A Miami firefighter located the body of his 7-year-old daughter Thursday while searching through the rubble of a partially collapsed condominium building.
The first responder, who was not identified by authorities, draped his jacket over the child and placed a small United States flag over her body as she was carried down the pile in a gurney, he said. The firefighter, his brother, and other authorities escorted her through a line of law enforcement and emergency personnel.
Miami Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Zahralban confirmed the development in a press conference.
“Our hearts and prayers are with the families affected by this horrific tragedy,” he said. “We can confirm that a member of our City of Miami Fire Department family has lost his 7-year-old daughter in the collapse. She was recovered last night by members of our Urban Search and Rescue Team, Florida Task Force 2.”
“We ask that you respect the privacy of the immediate family as well as our Fire Department family while we grieve our loss and support our own,” he added.
The death toll has risen to 20, with the firefighter’s daughter being the third child to have been pronounced dead since part of the Champlain Towers South, a 12-story structure that contained 136 units, crumbled on June 24, said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. As of Friday, 128 people remain unaccounted for, down from 145 on Thursday.
Rescue efforts came to a brief halt Thursday after “structural concerns” about some of the material in the 30-foot high pile of rubble were voiced. By the end of the day, first responders resumed digging as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived in Florida to speak with Cava, Gov. Ron DeSantis, city officials, and the families of the victims.
Florida likely will face another set of challenges after Hurricane Elsa was upgraded to a Category 1 storm Friday morning. The storm, which is battering the Caribbean, is set to arrive in Florida between July 5 and 6 as DeSantis alerted residents that precautions are underway.
“While we continue to support Surfside and monitor ongoing search efforts, we are also preparing for potential effects from Tropical Storm #Elsa,” the Republican governor wrote in a tweet. “@NHC_Atlantic predicts this storm could impact Florida early next week. Please follow @FLSERT for developments over the coming days.”
There has been speculation regarding the cause of the Champlain Towers South collapse after the city of Surfside released a trove of records that suggested the building might have been in disrepair. In 2018, “major structural damage” was revealed, and the complex was quoted for upward of $9 million in repairs, a consulting firm wrote in email correspondence.
Another report Friday pointed to extensive structural damage at the property in October 2020 and indicated that management delayed the repairs to keep the pool in service.
“Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” the report read, noting that structural repairs would be needed so they could continue “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building.