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July 26, 2021 5:24 pm
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IDF Says It Recovered Over 80 Percent of Missing Victims in Surfside Condo Collapse

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Members of the search and rescue team stand during a moment of silence in front of the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida, U.S. July 7, 2021, in this still image taken from drone footage obtained from social media. Mandatory credit MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE/via REUTERS

Lt. Col. (res.) Golan Vach, who headed the Israel Defense Forces’ National Rescue Unit, said that the team recovered a majority of the 98 victims buried in the tons of rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida.

“You see a lot of death,” Vach, who said he personally found 20 of the victims, told The Palm Beach Post. “Some do not look like human beings. I tried to treat them as people, as souls. Treat them as if they were my parents.”

The IDF team of the rescue operation “Helping Hand,” which arrived 72 hours after the June 24 disaster, recovered 81 missing people by the time they left the Surfside site on July 11. The team included about 15 reserve officers who are top experts in engineering and social care. Half of the Israeli team met with victims’ families, while the other half searched relentlessly through the rubble pile at the site.

On Monday, relatives of 54-year-old Estelle Hedaya confirmed that she had been identified as the 98th and final victim of the collapse.

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Meeting up with the members of the families of the missing victims, studying their photographs and learning about their individual possessions — whether it was a necklace, a heart pendant, a gold watch, a ring or other markers in the household — helped Vach know who they belonged to as he located them at the disaster site, he told the Post. Each piece of information was a piece of the puzzle to locate each missing victim.

In one incident, Vach found a plaque at the site that read “Rabbi A.D. Davis,” and within 20 minutes, his team had located the rabbi, who was not in the building at the time but told them he had given it to Brad Cohen, who lived in unit 1110. “So I know I am close to Brad,” Vach told the outlet.

“This is the way we were working, like detectives,” Vach added. “You have these stupid, simple, brilliant signs. You dig here, and you will find the people you are looking for. And it worked.”

He also knew about the habits of each missing persons and in which room each likely would have been during the collapse. The IDF’s Intelligence Directorate’s “Unit 9900,” which specializes in visual intelligence, built a three-dimensional (3-D) model to analyze the structure of the 40-year-old building and to replicate the way it collapsed.

Israel used its decades of experience in helping countries struck by natural disasters. Since the 1980s, Israel has sent 30 delegations from the IDF and Home Front Command to provide search-and-rescue aid to countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, the Philippines, Japan, Turkey, and Nepal.

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