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Firefighters Searching Condo Rubble Are Facing Physical And Emotional Tolls

Rescue workers move a stretcher containing recovered remains at the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building, July 5, 2021 in Surfside, Fla.
Rescue workers move a stretcher containing recovered remains at the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building, July 5, 2021 in Surfside, Fla.

Updated July 6, 2021 at 3:29 PM ET

Are they a night owl or morning lark? A dog person or cat person? Kids or no kids?

These are the types of questions firefighters are asking family and friends about their missing loved ones, says Jim Ingledue of Virginia Beach, Va., now deployed as part of the FEMA response to the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse in Surfside, Fla. Then, firefighters try to figure out where they could be in the rubble of the 12-story condo.

It's been 12 days since the June 24 collapse.

More than 350 rescue workers are methodically searching the site for the 113 people still missing, including 70 whom officials have confirmed were in the building when it collapsed. Some workers have come from Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to aid rescue efforts. So far, 32 bodies have been recovered.

"We're always hoping for a miracle, but we do understand that with every day that passes the chances of that happening becomes less and less," Miami-Dade County firefighter and paramedic Maggie Castro told NPR's Leila Fadel.

Sunday night's demolition of the remaining structure is giving rescue workers easier access to the entire site, including areas, like the parking garage, that were previously inaccessible. But weather is still hindering rescue efforts. Heavy wind is delaying the use of heavy machinery, and lightning strikes within a 2.5 mile radius pause work for 30-minute periods, Castro said. Tropical Storm Elsa is now not expected to impact the search, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told NPR's Here & Now. "We feel confident that the tropical storm has passed to the west," she said.

Firefighters head toward the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo on July 5, 2021 in Surfside, Fla.
Saul Martinez / Getty Images
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Firefighters head toward the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo on July 5, 2021 in Surfside, Fla.

Firefighters are also handling the emotional toll of losing residents, some even grieving their own family. One firefighter carried his 7-year-old daughter out of the ruins.

And on top of the mental and physical tolls, COVID-19 is posing a threat. Six firefighters working at the collapsed condominium tested positive for COVID-19, according to Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky.

Castro has been briefing families with missing loved ones daily about the progress rescue workers have made, and she said being there for them has been emotionally taxing but also fulfilling.

"In such a time of such tragedy, to be able to be with them and just provide them something — even if it's just a shoulder to cry on — it's just really been one of the best experiences of my career," Castro told NPR.

What families need now is closure, Castro said: "All they want is an answer."

Dalia Faheid is an intern on NPR's News Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.