Families, rescuers hold vigil near collapsed building

National News

Gini Gonte visits the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, as she honors her friends Nancy Kress Levin and Jay Kleiman, who lost their lives after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Family members and rescue workers held a vigil Wednesday night near the site of a collapsed Florida condo building shortly after officials announced that they had given up hope of finding any survivors.

The gathering began shortly after 7 p.m. with a rabbi reciting a Jewish prayer, followed by a Christian minister leading a recitation of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Earlier Wednesday, officials informed the families of victims and the public that they had exhausted every option available in the search-and-rescue mission and were transitioning to a victim recovery effort.

Rescue workers, their helmets held to their hearts and their boots coated in dust, joined local officials, rabbis and chaplains in a moment of silence beside the rubble. Afterward, the rabbis and chaplains walked down the line of officials, many of whom were sobbing, and one by one hugged them.

The officials then walked slowly past a tall fence where families and well wishers had placed photos of the victims, posters of support and flowers.

A Miami-Dade Fire Department helicopter conducted a flyover of the somber event. As the ceremony neared its end, an accordion player unseen on a nearby tennis court played Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” That was followed by a piccolo playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

With the change from rescue to recovery, officials said, crews will stop using rescue dogs and listening devices but continue to search for people who are still missing. Eight more bodies were recovered Wednesday, bringing the death toll for the June 24 collapse to 54, with 86 people unaccounted for.

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