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'It tears at your heart' | Indiana Task Force 1 working to bring closure to families in Florida condo collapse

Indiana USAR Task Force #1 is split into two groups with each taking 12-hour shifts.

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Among the search crews digging through the rubble of the collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, are some of Indiana's own first responders.

"Indiana USAR Task Force #1 arrived in Surfside late last week and members describe the deployment as one of the most taxing they’ve ever worked.

“I’ve been a fireman for 32 years I've been on this team for 24. And sometimes you just get to these real tough ones that are hard to get through,” said Jay Settergren, a Battalion Chief with the Indianapolis Fire Department who is leading the Indiana team of about 80 men and women.

“It’s a different mindset on this than it is when we are searching on a hurricane deployment or a tornado deployment or flooding incident,” he said.

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They are split into two teams. One works 12 hours a day, then trades with the other. Together, they are on the pile 24 hours a day every day, climbing, digging, searching and hoping for signs of life.

“We always hold out hope. But as time goes by, the percentages of finding a live victim go down. We all know that, and that’s why we’re racing against the clock,” he said.

They are racing to save lives and provide answers to the families of those who remain missing. Many of those families are on site waiting for word.

“You feel awful for them,” Settergren said. “It tears at your heart because you know they don’t have answers on their loved one and it puts – in a way – pressure on us to feel like we need to try to do that for them.”

And they'll keep doing it, he says, until the job is done.

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Settergren said the team could remain on site for another few weeks before heading home.

“It looks like chaos, but it’s not. It’s very orchestrated and very focused and that’s why we’re successful,” he said. “So we’ll continue doing that until we bring the last person home for the families.”

Officials overseeing the search at the site of the Florida condominium collapse also seem increasingly somber about the prospects for finding anyone alive.

They said Tuesday that crews have detected no new signs of life in the rubble nearly two weeks after the disaster struck at the Champlain Towers South building. 

Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said search teams continue to look for survivors, but they have not found “anything positive” such as livable spaces in the debris. 

While the effort is still officially called a search-and-rescue mission, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said families of those still missing are preparing for news of “tragic loss.”

As of the publishing of this story on Tuesday, 32 victims had been found and more than 100 were still missing.

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