A Miami firefighter recovered the body of his own daughter Thursday evening as rescuers continued to search for survivors in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South collapse, according to local officials.
A first responder who did not want to be identified said rescuers brought her down and the girl’s father draped his jacket over her body and placed a small American flag on the gurney.
The father, his brother and the other firefighters who dug her out escorted the body through a group of police officers and firefighters lined up on the roadway, the first responder said.
“Our hearts and prayers are with the families affected by this horrific tragedy,” Miami Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Zahralban said in a Friday statement. “We can confirm that a member of our City of Miami Fire Department family has lost his 7-year-old daughter in the collapse. She was recovered last night by members of our Urban Search and Rescue Team, Florida Task Force 2.”
“We ask that you respect the privacy of the immediate family as well as our Fire Department family while we grieve our loss and support our own,” Zahralban added.
“It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders. These men and woman are paying an enormous human toll each and every day, and I ask that all of you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.
Thursday’s discovery brings the death toll total to 20. One hundred twenty eight people remain unaccounted for.
Friday’s announcements came a day after officials said they were working on plans to tear down what remains of the building after concerns about the structure’s instability prompted a 15-hour halt to the search for survivors.
Scott Nacheman, a FEMA structures specialist, said the demolition would trigger a slowdown in the rescue operation, but it would create a safer working environment that could allow more personnel on the site and accelerate the pace of the work. He said it would likely be weeks before officials schedule the demolition.
No one has been rescued since the first hours after the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium.
On Friday morning, about a dozen workers could be seen digging through the pile that now reached about 20 feet (6 meters), more than 10 feet (3 meters) less than it was a week ago.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.