Now images of the scene show an empty space that once housed hundreds of people.
Even as time went on and the possibility of finding survivors diminished, the crews on the ground remained dedicated to the arduous task of combing through the rubble, pausing only for dangerous weather and when the remains of the building were demolished.
Officials promised families the search would not end until all loved ones were found.
“At the original site of collapse, we are almost at the bottom,” Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta told CNN last week. ‘Does that mean we’re almost done searching? No. Until we clear the entire site and find no more human remains, we’re not done.’
All that remains are a handful of scattered concrete stumps in the imprint of the building.
Path cleared for researchers
“Until they’ve done their job, we can’t go in there to take samples of material and take those samples and test them to understand what were the different components of the building that came down,” structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer told CNN’s Ana Cabrera.
The first night he was on the scene, Kilsheimer, who also investigated the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, said he had about 20 or 30 theories about possible triggers.
He’s since eliminated some, but five or six more have been added, he said, but he won’t be able to refine it as the search continues.
Florida state attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has acknowledged “multiple requests from engineers and lawyers” to access the site.
Engineers from the federal agency National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were sent with congressional authority to Surfside to collect evidence and determine how and why the Champlain South Tower collapsed. NIST is the research firm responsible for investigating collapses of buildings, such as the World Trade Center, just as the NTSB investigates plane crashes,” Rundle said in a statement.
“It is my understanding that once NIST, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Miami-Dade Police Departments have determined that it is safe and appropriate for others to access the site, they will be authorized to do so in accordance with the guidelines provided. have been set forth by those agencies,” Rundle said.
The pain of waiting
Many families now have answers to questions about the fate of their loved ones, marking a new chapter in their grief.
In the days following the collapse, Debbie Hill’s father was reported missing, and not knowing where he was and what had happened to him was “the big problem,” she told CNN’s Erin Burnett.
Nicole Ortiz said the pain of waiting for her sister and cousin’s fate was indescribable.
“I screamed,” she told CNN’s Ryan Young. ‘I almost passed out. I have cried.’
The community now mourns their loved ones, as well as Vishal and Bhavna Patel and their 1-year-old daughter Aishani. Ilan Naibryf’s family says goodbye to a young man who they said made an impact everywhere he went. Sergio Lozano must deal with the loss of both his parents, Antonio and Gladys.
“They died together,” Lozano said. “It’s not fair – to be crushed, to be destroyed. It’s not fair.”
Travis Caldwell, Rosa Flores, Rebekah Riess, Leyla Santiago, Claudia Dominguez and Tina Burnside of CNN contributed to this report.