SURFSIDE, Fla. - Families are anxiously waiting with hope as more than 150 people are still unaccounted for after a condo building collapsed in Surfside, Florida last week — including a little girl with at least one parent presumed to be inside when the building fell.
Mayor Charles Burkett encountered her Sunday night. He spoke about the touching moment Monday during a news conference.
Burkett said he came across the little girl during one of his many visits to the disaster site. He didn’t reveal her name but said she appeared to be between 11 and 12 years old.
"She was sitting in a chair by herself — with nobody around her — looking at her phone," he said, "And I knelt down, and I asked her ‘So what are you doing? Are you okay?’"
After the little girl told the mayor she was okay, he noticed that she was reading a prayer.
"It was a Jewish prayer, but she was reading a Jewish prayer to herself sitting at the site by where one of her parents presumably is," he continued, appearing to become more emotional. "And that really brought it home to me. She wasn’t crying. She was just lost. She didn’t know what to do, what to say, who to talk to."
Burkett says he hasn’t seen her since but is going to make an effort to find her again.
"And I’m going to tell her we’re all here for her, and we’re going to do the best we can to bring out that parent," he said.
Families were able to privately visit the disaster site over the weekend.
Alfredo Lopez, who lived with his wife in a sixth-floor corner apartment and narrowly escaped, said he finds it hard to believe anyone is alive in the rubble. "If you saw what I saw: nothingness. And then, you go over there and you see, like, all the rubble. How can somebody survive that?" Lopez told The Associated Press.
Some families had hoped their visit to the site near the 12-story building would enable them to shout messages to loved ones possibly buried inside the pile. As they returned to a nearby hotel, several paused to embrace as they got off the bus. Others walked slowly with arms around each other back to the hotel entrance.
"We are just waiting for answers. That’s what we want," said Dianne Ohayon, whose parents, Myriam and Arnie Notkin, were in the building. "It’s hard to go through these long days and we haven’t gotten any answers yet."
Rescue workers continued to dig for a fifth day into the remnants of the collapsed Florida condo building. They stressed Monday that they could still find survivors in the rubble, a hope family members clung to even though no one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the structure fell.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.