In addition to human survivors, firefighters at the collapsed building in Surfside, Florida are looking for pets.
Less than half of Champlain Towers South remains standing after the apartment complex partially collapsed last week, leaving at least 16 dead and 147 missing. But in that remaining part of the building, officials believe some families’ dogs, cats, and other animals may still be alive.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell told The Washington Post. “So for there to be some hope that families can be reunited with these pets in this tragedy, it is important. They are going to have lost so much. If we can at least help them reunite with their pets, it’s worth a try.”
Mr Russell has helped organize an effort to retrieve – or at least feed – any animals that may be left in the building, without diverting any resources from the search for people.
“Our priority is human life,” Mr Russell said. “These search efforts for animals are not taking away any search efforts, resources or time for humans.”
One of those animals is Coco, a black-and-white cat on the fourth floor whose owners hurriedly fled the building after the collapse. The owners’ dog, Rigatoni, made it out with them, but Coco was left behind in the fray.
On Tuesday, a firefighter rose up to the apartment’s balcony on a cherry picker, waving a bag of cat food and calling Coco’s name. He can’t set foot in the apartment because it’s considered unstable, but the hope is Coco will come out if she’s properly coaxed. So far, she hasn’t emerged.
Another missing pet is Mia, a gray cat on the tenth floor. Her owner, 62-year-old Susana Alvarez, made it out of the building alive, but has survivor’s guilt over leaving her cat behind.
“Before I walked down the stairwells, I thought, ‘Do I go inside and rescue Mia?’” Ms Avlarez told the Post. “And then I said, ‘No, I have to get out.’ So to a certain extent it’s my fault because I was so scared I had to get out.”
Ms Alvarez believes Mia is still under her bed, where she hid at the moment of the collapse. She says police have offered to take a cherry picker up to the tenth floor to look for her.
“Mia was beautiful. Mia was my cat. Mia doesn’t deserve to die,” the 11-year resident said.
Ms Alvarez says she’s still holding out hope for all the building’s pets, including Coco, two parakeets on the fifth floor, and Mia.
“I think she is under my bed,” she said. “Sometimes animals can survive things that humans can’t.”