Mexico’s elite team of Topos, or Moles aid search efforts in collapsed Miami condo
Mexico’s Topes de Tlatelolco are renowned for their experience responding to collapsed structures from natural disasters.
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Search and rescue operations at the site of a collapse of a Surfside, Florida condo confirmed 18 people dead and 147 still unaccounted for on the morning of July 1, just hours before operations were temporarily halted over concerns the rest of the building could fall.
The decision comes as President Joe Biden is set to visit the wreckage in mere hours, and days after search efforts were supported by outside rescue operatives.
Authorities said that they are still in the window of time where they can find survivors as their search stretches into day nine.
Among these outside search operatives are Los Topos Tlatelolco, joining local firefighters and other rescue experts in navigating the massive wreckage site multi-levels deep — a result of the apartment complex “pancaking” in its collapse.
Mexico’s Topes de Tlatelolco, or “Tlatelolco moles”are world renowned, and considered heroes in Mexico. They are experts in search and rescue efforts in situations where structures have collapsed, and there may be survivors trapped in air pockets.
Thank you @GobiernoMX for sending legendary #Topos & canines to #Surfside.— Ana Navarro-Cárdenas (@ananavarro) June 29, 2021
The “Moles” formed when an earthquake struck Mexico in 1985. Volunteers began to lift rubble, look for signs of life and pull people out, assisting the overwhelmed first responders.
¡Gracias, Mexico! pic.twitter.com/xuoviAaz6R
On the morning of Sept. 19, 1985, a massive quake woke millions of residents in Mexico City as a magnitude-8.1 earthquake hit the city, destroying hundreds of buildings and trapping thousands under piles of rubble. It killed at least 5,000 people.
As the initial chaos of the quake subsided, it became clear that the biggest problem was that the State of Mexico could not provide the necessary disaster relief rescue services to rescue people trapped.
And so, the Topos formed, born out of a volunteer search and rescue group that scoured the rubble in search of survivors in the working-class neighborhood of Tlatelolco after it was clear the government could do little.
Los Topos, Spanish for “the moles,” have since been involved in virtually every major natural disaster in Mexico and others around the world.
Since their founding, they have assisted in around 70 missions over a range of natural or human-caused catastrophes, including the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the high profile collapse of a mine in Chile, and the Haiti disaster in 2010.
Looks like they have a Guatemalan topo in the team too. pic.twitter.com/8xNFjQPfte— manuel rueda (@ruedareport) June 30, 2021
They became known as fearless workers, putting their lives at risk by traveling to disasters in Nepal and the Philippines. After another earthquake that leveled parts of Mexico City in 2017, they risked their lives upon the rubble as hundreds of people gathered to observe their efforts and cheer.
Distinguishable from their bright orange uniform, they would regularly signal to crowds for silence as they listened for any buried survivors.
In 2020, a massive mudslide caused by rainfall from Hurricane Eta swallowed dozens of homes in the village of Quejá, in Guatemala, killing dozens. Los Topos didn’t hesitate to assist.
“There is always life and we will look for it, no matter what,” one Topo told the Washington Post from their most recent search and rescue effort in Miami.
They released a statement, immediately after the disaster, saying they “profoundly lament the collapse” of the apartment building in Miami,” at the time signaling they had faith in the Miami first responders until they were able to help on site as well.
They have been on the ground since last Friday, according to Miami-Dade officials. Rescue efforts, while now paused due to structural concerns of the surrounding structure, will eventually continue.