Indiana Task Force One battle weather conditions while searching through Surfside rubble

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UPDATE:

Rescue workers have shifted their efforts from rescue to recovery. Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told families on Wednesday that after searching all areas of debris, they have concluded that it will now be next to impossible to find people alive.

ORIGINAL STORY:

INDIANAPOLIS — 80 members of Indiana Task Force One were deployed to South Florida on June 30th to help emergency response crews search through the rubble in the condo collapse in Surfside.

Now a hurricane warning has been issued nearby as Tropical Storm Else intensifies – but crews are determined to search for survivors. Task Force One says this operation presents challenges unlike others in the past. 

“I’ve seen a lot of things in my days as a firefighter and a member of this team, however, in some of the other deployments we’ve been – this is a very unique one,” IFD Battalion Chief and Taskforce Leader Jay Settergren said. “This is a very unique situation, number one it’s a building collapse that was not caused by a natural event like an earthquake or a terrorist event and so we are here basically helping folks who were in bed one evening and half of their building collapsed and to no fault of their own, they became part of this mess… it’s been very busy, a lot of hard work and not a lot of rest.”

The Indiana Task Force is working 24 hours a day on two 12-hour shifts. They’ve been at it since Friday, July 2nd. 

This being the crew’s sixth day, Task Force One is still in the middle of their search and recovery efforts in Surfside, Florida. The condo building collapsed in the middle of the night on June 24th – when most people inside were asleep. 

More than 100 people are still missing nearly two weeks later. 

“Physically and mentally, this is very demanding on my personnel,” Settergren said. “Hydration, mental and physical health are important on a deployment like this, to make sure that we maintain and manage those things and it just… presents a unique challenge.”

Investigators are still unsure what caused the collapse and that makes recovery even more difficult for emergency crews responding. 

“There’s not something that’s glaring that would cause us to be here, why that building fell,” Settergren said. “So, it’s a little different mindset and obviously you know it’s just a tolling thing on our folks when you’re trying to work as hard and as dedicated as you can to try and reduce folks in this situation.”

To make matters worse, the weather is intensifying off Florida’s Gulf coast as Tropical Storm Elsa has strengthened into a category one hurricane. 

“We’ve got the lightning; there’s a tornado watch out and hurricane warnings near us. We’re getting the bands of the storm,” Settergren said. “Weather makes this much more difficult, but it does break up our work schedule because we can only work when it’s safe because the water makes the pile we’re searching in very slippery and even more dangerous if that’s possible than when it’s dry – but we do what we do.”

Battling both heat and hurricane without losing hope as more than 100 people remain unaccounted for tonight. 

“We just approach each shift with the mindset, we’re going to do the very best we can possibly do for the folks that were in this building to either rescue them or return them to their families so that they can have a little bit of closure,” Settergren said. “This group is very focused on what they’re doing, they’re not selfish. We’re here to help these families, to help this community and do the work that we’ve been trained to do.”

Typically, a deployment like this lasts around two weeks but the situation in Surfside is unlike others the task force has worked on in the past, due to slow progress and inclement conditions the crew could remain in Florida for quite some time. 

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