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Dozens Of People Still Unaccounted For In Florida Condo Collapse

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For dozens of families in Surfside, Fla., it was another day of waiting and hoping following the partial collapse of a 12 story condominium. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava delivered the difficult news today that searchers have recovered the bodies of four victims. And she said that there are now at least 159 people who had been living or staying at the building who are still missing. But Cava said the effort to find survivors has not let up.

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DANIELLE LEVINE CAVA: We will continue search and rescue because we still have hope that we will find people alive.

CHANG: NPR's Greg Allen spent the day in Surfside talking to some of the families and joins us now. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So they've been searching for two days now. And I understand that there's still very little sign of life in the rubble at this point. What have the conversations been like between you and some of these families?

ALLEN: Well, the people I've been talking to, the family members - you know, among them, there's a real sense of resignation. I heard from just about everyone. Bettina Obeis, for example - she flew in Thursday morning from Washington, D.C., on a whim to see her aunt and uncle who lived in the Champlain Towers there in Surfside. She drove from the airport. She knew when she landed that - what had happened. And she drove from the airport and saw the place where their building had been.

BETTINA OBEIS: And I saw it. I'm not a very dramatic person or cry very easily. But when I saw it, I screamed and cried because I know that they were gone.

ALLEN: Obias says her aunt, Maria Bonnefoy, was a special person, an artist and a musician originally from the Philippines who worked for the International Monetary Fund for many years before retiring. Obias says now she's just trying to hold on to hope.

OBEIS: I know that there are people there that are still trying to stay alive. So I'm hoping that - also that my aunt, who was just very physically fit - that she's still alive. But when you're close to family, you know when they're gone, right?

CHANG: Do you get the sense, Greg, that family members like her and others are feeling that enough is being done to find these people?

ALLEN: Well, it's interesting. I spoke to Magally Ramsey. Her mother, 80-year-old Magally Delgado, lived in one of the units that collapsed. She's been at the center there in Surfside for all the family members for the last two days. She said there was a sense that many were upset because they were getting so little information coming in about the search and rescue effort. But she says now officials - they briefed the families today and pledged to give them regular updates.

MAGALLY RAMSEY: Other than this horrible thing that's occurring, the worse other thing is not knowing. And so they've committed to give us updates every four hours. And to that, I am incredibly grateful. And for that, I will be patient.

CHANG: OK, well, just give us a sense of how the search and rescue effort is being conducted.

ALLEN: Well, you know, officials say it has to be done slowly and methodically. You've got this huge, unstable rubble pile there in Surfside. And crews are using heavy machinery now to gently remove kind of the lighter material from the top to try to uncover pockets where there could be survivors. And meanwhile, other crews are working for the parking garage area, using saws and jackhammers to tunnel into the rubble. Here's the Miami-Dade assistant fire chief, Ray Jadallah.

RAY JADALLAH: We are listening for sounds. It's not specifically, you know, human sounds. It could be, you know, tapping. It could be steel, you know, kind of twisting. It could be some of the debris kind of raining down. So we concentrate in those areas.

ALLEN: You know, so far, Jadallah says, they haven't heard any signs or voices in the rubble from possible survivors. And there will be an investigation, but no indication yet what's caused the collapse.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Greg Allen in Surfside, Fla., giving us the latest. Thank you so much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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