Searchers recover personal possessions from Florida collapse rubble

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A memorial for the Guara family is posted on a fence near the Champlain Towers South, in Surfside, Fla. Recovery crews at the Florida condominium collapse are cataloging all personal possessions found in the rubble in hopes of returning them to families of the dead or survivors. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP, File)

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — When the body of 4-year-old Emma Guara was pulled from the rubble of last month’s Florida condominium collapse, she was wearing the silver necklace her mother recently gave her, the pendant shaped like half a heart and inscribed “Little Sis.”

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

“We would like to get that necklace back,” Rodriguez said. “They loved those necklaces.”

FILE – This 2004 photo provided by Peter Milian shows his cousin, Marcus Guara. Guara, 52, his wife, Anaely Guara, 42, and their girls, 10-year-old Lucia and 4-year-old Emma, all died when their eighth-floor condo at Champlain Towers South in Surfside collapsed June 24. The service for the family was Tuesday, July 6, 2021, at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Miami Beach, Fla. Recovery crews at the Florida condominium collapse are cataloging all personal possessions found in the rubble in hopes of returning them to families of the dead or survivors. (Peter Milian via AP, File)

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

FILE – In this Tuesday, July 6, 2021, file photo, two caskets are loaded into hearses following a funeral service for Marcus Guara and his family at St. Joseph Catholic Church, in Miami Beach, Fla. Guara, his wife Anaely, and daughters Lucia and Emma, died in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in nearby Surfside. The aunt of 11-year-old Lucia Guara hopes that recovery crews find a necklace her mother had recently given her. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

As they search through tons of broken concrete and twisted rebar for more remains, authorities are also trying to recover keepsakes for families that have lost relatives and for surviving residents of the building. They have set up a database for people to upload information about missing property.

Each time crews find personal possessions, they take photos and log the location using GPS. They have made a grid of the pile, knowing approximately where each family’s condo unit should be. Detectives place the objects into a bin. They are taken to an area to be cataloged and sealed in bags. Then they are placed in a locked and guarded cargo container for later shipment to a warehouse.

For the possessions of the deceased, there will be an “estate process” to claim items to make sure they get to the proper heir, Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said.

Miami-Dade police Sgt. Danny Murillo, a leader of the operation, said the process had to be designed through “trial and error” because the collapse of a residential tower “is not your everyday event.” He said it can be emotional when an item like a child’s toy is found.

“We are all human,” he said.

FILE – In this Saturday, June 26, 2021, file photo, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, left, talks with Rachel Spiegel, right, who is looking for information on the Champlain Towers South Condo building, which partially collapsed, in Surfside, Fla., near Miami. Spiegel, who lost her 66-year-old mother, Judy Spiegel, in the collapse, hopes that recovery crews will find her family’s mementos. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

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

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

This Tuesday, June 29, 2021, photo shows a memorial wall for the victims of the Champlain Towers South building collapse in Surfside, Fla., with a photo of Judy Spiegel. Spiegel’s relatives hope that recovery crews will be able to find their family’s mementos. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, who has visited the site repeatedly since the collapse, said crews are finding items as small as rings and jewelry in the rubble.

“The work is so delicate that we’re even finding unbroken wine bottles,” Burkett said. He said because of the information families have provided, search teams often know what to look for in specific parts of the pile. He held up a photo of a ring that was found in the wreckage where searchers believed it would be.

A shrine has been setup outside St. Joseph Catholic Church, in Surfside, Fla., Monday, June 28, 2021, near the collapsed building for the Guara family, Marc and Ana and their children Lucia and Emma. Recovery crews at the Florida condominium collapse are cataloging all personal possessions found in the rubble in hopes of returning them to families of the dead or survivors. Each time they find items, they take photos and record the location using a grid. Crews know approximately where each families’ condo unit should be. (AP Photo/Terry Spencer)

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

Ramirez said special consideration is being taken for religious property. Rabbis have toured the processing area to ensure that religious artifacts are properly stored and handled with care. He said some of the items have enormous significance.

Crews work in the rubble of the demolished section of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building, on Monday, July 12, 2021, in Surfside, Fla.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

“It could be the smallest little thing that to a common person it just looks like a little container. It really means generations. It’s very spiritual, and I’m just so impressed. Our officers are learning so much about culture,” he said. “There are just so many dynamics with the sadness and the sorrow.”

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