The 7-year-old girl was found on Thursday evening by members of Florida Task Force 2, according to Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky

By Joelle Goldstein
July 02, 2021 03:43 PM
miami condo
Surfside condo collapse
| Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

First responders made a tragic discovery involving one of their own on Thursday night while searching through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Florida.

During a press conference on Friday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava revealed that two additional victims had been found in the rubble of the condo overnight in Surfside, bringing the death toll to 20.

Tragically, one of those victims was identified as the 7-year-old daughter of a City of Miami firefighter, Cava said.

"It goes without saying that every night since last [Thursday] has been immensely difficult for everybody, and particularly, the families that have been impacted," she said. "But last night was uniquely different. It was different and more difficult for our first responders."

City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky both confirmed that the young girl was discovered by the Urban Search and Rescue Team in Florida Task Force 2.

"We're out there in different workgroups, so out of the workgroups that go through, they were a part [of the search]," Cominsky said of the task force. "The father wasn't part of that process, but obviously was notified."

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel search for survivors
| Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Suarez asked that everyone "respect the privacy of the immediate family, as well as our fire department, which is understandably grieving tremendously."

"I'm the father of two children. I have a 7-year-old son, and the thought of losing him in this way is unimaginable for me [and] my family," he said. "I think this tragedy has haunted so many of us because so many of us have or know someone who has been in the building or affected by this tragedy. So now, not only do we know someone, this is a member of our family, of our fire family."

According to Cominsky, the tedious recovery process has taken "a toll" on the first responders, which is why more federal resources have been called in to assist with the "nonstop" efforts.

"Every, every victim we remove, it's difficult," he explained. "We try to respect [and] have a whole process in regards to how we remove each individual we come across. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to remove any survivors yet. But it's very difficult."

"And last night was even more when removing a fellow firefighter's daughter," he continued. "Obviously the firefighters are emotional. I'm not going to disclose anything, in respect for the family, but it takes a toll... And that's just where I want to emphasize the emotion – what we're feeling."

"As firefighters, we do what we do, and it's kind of calling. We always say that. But it still takes a toll. And that's why you see more resources coming through," Cominsky added. "We don't stop 'cause we're searching, but we do make modifications. And we do that each group – each rescue group when we come across an individual, obviously with care and respect. We have a process... with different religious faiths. We have a process we started from the very, very beginning, and we comply with that."

Surfside condo collapse vigil
Tributes on the wall at the site of the Surfside condo collapse
| Credit: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty

During the press conference, both Cava and Gov. Ron DeSantis also expressed their gratitude to the first responders for working through the difficult conditions since the building collapsed on June 24.

"[Search and rescue operations are] obviously physically very taxing," DeSantis said. "It's also emotionally draining. As many of you know, they were able to identify a child whose father worked for the City of Miami Fire Department. And these are tough things for them. Obviously we focus on the families, and rightfully so, but our folks have gone through a lot who've been out there, and I think our added support really means a lot."

Added Cava: "These men and women are paying an enormous toll each and every day and I ask that all of you please keep all of them in your thoughts and prayers. They truly represent the very best in all of us and we need to be there for them as they are here for us."

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As of Friday morning, 20 people have been confirmed dead, according to Cava. One hundred and eighty-eight people are accounted for and 128 others remain unaccounted for, the mayor said.

Search efforts were halted on Thursday morning due to "structural concerns" about the standing portion of the condo.

The temporary stop in operations was based upon the expertise of on-site structural engineers who expressed fears about 6-12 inches of movement in a large column hanging from the structure that could possibly fall and damage support columns in the garage area. There were also concerns about "slight movement" in concrete floor slabs on the south side of the building, as well as movement in a nearby debris pile.

The operation picked up again on Thursday evening but may be at risk of being paused again as Hurricane Elsa approaches the Florida area, bringing with it inclement weather and dangerous outdoor conditions.