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Rescue And Recovery Efforts Continue In Surfside, Fla.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The search for survivors from the condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., is now in its fifth day. Ten people are confirmed dead. Rescue and recovery teams continue to work around the clock and against the clock, looking for at least 150 people who are still missing. Jimmy Patronis is Florida's state fire marshal. He spoke this afternoon about the scope of this disaster and the work still underway.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIMMY PATRONIS: This is the largest ever deployment of task force resources in the history of the state of Florida that's not a hurricane. The same number of men and women that are on the ground right now is the same as that was deployed to Hurricane Michael, which is a 12-county storm event. They're working around the clock. They're working 12 hours at a time, midnight to noon, noon to midnight.

CHANG: But still, family members are desperate to get information about their loved ones. To find out more about what the next few days could bring, we reached out to Charles Burkett. He is the mayor of Surfside, and he joins us now.

Welcome, Mayor.

CHARLES BURKETT: Good afternoon.

CHANG: Good afternoon. So what can you tell us about what the next 24 hours will look like? I mean, this remains a rescue mission - right? - not just a recovery mission.

BURKETT: Well, recovery is not a word we're even considering. This is a full-blown, full-on rescue mission, and it will continue to be that, as far as I'm concerned, into the indefinite future.

CHANG: We have heard from a number of local and state officials in Florida this morning about just the scale of the physical task that first responders are up against. I want us to take a listen to Ray Jadallah. He's the assistant fire chief of operations for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAY JADALLAH: We're digging through, again, rubbles of concrete the size of basketballs, the size of baseballs. And then and only then, in combination with the safety of the personnel and, of course, you know, considering, you know, the victims themselves, it's going to take time.

CHANG: How long do you think, Mayor Burkett - how long do you think it could take for first responders to get through all of this debris?

BURKETT: Well, I will tell you this. I'll tell you what I do know. We have over 240 rescue people on that mound right now working 24 hours a day. And that number is going to be increasing, according to the search and rescue commander that arrived from Israel the other day. So we don't have a resource problem. We really have a luck problem. The federal, state and local officials have provided us with a massive response. And all we need now is we need to start pulling people out of that debris and reuniting them with their family. And that's our only objective.

CHANG: That said, it is day five of rescue and recovery efforts. The hope of finding people alive declines by the hour, by the day. Let me just ask you very directly, what do you think the chances are of finding survivors at this point?

BURKETT: I'm very optimistic. We're looking for a miracle. And I'll tell you why. There was a recent BBC article that dealt with building collapses and survivability underneath rubble, and it outlined people who have survived for 17 days and potentially beyond. So given that, we're very early in this process, and we're not even thinking of anything but rescue. We've got the tools. We've got the heavy equipment. We've got the man and womenpower, and we are going to make it happen. That's all we're here to do, and we're bringing these people out of the rubble, period, end of story.

CHANG: And in just the minute or so we have left, investigations into how this happened are getting started. President Biden supports a federal investigation. What do you think federal investigators should focus on?

BURKETT: Everything from A to Z - we are now in the process at our town hall of pulling all the archived information related to these buildings out, having it scanned and putting it up on our website for the investigators to have access to. So something went very, very wrong at this building. Buildings do not fall down in America. We are a first-world country. This is a third-world phenomenon. And it's not something that's acceptable. So something went wrong here - very, very wrong. And we're going to find out why. But that's not going to be today, and that's not going to be tomorrow. For right now, we're going to focus exclusively on saving lives and pulling people out of the rubble.

CHANG: That is Charles Burkett. He is the mayor of Surfside, Fla.

Thank you very much for joining us during this incredibly difficult time.

BURKETT: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.