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Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez Discusses The Latest On Surfside Condo Collapse


It's Day Six of the search and rescue effort in Surfside, Fla., after a condo building collapsed early Thursday morning. Eleven victims have been confirmed. A hundred fifty people remain unaccounted for. Rescue workers say they have not given up on the search to find survivors. We're joined now by Florida's Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez.


JEANETTE NUNEZ: Good afternoon. Thank you, Ari, for having me.

SHAPIRO: Where does the search and rescue effort stand right now?

NUNEZ: So we continue very much so in search and rescue mode, as you've heard throughout the last several days of this terrible ordeal. Our teams - our urban search and rescue teams have been working around the clock. They've had to contend with quite a number of challenges, both dealing with the fire within the wreckage as well as significant lightning and weather delays. But that being said, they have been working around the clock. They have been doing their very best to continue with their search and rescue efforts. And we know that the family members obviously are desperate for answers. They're desperate for - to hear if their loved ones have been found.


NUNEZ: We've been able to identify 11 thus far. But our hope is that we will have a miracle and find some survivors and then, obviously, that we're able to provide the families with the assistance that they're going to need in these long and difficult days ahead.

SHAPIRO: You say it would take a miracle to find survivors. How realistic is it at this point?

NUNEZ: Well, it's hard to say. I think what we've heard from the professionals that are on the scene that are dealing with the rubble is they have been looking for voids, which is the most common place where survivors could be. And so they continue to search any time they find a void. They continue to put in cameras, and they use all sorts of technology - sonar technology to see if they can locate. As of right now, they have not found any survivors in any voids. But it is a very tragic circumstance where we've seen the images that everyone's been seeing throughout the world, really. It's very, very sobering. And I think that obviously...


NUNEZ: ...We have quite a number of individuals unaccounted for. And so we're bracing ourselves for bad news, but we're hoping for some miracles, like I said.

SHAPIRO: The numbers right now are so stark, with 150 people still unaccounted for and only about a dozen confirmed dead. And it's nearly a week after the collapse. What are you hearing from families of those who remain missing?

NUNEZ: I had the opportunity, along with the governor, today to meet with some families. And obviously there is a tremendous amount of emotion. So it's heartbreaking, and by the same token, it's inspiring. We've been able to meet with both those family members that have received notification through the identification process that one of their loved ones has been confirmed as one of the 11 victims. So obviously, that's a much different scenario that you're dealing with. And then we've had meetings with individuals who have not yet heard about the status of their loved ones.

So there's a whole mix of raw emotions. There's a whole mix of frustration, anger. Some are very hopeful. And so we just continue to tell them that we're there, we're supporting them in any way we can from the state's perspective, that we are not giving up hope. The governor used a military reference with his military background. If you're MIA, you're MIA. We continue to search until you're found. And so that's really the perspective that we brought. And certainly our hearts go out with them because...


NUNEZ: They're dealing with very dark circumstances nonetheless. And so...

SHAPIRO: I mean, the desire for closure is so strong. Are you telling people it'll be days, weeks? What kind of a timeframe are you looking at?

NUNEZ: We've asked quite a few times to see if there is a point certain by which fire rescue will deem it as no longer a search and rescue and it will move to search and recovery. They don't have a date or time certain. As you can imagine, with each passing day, it gets more difficult. But nonetheless, we - like I said, we're hopeful. They continue to work as if they are able to rescue all 150 survivors. So they are focused on search and rescue. They have not moved into recovery mode. But I can imagine that over the course of the next couple of days, they will begin to perhaps shift their focus a little.

SHAPIRO: All right. That's Florida's Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

NUNEZ: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.