Search-and-rescue expert details how Texas crews would deal with catastrophic collapse of building like Florida condo

18 dead, more than 140 missing after Surfside condo collapse

SAN ANTONIO – A search-and-rescue expert in Texas is giving more insight into what Florida crews are dealing with following days of teams digging through rubble after a condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, that has led to 18 deaths and more than 140 people still missing.

Texas A&M Task Force 1 Director Jeff Saunders says, first, search crews and dogs would arrive at the scene and rescue anyone near the rubble’s surface and get them to safety.

Next, structural engineers and planning crews have to develop a game plan to get first responders in and survivors out, and every situation is different.

“Think of it as you’re starting a mining operation. As you dig into the collapsed structure -- the deeper you go into the collapsed structure, the more assuring that you need,” Saunders said.

If the state of Texas were dealing with a situation like the one with Florida’s condo collapse at this time of year, crews would probably only be able to work in 15- to 30-minute shifts before the heat becomes an issue.

On day 6, search and rescue efforts would come to a close.

Saunders says he hopes and believes more survivors could still be found.

“The human body will surprise you when it wants to. I think if a person has a will to survive, that’s a big thing to say. And a lot of people have survived a lot of weird things.”

Saunders also voiced his sympathy for the men and women responding to the tragic scene in Surfside. He’s been dispatched to numerous rescues but says the one that sticks with him most is being sent to the Pentagon after Sept. 11.

“We had a job to do,” he said. “My thoughts are with all of the people running the organization of that search-and-rescue because I know exactly what they’re going through.”


About the Authors:

John Paul Barajas is a reporter at KSAT 12. Previously, he worked at KRGV 5 in the Rio Grande Valley. He has a degree from the University of Houston. In his free time, he likes to get a workout in, spend time on the water and check out good eats and drinks.