The Mexican rescuers joining the search for survivors in Surfside

3 months ago 24
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In the disaster zone, assisting local, state and federal rescue crews, is the Mexico-based "Go Team" of Cadena International, a Jewish nonprofit which has responded to more than 1,000 natural disasters and humanitarian crises since 2005.

Another rescue team from Mexico on the scene, "Topos Azteca," is a non-profit Mexican group founded after the deadly 1985 Mexico City Earthquake, who are known as experts in massive search and rescue operations around the world. Israel has also deployed a rescue team to assist with rescue and recovery efforts in Florida.

    "We are dividing up the work and complementing the existing effort and providing whatever experience we can bring to the table," says Moises Soffer, one of Cadena's seven volunteers currently in Surfside.

      The 36-year-old has been a member of Cadena's "Go Team" for five years and has worked through the rubble of major earthquakes in his homeland of Mexico. "We provide advice about these types of collapses that we see more often than you see here. We bring our experience and opinion to the table," he said.

      This aerial view, shows search and rescue personnel working on site after the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, on June 24, 2021.

      Rescue workers have worked tirelessly in long shifts since last Thursday, as the death toll rose to 16 people, with 147 still unaccounted for. To sift through a mountain of rubble, they have at times dug with their own hands to not disturb spaces where people could survive. At other times, they have used heavy machinery to move large pieces of twisted metal.

      But the grueling effort in the devastated area is also complicated by fears of further collapse, and by severe weather. At one point on Tuesday, thunderstorms and lightning forced rescue operations to pause, frustrating some family members eager for answers.

      Altogether, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Comisky said crews have moved about three million pounds of concrete so far, and are using sonar and video equipment to listen and look for signs of survivors. No one has been pulled out alive so far.

      Search teams on the site of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 29, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

      On Sunday, buses brought groups of relatives to the debris site to get a first-hand look at the devastation and rescuers at work. Some of them, like Paul Rodriguez, stopped to speak to reporters, saying he's desperate for information about his 64-year old mother and 88-year old grandmother. Both lived on the 12th floor of the condominium.

      Soffer says he's hopeful that he can still find survivors with the help of his partner Oreo, a rescue dog trained to find living victims in disasters. "We never lose hope. We will keep trying and always work as if there's going to be a living person underneath," he said.

        It's exhausting work. But Héctor Méndez, the head of Topos Azteca says, "When you have already seen death, you have had the opportunity to rescue someone, when something serious like this happens, that instinct inside you awakes for the preservation of the human race."

        The ten rescuers on his team hail from Mexico, Guatemala and the US. Méndez, who has also worked as a volunteer in the 9/11 and Katrina hurricane rescue efforts, also added: "I know the US way of work, you have to be patient and respectful, you have to wait for your turn because you're coming from another country, we got permission, now we're waiting for our turn."

        Journalist Karol Suarez contributed reporting from Mexico City.

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