Highly trained urban rescue teams from Israel and Mexico are in Miami to help with the search for survivors in the aftermath of the Champlain Towers South Condominium building collapse. The death toll is at 12 and 149 people are still missing.

Miami-Dade’s own Urban Search and Rescue Team’s Task Force 2 has years of experience responding to natural disasters around the world. But this time the team was needed was right in its own backyard. 

“The natural reaction is you want to get there right away and help,” task force member Grant Musser said to Channel 7 News in Miami. They were joined by rescue teams across the country.

The Times of Israel was the first to report that specialists from the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command joined the rescue effort to find survivors in the collapsed remains of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside.

Israel and Mexico Come to the Aid of the US Following Champlain Towers' Collapse in Miami
Colonel Vach, commander of the Israeli urban rescue team conducts an interview with the media. (Reuters)

Mexico sent Los Topos Azteca urban rescue team which arrived in Surfside on Monday. The team evolved from a group of volunteers named Los Topos, or “the moles,” that formed after a devastating 8.1 earthquake wracked Mexico City in September 1985. As of Tuesday, however, Los Topos were awaiting authorization by Miami officials to join the effort. 

“I Have Solid Hope That We Will Find Someone”

The Israeli rapid-deployment unit is headed up by Reserve Colonel Golan Vach, who has commanded the unit for the past four years. He and his experienced team of reservists, who are experts in engineering, have responded to several disasters around the world including. “It’s one of the most difficult and complicated situations that I’ve ever seen,” Vach said on Tuesday.

Yet, he remained confident that there may still be survivors hidden among the rubble. “We found today and yesterday, new spaces… in the side, so there is still hope. And I will recommend operating heavy vehicles to scratch the perimeter of the building to expose more layers,” he said in an interview with CNN.

“Up to one week, I have a solid hope that we will find someone,” Vach added.

The Israeli team feels a connection to many of the collapse’s missing victims. More than two dozen of the 149 unaccounted for are of Jewish descent and have links to Israel, according to an Israeli official. Several of the families had previously expressed hope the experienced Israeli team, would join the search for their loved ones.

The joint rescue operation was augmented with specially trained live-find K-9s and human remains K-9s that can locate bodies in the rubble. 

Israel and Mexico Come to the Aid of the US Following Champlain Towers' Collapse in Miami
Joint team of American and Israeli rescuers gets a brief before they join their shift in the collapsed highrise. (IDF photo)

The Teams Have Thoroughly Studied the Building

The Israeli team was augmented by the international unit of the Magen David Adom, Israel’s EMS service. Magen David Adom joined paramedics and EMTs of the South Florida Hatzalah at the disaster site.

The teams have conducted extensive interviews with family members to get the best idea of where their relatives might have been within their apartments at the time the building collapsed. Since the building collapsed at 1:30 a.m., most of the victims were asleep at the time. The teams have also studied plans of the building including a 3D model of it. They have run through computer simulations of the collapse to attempt to investigate the areas where survivors may be located. 

The 400-strong rescue effort works in 12-hour shifts; but as time goes on, the chances of finding any more survivors get slimmer. Nevertheless, the teams continue to offer a glimmer of hope. 

“There are minor chances,” Vach said. “I would not say there are no chances.”

“Maybe there’s a confined space that somebody left, and somebody is alive in there,” he added.