By Sunday, that hope had mostly run out.
“I have hope that they will find something so that we can give them a proper burial, get some kind of closure,” Rodriguez, 40, said at his home 25 miles from the scene. “That’s about it. I don’t have any hope that they’re going to find them alive and that I’m going to actually be able to see them or speak to them again.”
Four days into the search for survivors trapped in the rubble, more than 150 people remain missing. And though the number of bodies identified has slowly ticked up — to nine, by Sunday night — there have been no rescues since the early hours of the collapse.
Even so, officials have said they still hope to find some people alive. “Hope — that’s what I’m focusing on,” Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said during a morning news conference. “So I’m going to continue that as much as possible. That’s the driving message.”
A precarious, round-the-clock effort continued at the site of the fallen oceanfront high-rise, where rescuers in helmets and gas masks sifted through mounds of concrete, rebar and other debris.
Overnight on Saturday, they dug a massive trench — 125 feet long, 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep — into the wreckage. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (D) described it as “very critical to the continuation of the search-and-rescue process.”
The opening had helped responders retrieve bodies, but no survivors had been discovered there.
By Sunday afternoon, emotion was mounting on the edges of the ever-expanding perimeter. The site was fenced off by a green mesh perimeter that extended block after block, disabling a section of the barrier island. Police officers from surrounding counties were posted at nearly every intersection, telling people to “walk around.”
A makeshift memorial set up at tennis courts in front of Champlain Towers South — with photos of the missing taped to the fencing and toys from the wreckage left by firefighters on the sidewalk — became inaccessible. As a woman approached with flowers, a police officer waved her away.
Organizer Leo Soto confronted officials Sunday before a news conference. Visibly upset, he told Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) about his missing friend Nicky Langesfeld, who was about to “start her life” with her fiance.
“I really value that place,” he said of the memorial. “I really love that place. I really want to do everything possible to give access to the community because it was the only place where there was love in the air constantly.”
Officials promised they would find a new space for the remembrance.
With that site cut off, mourners found other homes for a growing collection of flowers, candles and signs of encouragement. Along one section of fencing hung posters with messages like, “God is with all of you.”
Flowers sprouted from openings in plastic barriers newly erected in the sand blocks from the building, where some family members have gathered for a glimpse of the search. David Caceres rode his bike there on Sunday morning, three bouquets poking out of his backpack. He left two of them there — the closest he could get to the collapse.
“I would like to help,” the Doral resident said, his eyes on the building. “But it’s not possible.”
Nora Zyne, a resident of Champlain Towers North who has three friends missing, said she understood the overwhelming situation responders are facing.
“We have the best of the best there,” she said.
But she added that although there is “always hope,” she believed it was unlikely her friends had survived. “After so many days, even if you are there, you have no water, you’re breathing in all that debris,” she said.
The lack of answers has upset some whose loved ones were known to be inside the building when it suddenly gave way.
During an emotional meeting with rescuers, one mother said her daughter is a healthy 26-year-old who “could make it out.” She asked them to allow experts from other countries to assist with rescue efforts.
“It’s not enough,” she said in a video posted to Instagram by Abigail Pereira and previously reported by the Associated Press. “Imagine if your children were in there.”
In one scene of desperation, relatives stood calling out their loved ones’ names from the sand beyond the law enforcement barrier.
Another unsettling scene played out on a more intimate stage.
Jake Samuelson’s grandparents Arnie and Myriam Notkin lived in the collapsed condo and are among the unaccounted for.
But on Thursday evening, nearly 24 hours after the building fell, Samuelson’s family began receiving phone calls from the couple’s landline phone in their now-vanished unit — the one that sat next to their bed. Only static came through when answered, Samuelson said.
The family reported the calls — more than a dozen, continuing into the weekend — to law enforcement. But they remain a mystery, one of many hanging over the building’s fall. Samuelson said his family prays for a miracle and wants to cling to the calls as a hopeful sign rather than a fluke.
But still: “Even if they are real, do they have the capacity to save them? As of now, it seems the answer would be no.”
To Rodriguez, the lack of information about his mother, 64-year-old Elena Blasser, and grandmother, 88-year-old Elena Chavez, has been “completely exasperating.” He provided a DNA swab to help with identification but has heard from officials only a couple of times, and never with news.
He’s been waiting in the quiet of his home, haunted by a comment his mother made the night before the collapse. She told him she had been awakened by “loud creaking noises” in the middle of the night.
“We didn’t think it was that serious, that the building was going to fall,” Rodriguez said. “Because I would have been the first one to tell her to leave.”
Now his main focus is his 6-year-old son, John Paul, who was particularly close with the grandmother and great-grandmother he called Ama and Yeyi, respectively.
Since he was born, the family has made a habit of spending Saturdays together. When this Saturday came and they did not arrive, the boy couldn’t understand why. He was full of questions: Where were they? Were they coming over? Why weren’t they there yet?
“We don’t have any kind of idea when this will end,” Rodriguez said. “If it will end. If they will find anything.”
Hannah Knowles in Washington and Antonio Olivo in Surfside contributed to this report.