(TNS) MIAMI — The first responders to the early morning collapse of part of a Surfside condominium building on June 24 arrived at a scene that one county firefighter described as reminiscent of the 9/11 World Trade Center catastrophe.
Rescue managers soon thought the situation could get even worse, fearing the remaining portion of Champlain Towers South would crumble too, with residents still waiting for help on their balconies.
“We have one lady up on the balcony here,” an unidentified county firefighter said in a message to the command center about an hour and 15 minutes after the collapse was first reported at 1:23 a.m. “We’re about to do a quick grab.”
That brought instructions to clear out as soon as possible. “After that,” a supervisor responded, “you have to move ASAP. We’re about to set up a collapse zone.”
By then, rescue teams weren’t sure how long the remaining tower could stay intact after the southern portion of the 12-story complex collapsed without warning. That made the site a potential death trap for residents of the remaining units, and a hazard for rescue workers arriving from across South Florida to aid in the operation.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue on Friday released three hours of dispatch audio from the Surfside response, offering another look at how the response unfolded after a collapse that would claim 98 lives.
The most dramatic passage of the chronology involves the only known time rescue teams made contact with a victim still alive under the debris — a brief moment of hope that had already been confirmed publicly by authorities but without details.
At 6:42 a.m., the logs show a canine crew reported hearing a possible victim. Two minutes later, there’s a record of a potential victim in the garage and a note that engineers are being called for a possible rescue operation.
Fire Department representatives weren’t available Friday night to clarify the log entries, and the audio dispatch recording ended before this portion of the operation occurred.
In past public statements, authorities said rescuers made contact with a female victim in the collapse site in the early hours of the effort, but that she eventually stopped communicating. The person was not identified publicly.
In the log dispatches, the victim was identified as being in a second-floor unit with two others at the time of the collapse, but now alone. “3 PEOPLE WERE IN THE RM WITH THE PAT THEY ARE SPEAKING TO,” a dispatch entry read at 7:07 a.m., using shorthand for patient. “WILL ADV IF ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ARE NEEDED.”
The log dispatch identifies the person as coming from Unit 204, which was the vacation rental for a family of three from Colombia who died in the collapse. Those victims were 14-year-old Valeria Barth Gómez and parents Luis Fernando Barth Toba and Catalina Gómez.
Separate recordings of on-the-ground radio communication on June 24 fill in the details from the log entries. “We’re hearing some screaming,” one rescue worker told a dispatcher. “We’re in the parking garage,” another worker said a few minutes later. “Apparently this victim was in Apartment 204... That’s what she’s advising.”
”She’s stuck in-between two beds right now,” the first rescue worker said. “But her parents were also in that apartment. I don’t hear them, though.”
The radio traffic, posted on YouTube the day of the collapse, has rescuers relaying the garage was proving too difficult to enter. Instead, they planned to try and reach the victim from the second floor, where she was when the building fell. “We’re going to exit the parking garage, and reenter through the second floor,” the unnamed rescuer said. “See if we can access her through there.”
An order went out for another crew to bring an ax and sledge hammer to the second floor. That recording also ended as the search for the Unit 204 resident was underway.
The log does not seem to reference the rescue effort until about five hours later.
At 11:05 a.m., a log entry read: “LOST VOICE CONTACT WITH VICTIM.”