Researchers recover personal belongings from Florida collapse rubble

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – When the body of 4-year-old Emma Guara was removed from the rubble of a condominium collapse in Florida last month, she was wearing the silver necklace her mother recently gave her , the pendant in the shape of a half heart and inscribed “Little sister”.

When firefighters tracked down her 11-year-old sister, Lucia Guara, she was not wearing her nearly matching necklace, the pendant shaped like the other half of the heart and inscribed “Big Sis”. Lucia had developed an allergic reaction and temporarily stopped wearing hers, said their aunt, Digna Rodriguez.

“We would love to get this necklace back,” Rodriguez said. “They loved these necklaces.”

The girls’ parents, Anaely Rodriguez and Marcus Guara, also died on June 24 in the collapse of the Champlain South Towers which left at least 94 dead and 22 missing. They were among the first to be recovered from the rubble. Girls were buried in the same coffin last week, Emma wearing her necklace.

As they search for other remains in tons of broken concrete and twisted rebar, authorities are also trying to recover memorabilia for families who have lost loved ones and for the building’s surviving residents. They set up a database for people to download information on missing assets.

Whenever crews find personal belongings, they take photos and record the location using GPS. They grid the stack, knowing roughly where each family’s condo unit should be. The detectives place the objects in a trash can. They are taken to an area to be cataloged and sealed in bags. Then they are placed in a locked and guarded freight container for later shipment to a warehouse.

For the deceased’s property, there will be an “estate process” to claim the items to ensure they get to the correct heir, Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said.

Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Danny Murillo, an operation chief, said the process had to be designed through “trial and error” because a residential tower collapse “is not your daily occurrence.” He said it can be touching when an object like a child’s toy is found.

“We are all human,” he said.

Rachel Spiegel, who lost her 66-year-old mother, Judy Spiegel, in the collapse, hopes the crews will find memories of her family. Her mother’s remains were found on Friday.

“All of my parents’ belongings in a lifetime are gone,” said Rachel Spiegel. “Their wedding album is gone. My father’s wine collection is gone, all of my mother’s jewelry, all of my mother’s clothes, the dress she wore to my wedding that I wanted to wear one day. All their belongings are gone. We have nothing.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, who has visited the site several times since the collapse, said crews found items as small as rings and jewelry in the rubble.

“The work is so delicate that we even find bottles of wine intact,” Burkett said. He said that because of the information provided by families, research teams often know what to look for in specific parts of the stack. He held up a photo of a ring that was found in the wreckage where researchers believed it would be.

“They expect to find these things. And in this case, they did, ”Burkett said.

Ramirez said special attention was paid to religious property. Rabbis visited the processing area to ensure religious artifacts are properly stored and handled with care. He said that some of the articles are of enormous importance.

“It could be the smallest thing that, to an ordinary person, looks like a small container. It really means generations. It’s very spiritual, and I’m so impressed. Our officers learn so much about the culture, ”he said. “There are so many dynamics with sadness and grief. “

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