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The Latest From The Recovery Effort At The Surfside, Fla., Condo Collapse

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We begin this hour with an update on the condo that collapsed two weeks ago in Surfside, Fla. As of this morning, 86 people are confirmed to have died. Dozens of others, of course, are missing or unaccounted for.

NPR's Joe Hernandez has been following this story. Joe, thanks so much for being with us.

JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: And tell us, please, what you can. What's going on now?

HERNANDEZ: Well, right now they're just looking to get through the pile as quickly as they can. They have rescue crews from Florida, but also from as far as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio. And just standing a block away from the site, you can see they're using heavy machinery to remove what is really millions of pounds of concrete and debris. The fire chief said in some places they are down to the fifth floor of the tower and in others, down to the second floor. And the mayor of Surfside also said yesterday that some parts of the pile that used to be several stories high are now at ground level. So they're making progress. But crews still haven't found anyone alive since the early hours after the collapse.

SIMON: So as it was noted this week, the task has turned from trying to rescue people to locating remains. And you spoke with some of the people there who are doing that very difficult job of going through the pile of rubble. I wonder what they told you.

HERNANDEZ: I spoke with several team members from Ohio. They're working 12-hour shifts every day. They end up really being about 16-hour days. So you pair that South Florida heat with their long pants, long sleeves. They're wearing helmets and anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds of gear. And it is just physically grueling for them. And that's to say nothing of the emotional toll that they're also facing.

I spoke with Jack Reall. He's with Ohio Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue Team.

JACK REALL: Our No. 1 goal is to rescue victims that are still savable. But if we can't do that, we want to make sure we return the victims to their families to provide some closure to them. And really, that's what I'm focused on. And that gives me the - you know, kind of the strength that we're continuing to work through this.

HERNANDEZ: So he's been in Surfside for more than a week now. And it's not been easy for him and his team. But he says the community support in town is what's helping motivate him to keep at it.

SIMON: And work just continues through the weekend.

HERNANDEZ: That's right. Nothing changes. There are crews on the pile 24 hours a day. And they're continuing to sift through the rubble, looking for clues as to why the building collapsed, as well as looking for those who died. So it's difficult work. And it's mentally challenging and strenuous for them. And officials have made it clear that there are mental health counselors available to those workers, both on the site and also in more private settings, if they want to use them.

SIMON: Joe, before we go, I want to give you a chance to tell us - I don't think we can use the word happy. Well, maybe we can. I understand that rescuers were able to reunite a beloved pet with a family.

HERNANDEZ: That's right. Apparently, there are a number of strays around the building site. And volunteers had been feeding them. And then two days ago, one of those volunteers recognized a cat and thought it looked familiar. In addition to posting photos of missing people, some have been posting pictures of missing pets as well. So the volunteer took that cat to a shelter. And they were able to determine that the cat had lived on the ninth floor of the collapsed building. And they don't know how it got out or how it survived.

But Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, it was good that something positive had happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: I'm glad that this small miracle could bring some light into the lives of a hurting family today.

HERNANDEZ: Levine Cava didn't give any details about the family. But this sure seems to have buoyed some spirits here and put some smiles on some faces very briefly.

SIMON: NPR's Joe Hernandez in Miami - Joe, thanks so much.

HERNANDEZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.