Rescuers retain hope of US condo survivors

·3-min read

Rescue workers digging feverishly for a fifth day still believe they could find survivors in the rubble of a collapsed Florida apartment building, even though no-one has been pulled out alive since the day the structure fell.

The death toll rose by four on Sunday, making a total of nine confirmed dead, but more than 150 people remain missing in the Miami suburb of Surfside.

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said at a Sunday evening news conference she had met with some of the rescue workers and was able to "hear the hope that they have".

"We obviously have some realism that we're dealing with," she said.

"But ... as long as the experts that we trust are telling me they have hope to find people who might have been able to survive, then we have to make sure that we hold on to that hope."

Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, head of a humanitarian delegation from Israel that includes several search-and-rescue experts, said the professionals have told him of cases where survivors were found after 100 hours or more.

"So don't lose hope, that's what I would say," he said.

Some families had hoped their visit to the site near the 12-storey building would allow them to shout messages to loved ones possibly buried deep inside the pile.

"We are just waiting for answers. That's what we want," said Dianne Ohayon, whose parents, Myriam and Arnie Notkin, were in the building.

"It's hard to go through these long days and we haven't gotten any answers yet."

Authorities on Sunday identified the additional four people that had been recovered as Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74; Anna Ortiz, 46; and Luis Bermudez, 26.

The number of people left unaccounted for was 152, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

The last live person rescued was on Thursday, just hours after the collapse.

Alan Cominsky, chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, said his team is holding out hope of finding survivors, but must continue to move slowly and methodically.

"The debris field is scattered throughout, and it's compact, extremely compact," he said.

"We can't just go in and move things erratically, because that's going to have the worst outcome possible," he said.

President Joe Biden said in a statement he spoke with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell about efforts on the ground after Criswell visited the site.

Biden said his administration is prepared to provide assistance and support.

"This is an unimaginably difficult time for the families enduring this tragedy," Biden said.

"My heart goes out to every single person suffering during this awful moment."

Earl Tilton, who runs a search-and-rescue consulting firm in North Carolina, said rushing into the rubble without careful planning and execution would injure or kill rescuers and the people they are trying to save.

"Moving the wrong piece of debris at the wrong time could cause it to fall" on workers and crush them, he said.

But Tilton agreed families were not wrong to continue holding out hope.

During past urban rescues, he said, rescuers have found survivors as long as a week past the initial catastrophe.

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