PALM BEACH, FL – As soon as the building came down, “structure collapse” was the headline. There was barely time to process the information. Still, the media outlets were ready, with engineers and experts teed up to give their version of what could have happened to every mainstream outlet covering the story. Politicians came in droves to the site to address the community. There were more questions than they had answers. Many of us watched the footage of the building collapse in the early morning hours. The video footage, a grainy, distant image from the security camera at a neighboring complex. An eerie reminder of the destruction of 9/11. It appeared to be an implosion; a coating of white dust floating above the pile and onto the adjacent neighborhood. The portion of the building that remained looked similar to the Oklahoma City bombing. A tragedy that took place so many years ago. The massive structure’s interior ripped straight down with bedrooms exposed, reminding us of the fragility of life. The cause of the deadly collapse could take years of forensic investigation to solve. Yet, the media and its experts continued to press forward with the narrative they began immediately after the condos came crashing down.
Arriving on the chaotic scene a few hours after the collapse, we were anxious to see what we had viewed splashed on our screens that morning. The barriers closing off streets were in place. The police and officials ushered the media to a park across the road in front of the building. This vantage point gave a view of the debris pile and the undamaged portion. The press tent filled with anxious reporters waiting for updates. A visit to the community center that now became a family reunification center was a few doors down from the site. The scene there left you heartbroken. As we approached, a rabbi prayed with a family outside, and small children clutched pillows that a neighbor had wrangled up. We were not satisfied with following the herd to the media pen, where the officials wanted to escort us. Instead, our team decided to venture to the beach. That angle gave you the view that we had seen on the screens, from the drones and helicopters buzzing above. Finally, after a few blocks of walking on the sand, it was in front of us. A police line marked the perimeter. We gazed up at the building, rebar hanging from each floor, bunkbeds visible on the highest floor. First responders combed the pile with dogs running above across the broken concrete slabs. It was clear that there was little chance of survival. It looked like a building that a missile had hit in a war zone. It was easy to have your brain go to the worst-case scenarios. My brain was spinning. Other journalists scrambled to talk to an engineer who was familiar with the building standing on the sand. He was shaken and unwilling to interview. A man wearing a yarmulke stood alone feet from the site, saying prayers in Hebrew.
The population of the community diverse with the Miami Latin influence but was overwhelmingly Jewish. This fact seemed to elude the mainstream media. Their headlines pointed at the Latin population and skirted around the toll on the Jewish community. Report after report glossed over this. The facts seemed to be of no relevance to most of the American outlets. As for the Israeli papers: The Times of Israel, day after headline “Many members of Jewish community feared among 99 missing in Miami condo collapse” It went on to tell the story “Israeli nationals reportedly among those unaccounted for after tower collapses in heavily Orthodox area north of Miami; dozens pulled from rubble as rescuers search for more.” The questions lingered for me, why was no one else covering this obvious vantage point of the story. The toll on the Jewish community was tremendous. Why were the majority of American news reports talking about the Latin influence and demographic? They were eliminating the reality of who these residents were. The lack of facts left me perplexed, saddened, and dismayed.
The Israelis showed up on the scene days after the collapse. IDF expertise trained by war. If nothing else, the Israeli presence was symbolic and offered a level of solace to the local Jewish community. Governor DeSantis did acknowledge the arrival of the troops: “We did get a small team from Israel to come. A lot of the families who have unaccounted-for loved ones wanted that.” More than two dozen of the missing were Jewish and had links to Israel. “It’s really painful,” Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, the consul general of Israel in Miami, told WPLG television. “I, for one, can identify (with the families), from the Israeli experience.” The Israeli rescuers came from the Israeli Defense Forces, the country’s military, including about ten reserve officers from the Home Front Command and Foreign Ministry personnel, the IDF said.
Nachman Shai, Israel’s minister for diaspora affairs, tweeted a picture of himself meeting with U.S. officials and the rabbi of the local synagogue near the disaster scene.
A mix of vacationers, snowbirds, retirees, and families occupied the 136 unit condo building before that moment that changed everything. Sunday evening, the Miami Herald revealed that Surfside’s chief building official told the Champlain Towers condo board the building was in “very good shape.“ We know now that the preliminary engineer’s report revealed “major structural damage.” However, the report showed no indication that a collapse was possible, but it did hint at nearly $10 million worth of repairs. The building [like so many others] contained a parking garage beneath the building and the pool deck. Columns supported the massive structure. Whatever took this building down began in that garage underneath that pool deck. The video from a hotel guest across the street went viral on Tik Tok, showing rubble and water consuming the garage just 7 minutes before the structure came crashing down.
Last week, the city of Miami sent letters on Friday to condo associations of 40-plus-year-old buildings above six stories, urging them to get an inspection from a qualified structural engineer within the next 45 days.
“Effective immediately, you are strongly urged to retain the services of a licensed structural engineer and to undertake a structural inspection for visible signs of distress,” the letter said.
The Israeli team joined other task forces from around the United States to assist first responders from Miami and Miami-Dade County, and they worked 12-hour shifts. They paused only when lightning was spotted nearby and for the implosion of the still-standing portion. The IDF team used blueprints of the building to create detailed 3D images of the disaster site to aid in the search. They also gathered information from families of the missing, many of who were Jewish, to build a room-by-room model laying out where people would have been sleeping during the pre-dawn collapse. The rapid-mobilization unit — which has taken part in various high-profile missions around the globe headed by Golan Vach, a colonel in the reserves, included ten other reservists who are all top experts in engineering. Vach said the destruction his team has encountered in Florida is the worst it’s ever seen in the decades of missions in battle. Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai also arrived at the site. He noted that the widely respected unit’s members “have been all over the world in many similar situations.”
“We will do whatever we can to help the Americans in any way they deem fit, “he told the Jerusalem Post. “America can learn from the Israeli experience. Unfortunately, we have too much experience with disasters.”
Over the weekend, an IDF Spokesperson Unit announced that the IDF’s and Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Operation “Yad Achim” (Helping Hand) rescue team has completed its mission at the Miami condo collapse and would be returning to Israel.
An investigation into the cause of the collapse continues, with the National Institute of Standards and Technology evaluating the structure’s remains and conducting tests on several pieces of concrete. Miami-Dade and Surfside officials have vowed to release all documents relating to Champlain Towers “to get to the bottom of what happened” as fires in the rubble still hamper efforts. Getting to the bottom of what happened is critical here. There are still questions in the wake of this tragedy that need answers. The mainstream media ignorance or intentionally misleading information on the demographics in this incident are perplexing. Telegram channels are chattering with conspiracy theories, and other stories have surfaced on the internet. Stories that Snopes and google are quick to stamp out. Many of us live in a reality where we know that we must question everything. Especially when a narrative is being pushed down your throat by the mainstream. A collapse of a residential building resulting in massive loss of life, should be the subject of a questioning public.