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IDF delegation begins work at Florida disaster site as death toll rises to 9

More bodies pulled from wreckage, with 156 still missing; IDF commander at scene offers hope that survivors could still be found

An IDF search-and-rescue team arrives at the site of the deadly high-rise residential building collapse in Surfside, Florida, June 27, 2021. (Giorgio Viera/ AFP)
An IDF search-and-rescue team arrives at the site of the deadly high-rise residential building collapse in Surfside, Florida, June 27, 2021. (Giorgio Viera/ AFP)

A team of Israeli search-and-rescue specialists joined American workers on Sunday at the site of a Florida apartment building that partially collapsed on Thursday, killing at least nine people, with 156 still missing.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai also arrived at the site on Sunday to provide support to the ongoing rescue efforts.

“This is one of the best, if not the best and most experienced… Israeli rescue team,” Shai said Sunday. “They have been all over the world in many similar situations.”

According to the IDF, the delegation is headed by Col. (res.) Golan Vach, and consists of 10 reserve officers from the Home Front Command, all top experts in engineering.

Delegation official Elad Edri said the team is hopeful they can still rescue people alive.

“We are here to bring hope,” said Edri, according to the Diaspora Ministry. “After the earthquake in Haiti, we rescued someone after 108 hours. So there is still a chance.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai and the IDF search-and-rescue delegation that arrived on Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, to aid in recovery efforts at the building collapse. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

But Shai was less optimistic, telling Channel 13 news that “the chance [of finding anyone alive] is small.” He said rescue teams at the site were “searching with mechanical devices, and even with their hands.” And while “there isn’t much optimism… [responders] will keep searching for as long as they can.”

Teams in protective gear, backed by two huge cranes and aided by sniffer dogs, have been working nonstop in torrid heat and high humidity since the early-morning collapse.

Four more bodies were pulled from the wreckage on Sunday, bringing the confirmed death toll in the disaster to nine, with more than 150 people still unaccounted for.

“There is progress being made,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We’ve got waves of search-and-rescue teams that are flowing over the site, going in and going out. So it’s moving along.”

“We don’t have a resource problem,” Burkett said. “We have a luck problem. We need to get more lucky right now.”

The 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South pancaked in the middle of the night Thursday as residents slept. Surveillance video of the collapse showed it coming down in just a few seconds.

Many members of the local Jewish community were among those affected by the tragedy in Surfside, near Miami Beach, and Israel had vowed to help with the agonizing search and with the identification of victims.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (right) speaks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the site of a building collapse near Miami on June 27, 2021. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Magen David Adom’s international unit and paramedics and EMTs with the South Florida Hatzalah have also been working around the clock at the disaster site.

“I came to Miami to connect the community and families to the forces at the scene and in Israel and help in any way possible during the crisis,” said MDA paramedic Uriel Goldberg, who arrived from Israel to Miami on Friday. “The teams work around the clock with great commitment, while being careful in a complex and dangerous scene and in very complex field conditions.”

Minister Shai also met with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as well as Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Cava Levine, to offer the support of the State of Israel in all rescue efforts.

“I was instructed by the prime minister to check what the needs are and tell you that we are here and ready. There are no limits to what we are ready to offer,” Shai told DeSantis. “We brought you our best people. We chose carefully each one of these individuals, who come with relevant experiences from past events. If you need another 100, we have them.”

The minister also met with Florida Senator Rick Scott, as well as Jewish leaders in Surfside and with the families of missing persons still waiting for news of their loved ones.

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