It was a small moment of hope amid all the pain and devastation: a cat on Saturday was seen wandering a lower floor of the remaining flank of a 12-story condominium complex that partly collapsed near Miami.
Crews hoped to place a trap on the balcony so that the feline can be rescued. It could not be immediately determined whether the animal belonged to any of the building's evacuated residents.
As crews prepare to demolish the still-standing portion of Champlain Tower South, officials had reassured families Saturday that they had done their best to look for their missing cherished pets.
Miami-Dade County Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah interrupted a family briefing Saturday afternoon to share the news on a day that saw the death toll rise to 24.
"So apparently there's a cat now that may have gone out and gotten onto a balcony," he said.
The news, presumably originating from demolition crews preparing the building for detonation, brought murmurs of apparent excitement. "Hold on," Jadallah told the crowd, "I haven't spoken to the cat yet."
Earlier Saturday, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that at least three sweeps for pets had been conducted, some by camera, at a portion of the complex still standing — and that no animals have been found.
"I very much understand that pets are part of people's families," the mayor said, noting that she, too, has been a pet owner. "My heart goes out to those who fear for their animals, and I just want you to know that additional efforts have been made and are being made."
A portion of Champlain Tower South remains mostly intact, but officials said they would demolish the remaining structure no earlier than Monday — ahead of incoming Tropical Storm Elsa that could put the building precariously at risk of collapsing on its own.
Cava said she informed a contractor of possible locations of missing pets. "They're aware and doing everything that they might do just to make an additional search," she said.
But the mayor said there would not be a door-to-door search because it was too dangerous to do so.
Earlier in the week, a firefighter attempted to locate the missing cat of an elderly woman and her daughter who lived on the fourth floor of the still-standing wing of the condominium tower. The two women had escaped with their dog, Rigatoni. But their cat, Coco, was apparently left behind in the scramble to escape.
Ken Russell, a commissioner for the city of Miami who is married to a veterinarian, alerted officials.
"Once I realized a cat was still in jeopardy, I called the fire chief," he said, adding that he made sure no resources were taken away from the search and rescue mission for the scores of people buried under the rubble of the fallen building.
And so a firefighter hung by the edge of the bucket truck and started calling for Coco.
Russell said he's since heard of other possible pets that were left behind, including a dog in a crate on the ninth floor and two parrots and a cat on the 10th floor.
"People rely on them for their mental stability and their comfort," Russell said. "To know that they left their animal behind is a tremendous sense of guilt."
Calvan reported from Tallahassee, Florida.