A week into a desperate search for survivors of an oceanfront condominium’s catastrophic collapse, hopes are fading fast.
Day after day, a perilous search-and-rescue mission at the Miami-area site has yielded only a growing death toll. As of Friday, rescuers had recovered the remains of 18 people in what is likely to go down as one of the nation’s worst building failures.
More than 140 others are still missing, lost to the towering heap of rubble where Champlain Towers South once stood in Surfside, Fla. Authorities insist survivors could still emerge, even as the hours tick past.
With the week marching to a close, some families of the missing continue to pray for a miracle. But a sense of grief and resignation has set in around the coastal city. For many, hope has run out.
Thursday, June 24
Around 1:15 a.m., residents of the 12-story Champlain Towers complex begin noticing unusual sounds. Then some see the pool deck cave in.
Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue radio channels light up with reports of a collapse at 8777 Collins Ave. Within minutes, before first responders arrive, three massive portions of the building drop to the ground, one after the other.
Scores of law enforcement vehicles line surrounding streets. People whose loved ones lived at the fallen building flow into a makeshift family reunification center. An anxious wait begins.
LEFT: A couple embrace as they wait for news of survivors. (Marta Lavandier/AP) RIGHT: People wait for news at the community center. (Saul Martinez for The Washington Post)
Friday, June 25
The air is thick with smoke near the remains of the condo building. More authorities descend upon the small town of Surfside, and police tape off nearby blocks. Hordes of news crews arrive from across the country.
One person is confirmed dead; dozens more are missing. Rescuers probe the smoldering pile of debris in a desperate search for survivors.
All around the police tape, onlookers gather, their eyes on what remains of Champlain Towers South. Some whisper prayers. By nightfall, a memorial to the missing adorns fencing a block from the building.
LEFT: Outside of the reunification center. (Zack Wittman for The Washington Post) RIGHT: A couple embrace as they look at the debris of Champlain Towers South. (Marco Bello/AFP/Getty Images)
Saturday, June 26
In the parts of Surfside not blocked off by law enforcement, people keep vigil for the missing. They gather in churches and synagogues and along the beach, praying as rescuers keep scouring the wreckage.
But the day brings no news of survivors.
LEFT: Names of missing people hang at a makeshift memorial. (Andrea Sarcos/AFP/Getty Images) RIGHT: A young woman holds a rosary as she prays for the victims. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
Sunday, June 27
The prayers continue all across Surfside.
An army of volunteers coordinate donations of food, clothing and other supplies for people affected by the disaster. Rescuers, meanwhile, discover the remains of a fifth person.
From the beach, some shout the names of loved ones, hoping their voices might pierce the rubble.
LEFT: Two men console each other on the beach. (Marta Lavandier/AP) RIGHT: Volunteers gather to load bags of donations of food, clothing and toys. (Maggie Steber for The Washington Post)
Monday, June 28
The number confirmed dead rises to 11 as the round-the-clock search operation enters its fifth day. It has become the largest non-hurricane rescue mission in Florida history.
After nightfall, hundreds of people gather for a vigil along the beach. They stand in a circle in the sand, holding white roses and glowsticks. It’s quiet except for the crashing waves and occasional sobs.
LEFT: A memorial on the beach. (Octavio Jones for The Washington Post) RIGHT: A woman hangs flowers on a fence. (Macro Bello/Reuters)
Tuesday, June 29
Authorities say they are not giving up hope, even as the death toll ticks up to 12. No survivors have been found since the early hours of the collapse.
The White House announces that President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will visit the site Thursday.
Memorials sprout all around the police perimeter, where people place flowers and prayer candles. Some of the rescuers leave toys pulled from the wreckage.
LEFT: Search-and-rescue crews head out to search for missing people. (Octavio Jones for The Washington Post) RIGHT: Crews work in the rubble. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
Wednesday, June 30
So many people have brought bouquets that the growing tennis court memorial is now a wall of flowers.
At an evening news briefing, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announces a 4-year-old and 10-year-old are among the fatalities, which now stand at 18. She notes that any loss of life is a tragedy.
“But the loss of our children,” she continues, “is too great to bear.”
LEFT: Members of the Mexican Topos Azteca rescue team. (Marco Bello/Reuters) RIGHT: A sand sculpture near the site. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/AP)
Thursday, July 1
The president arrives. Meeting privately with families affected by the condo collapse, Biden draws on his own experience with loss as he tries to offer consolation.
Biden describes the pain of losing his first wife and baby daughter to a car crash and, decades later, his adult son to cancer. He laments that “the waiting, the waiting, is unbearable,” but urges the families not to lose hope.
With first lady Jill Biden at his side, he visits the now expansive memorial to the missing. The two linger on the names and faces. Like so many others, they leave a bouquet of flowers.
LEFT: Onlookers wait for President Biden. (Octavio Jones for The Washington Post) RIGHT: U.S. Coast Guard and Miami-Dade police patrol around the site. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)