SURFSIDE, Florida — The day after the devastating condo collapse near Miami Beach, Kymany Roberts lent a woman his parking spot. She told him she had three family members among the missing. Her car sat in the spot without moving for days.
“The very next day, I saw her on the news crying,” he told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday as he walked his dog near his home, blocks away from where it happened. “It just touches you because ... there’s nothing you really can do. There’s nothing nobody possibly can do to help.” He plans to keep reaching out to check up on how she’s doing.
This is what it has been, is, and will continue to be like for the tight-knit community of Surfside. A search and rescue operation continues around the clock, through the rain, through the heat, as hurricanes threaten, and as more and more debris is removed from the rubble. But the painful and slow release of information about the people who were inside has left the community suspended in a limbo, half hopeful, half mourning. Eighteen are dead, among them children, and 145 remain unaccounted for nearly a full week since the building fell on June 24.
There has been no official signal from an authoritative voice to begin grieving this collective, massive loss. When you talk about the missing, do you refer to them as are or were? Is or was? The community is not sure how to even begin mourning, or when or how it should be done. All agree this will be a tragedy that defines their community for years to come.
“It could happen in the best of places. It could happen to anyone,” said Iraida Guedes, a bank executive who had just returned to town and was spending the day mourning. “Hope is dwindling, right? Because it’s been a couple of days.”
Against time, the community has not given up on the missing; people who spoke with BuzzFeed News still expressed hope.
Idalmis Alvarez, a nursing assistant who lives blocks from the building, described her neighborhood as being in mourning. But as of Tuesday, she was hopeful that someone could be found alive. “A lot of disasters across the world have had days go by ... [before they’ve found someone]. I can’t believe that here could be different,” Alvarez said in Spanish. Just then, a woman who was walking by overheard and interjected in agreement with a couple of comments about God and his power.
Officials have promised that no one will be left behind, that the search and rescue will continue. Two types of dog teams are still out among the rubble, one searching for the living and one for the dead. Hundreds of rescue workers are still going in, swapping in and out in shifts. Cameras are getting pushed in voids. Families are getting daily briefings. “We have no timeline. We are continuing, as long as there are any signs of possibility, we will continue,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told BuzzFeed News. “We’re not at the point of changing our search and rescue.”
The entire community is sad and on edge, living around closed roads, and carrying this heavy emotional burden.
At 88th and Harding, neighbors created a memorial site. Photos, stuffed animals, flowers, votive candles, and thank-yous for the responders all popped up. Heavy machinery can be seen moving in the distance. It’s where Jim Kostecky went Tuesday to drop off flowers for a missing friend. “I still think that there’s some hope and stuff, so I’m still praying,” said Kostecky, who was in town for business. “It’s more a matter of giving everybody a proper send-off. ... I hope there’s some closure for everybody so the town can heal and move on.”
While the memorial is still accessible, the closed-off area around the building has expanded since it first went up. So there are also other places — the beach, places of worship, beachfront vigils — where people have gathered. At another chain-link fence outside the perimeter, more flowers, more pictures, more prayers. “Oh my god, I can’t believe it,” one woman said on Wednesday morning, leaning over the yellow tape toward a photo. “That’s my doctor.”
Another woman, who did not personally know anyone in the building, had just walked away from the same spot in tears.
Amber Jamieson contributed reporting to this story.