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The Search Surfside Is Over, But The Grieving Process Continues For Many Involved


Officials have recovered the remains of the last person who had been missing after the collapse of the Champlain Tower South condo in Surfside, Fla. That brings the final death toll to 98 people after more than a month of searching. The search mission is over, but the grieving process continues for families, survivors and first responders. And joining us now to talk more about that is Heather Winters, the chief programs officer of Jewish Community Services of South Florida.


HEATHER WINTERS: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So now that the search effort has formally ended, can you just give us a sense of what conversations have been like with families and loved ones right now who are taking that in?

WINTERS: You know, they're simply just expressing their pain, how much sorrow they have. Some of these individuals have lost everything - their homes, their belongings, multiple family members. And we've just been there to support them with whatever needs that they may have, which, you know, in addition to the grief support and counseling, includes emergency financial assistance, placing them in short-term or long-term housing. These individuals and families are looking for stability, how to reestablish a routine and have some structure in their lives again after losing so much.

CHANG: You are actually part of a larger network, I understand, providing trauma support services to people in Surfside. And I'm curious; how did you see that work shift over the past several weeks as the search effort stretched on and on?

WINTERS: You know, initially we reported to the family reunification center and really assisted the family members with seeking information that was coming down from, you know, Miami-Dade Police Department, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, doing some, you know, crisis counseling on the scene. And we saw over time, you know, some of that hope disappear, really just, you know, the depths of grieving and the pain and being there to just walk with them and sit with them and just simply listen.

CHANG: Well, as a mental health counselor, what would be your advice right now to someone who has lost a loved one in such a traumatic way?

WINTERS: First, I - you know, validating their feelings and their experiences and what they're going through and helping them kind of put everything together. You know, grief has no timeline. And when you're talking about traumatic loss, such as what happened with the building collapse of Champlain Towers - is helping individuals recognize that their reactions are very common to a very uncommon situation. And whatever they're feeling and experiencing is OK - and helping them to identify healthy coping skills and strategies to support them through these very, very difficult times.

CHANG: Well, as people continue to process what has happened in Surfside, where should people go to seek help?

WINTERS: It's very important, following a situation like this where individuals may be having post-traumatic stress-related symptoms and other common reactions to grief and loss, to know that support is available. And support takes many forms. There's obviously counseling services that are available. Support can also be reaching out to a friend or another family member, someone that they trust just to be able to talk through their feelings and have somebody to listen. Support groups are really important after a tragedy like this - getting together with others who have gone through the experience in which they can openly share and support one another.

CHANG: Heather Winters is the chief programs officer of Jewish Community Services of South Florida.

Thank you very much for joining our show today.

WINTERS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.