As the search for victims of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium complex in Surfside, Florida, stretched into its third day, smoke and debris permeated the air, posing potential health risks.
“The air quality is a concern,” Alan R. Cominsky, chief of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said at a Saturday morning news conference. “We still have ventilation fans that we have set up in specific areas, and we use them to the best that we can.”
Since Wednesday night, billows of smoke have emanated from the area, and the search and rescue team has routinely extinguished small fires that have ignited amid the rubble.
The smoke and debris surrounding the partially collapsed 13-story condominium have created a logistical challenge as the search for survivors continues and a potential health hazard for Surfside residents.
“There are respiratory concerns,” said Erika Benitez, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “We ask people to stay indoors and limit their exposure outside.”
The fine particles in smoke released from fires can penetrate the lungs and lead to a host of health concerns, such as burning eyes, runny nose and more long-term issues like chronic heart and lung diseases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. People with preexisting respiratory issues, pregnant women and the elderly are particularly susceptible to bad air quality.
“The smoke is everywhere,” said Marisa Arnolf Stuzbercher, 45, who lives about 10 minutes from the collapsed building. “And no one here is wearing a mask.”
Arnolf Stuzbercher said that she had not received any direct instruction from the local authorities on what to do.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue warned the town’s residents Friday evening via social media about health risks.
“If you live near the area of the Surfside building, you may be experiencing smoky conditions, which can affect those with respiratory conditions,” the department tweeted.
Officials also instructed residents to stay indoors with windows and doors shut. Residents were advised to keep air conditioning on to help with air circulation.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.