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The end of rescue efforts a terrible blow

  • Rubble and debris of the Champlain Towers South condo can be seen in Surfside, Florida, on Tuesday. The rubble shown here is from the front portion of the condo towers, which was demolished 11 days after the back part of the tower collapsed with people inside. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald via AP)

In the face of tragedy in the unthinkable proportions of the Champlain Tower South collapse, we look for even the smallest respite — the heroic rescue of a victim out of the rubble, a moment that defies the odds, a sign that someone’s story didn’t end the night that night that Surfside building crumbled.

The announcement on Wednesday that the search-and-rescue effort for live victims was coming to an end was not a surprise to those who are far removed from the prolonged grief the Champlain families have endured. It’s been 14 days since the collapse and no survivors have been found since the first day.

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But for almost two weeks, workers have struggled faithfully to find survivors, in all weather, around the clock, risking themselves. Wednesday, that hope was extinguished. Authorities will now focus on a recovery mission, which they assured the public will be carried out with equal care. The victims, and their families, deserve dignity even — and especially — after death. There are still many people missing.

Also on Wednesday, a Miami-Dade County grand jury agreed to a request from State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle that it examine how to prevent such a disaster from occurring again. That’s a positive development — one the Herald Editorial Board advocated for — though it is overshadowed by the pain and suffering of the families who held out hope in Surfside.

Silence and prayers: The moment of silence at the site Wednesday evening, along with prayers from different religious denominations, was appropriate. It was also a moment of sad resignation in the face of a human-made disaster that will forever haunt South Florida.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief of Operations Ray Jadallah said announcing the end of rescue efforts was “some of the hardest news I’ve ever had to deliver in my professional career,” the Herald reported. County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava broke down during a news conference on Wednesday as she described, in Spanish, how rescuers were searching the rubble as if they were looking for their own loved ones.

No matter how expected, this is a blow to the families and those trying to wrap their minds around the fact that entire families vanished in the dark that night. It’s unfair. It’s goes against everything we have been told: that we, and our children, are safest at home. If people’s entire history could crumble in a matter of seconds, what certainties are there in life?

In the coming weeks and months, the focus will turn to who’s at fault and what can be done to stop this from ever happening again. That’s as it must be.

But for now, let’s take a moment to honor the lives we lost and the stories they left behind.

The grandma whose Shabbat dinners brought everyone together.

The father and mother of seven.

The family of four who posed for photos with broad smiles.

The family visiting from Colombia to get COVID-19 vaccines.

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Say a prayer, if that’s what you believe in. Hold your own moment of silence. Reflect. If you can help, do so by sharing your artwork of healing and hope with United Way Miami or by making a donation.

— The Miami Herald

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