“At the original collapse site, we’re almost at the bottom,” Miami-Dade Police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta told CNN. “Does that mean we’re almost done with the search? No. Until we clean up the whole site and find any human remains, we’re not done.”
Part of the South Champlain Towers collapsed in the wee hours of June 24, while many residents were sleeping. Immediately, teams went to the scene to search the rubble for the victims, stopping only for the dangerous weather conditions and when the remains of the building were demolished.
Even after experts said there was no longer any hope of locating survivors, officials promised families that work would not stop until all the remains were collected.
Now that the promise has been kept for most families, the end of the search marks the beginning of a new phase of mourning.
In the days following the collapse, Debbie Hill’s father was considered missing, and not knowing where he was and what had happened to him was “the big deal,” she told Erin Burnett from CNN.
Nicole Ortiz said the agony of waiting to hear of her sister and nephew’s fate was indescribable.
“I screamed,” she told CNN’s Ryan Young. “I almost passed out. I cried.”
But now many families have answers.
The community is now mourning Vishal and Bhavna Patel and their 1 year old daughter Aishani. Ilan Naibryf’s family say goodbye to a young man they say made an impact everywhere he went. Sergio Lozano faces the loss of his two parents, Antonio and Gladys.
“They died together,” Lozano said. “It’s not fair – to be crushed, to be destroyed. It’s not fair.”
And for those who survived, it’s about picking up the pieces after an almost miraculous survival.
Iliana Monteagudo recalled the moment she saw the cracks running along her walls and the sound of the house she had dreamed of for 40 years crashing around her as she escaped up the stairs.
“Something inside of me was saying run,” Monteagudo said. “You have to run to save your life.”
An investigation to start
Last week, a structural engineer hired by the city told CNN that the investigation will not reach its full force until research teams complete their work.
“Until they do their job, we can’t come in to take material samples and take those samples and test them to understand what the different components of the building that collapsed were,” Allyn Kilsheimer told Ana Cabrera of CNN.
The first night he was at the scene, Kilsheimer, who also investigated the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, said he had about 20 or 30 theories of possible triggers.
Since then he has eliminated some but added five or six more, he said, but will not be able to reduce it while research continues.
Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle acknowledged “multiple requests from engineers and lawyers” to access the site.
“Engineers from the federal agency National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were deployed to Surfside with the authority of Congress to gather evidence and determine how and why the South Champlain Tower collapsed. NIST is the investigative agency responsible for investigating building collapses such as the World Trade Center, just as the NTSB investigates plane crashes, “Rundle said in a statement.
“I understand that once NIST, Miami-Dade Fire Department, and Miami-Dade Police Department determine that it is safe and appropriate for others to access the site, they will be permitted to do so in accordance with guidelines established by these agencies, ”said Rundle.
CNN’s Travis Caldwell, Rosa Flores, Rebekah Riess, Leyla Santiago, Claudia Dominguez, and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.