As the heartbreaking stories of those being recovered at the site of the condominium collapse in Surfside emerge — from the small bodies of the four-year-old and the 10-year-old siblings found yesterday to the recovery of the body of a man who moved to Surfside for a fresh start after losing his wife to cancer and both his parents to COVID last year — calls from officials for more mental health assistance are rising.
The survivors and family members of those missing have experienced incredible shock and loss.
The rescue workers have struggled against the elements, against a still crumbling building, shifting through debris filled with toys, photographs and other personal items documenting the lives of those living in the building at the time of the collapse. They are fighting against time, hoping for a miracle.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told President Joe Biden today during the president’s visit to Surfside to tour the site and meet with families, there is a great need for mental health support for the survivors, families and rescue workers..
DeSantis said more than 500 first responders are involved in the painstaking search-and-rescue mission, and crews have removed 1,400 tons of building material from the property.
The governor thanked the Biden Administration and FEMA for their efficiency in assisting with the disaster.
“You’ve been very supportive,” DeSantis told Biden. “Lives have been shattered irrevocably because of this.”
“This has been grueling. Families’ lives have been shattered,” he said. “We’re gonna need mental health support for some of those folks who have been in that rubble because this is not easy to do.”
DeSantis said, “What we just need now is a little bit of luck, a little bit of prayers. And we would like to be able to see some miracles happen,” DeSantis said. “We’re not gonna stop until we identify everybody.”
Biden assured rescue workers. “There’s gonna be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow. And so, we’re not going anywhere.”
The president also said he expects the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs of the search and rescue efforts.
During Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis’ update yesterday on response activities related to the Surfside condo-collapse, he said that he is requesting additional support for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Team members may experience from the federal government.
Patronis said, “I’ve said before, this isn’t just a Florida tragedy – it’s also a national and international event. We’re planning on appealing to the President for the best PTSD support possible for the men and women who are working in conditions that resemble more of a warzone than a normal search and rescue mission. We’ve already deployed mental health experts to engage these heroes, but having access to the nation’s best mental health experts and guidance would go a long way in helping these officials cope with some of the horrible things they are having to see and deal with.”
On Sunday, mental wellness peer teams were deployed to support to Urban Search and Rescue missions. When the teams ultimately demobilize, the peer teams will continue outreach to provide support.
Patronis said, “I also want the President to see the professionalism of Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Teams. Not only are these men and women putting their lives-on-the-line every day in hopes of a saving a life, but these teams are used in emergency response efforts nationwide – especially for hurricanes. With all of Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue teams activated, these men and women are working 12 hours shifts in some of the worst conditions imaginable. In fact, three million pounds of debris has been removed from the site. Their boots, their gloves, and other important pieces of equipment are having to be replaced at a much faster rate compared to other emergencies.
He said the rebar, concrete and other debris, combined with the long hours these men and women are working, is tough on the equipment and they are working with FEMA and the Division of Emergency Management to ensure these supplies are being replenished.
“We want backup for the backups,” Patronis said. “Especially as we’ve got two disturbances in the Atlantic that we’re all monitoring.”