One hundred and forty-nine people remain unaccounted for after a 13-story condo tower collapsed in the early hours of June 24 in the small community of Surfside, just north of Miami Beach.
The death toll has slowly risen to 12 as bodies have been recovered from the site, but no one has been pulled out alive from the debris since the day of the sudden collapse. “You’re praying, but you’re also looking at the clock at the same time going…” Debra Golan, whose friend of four decades is among the missing, told TIME.
The same internal battle could be seen on the faces of families and friends of the missing gathered near the Champlain Towers condos on June 29, Vera Bergengruen writes from Surfside, as search-and-rescue operations stretched into a sixth day. Relatives transitioned from praying on the beach to providing authorities with DNA samples to identify remains.
Bucket by bucket, rescue workers balancing on the shaky rubble combed through piles of jagged concrete and twisted steel that held the contents of what had once been at least 55 apartments. Above them, cranes delicately lifted slabs of concrete off the mount of debris. It may take months, or even years, to fully determine what caused the building’s structure to give way.
Away from the site of the disaster, where the turquoise water and white sand stand in stark contrast to the half-destroyed building, questions are mounting. Was this a cruel freak accident, or a preventable tragedy?