t list possible causes.”
Elected officials told the paper that first responders lacked adequate resources and the experience in dealing with such a massive and catastrophic incident.
Not only were they working against the instability of the structure, but rescuers also battled underground flooding, fires, smoke and wind and rain from Tropical Storm Elsa.
“In the first 48 hours, we obviously did not have all the resources,” Burkett, the mayor, told USA Today. “I think that it was a progressive evolution, and every hour that went by, we continued to add resources.”
At least 34 lawsuits have been filed by families of victims since the collapse, accusing building officials, the condo board and others of ignoring structural defects.
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