VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) — Virginia Beach-based Virginia Task Force 2 is heading to Surfside, Florida, as search and rescue operations continue after last week’s condo tower collapse.
More than 140 people were still missing and believed to be trapped in the rubble as of Wednesday morning, and the death toll now sits at 16 people. The latest victim was identified Wednesday morning as 92-year-old Hilda Noriega, per Miami-Dade police.
Task Force 2 deployed three engineers earlier this week, and 80 more people were set to roll out from Virginia Beach at noon Wednesday.
Virginia Beach Fire Chief David Hutcheson says the team isn’t giving up hope as they head down to Florida.
“This is actually what the team was formulated for in the very beginning in ’92,” he said. “So we do extensive training with it. It is a low frequency, high danger type of situation for us.”
The last time the team was fully activated and deployed was for search-and-rescue operations for Hurricane Michael in 2018, a release from the task force said.
The team consists of nearly 80 local first responders from across Hampton Roads making up a number of specialized personnel, including physicians, K9 search and rescue teams as well as logistics teams to name a few.
The task force already sent down three engineers Sunday to help with the efforts.
Task Force Leader Daryl Funaiock says the team extensively trains and is prepared for situations like the one in Surfside.
“Our mission in Florida is going to be whatever is asked of us as a federal resource to assist the state assets working on the ground there, the local and state assets,” he said. “Whatever our assignment is, this team can handle it.”
Their first shift begins Thursday at noon.
Crews work in 12-hour shifts, working for 45 minutes with 15 minute breaks.
Task force members say they’re going down there with the full belief they can still save someone.
“That’s why these things were formed, is to serve and protect our fellow citizens, and these people in Miami deserve everything we can put towards it to try to save a life,” said Hutcheson.
The team is expected to be there for at least seven to 10 days and that time could be extended if more help is needed on the ground there.