Tragedy casts pall over July Fourth holiday in South Florida

The Fourth of July holiday was marked with somber tones in South Florida, where a collapsed building has left at least 24 dead and more than 120 missing under rubble.

“July 4 is ordinarily a time to gather with our loved ones and to celebrate our freedom and our independence, and this year the holiday looks very different,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

“But through this grief … and all of the other obstacles that have been thrown our way, a clear picture emerges of what it means to be American,” she said.

A vigil was planned for Sunday night in Miami Beach for the victims of the fallen Champlain Towers South condominium complex in Surfside, Florida.

Neighboring Miami Beach typically hosts one of the region’s most spectacular fireworks displays, but officials canceled their show for the second straight year out of respect for the families. The show could not go on last year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“So many in our city are less than one degree of separation from those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, or praying for the unaccounted … who remain in the massive rubble,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said in a statement.

“The blanket of grief that has overcome us does not leave room, right now, for the kind of joyous celebrations that are traditionally part of the Fourth of July experience,” the mayor said.

Instead, he asked residents to go outside at 9 p.m. for a moment of silence with a lighted candle, a flashlight or cellphone — anything, he said to pay tribute to their neighbors affected by the tragedy and as a show of support to the first responders risking their lives in the search for victims.

Other cities across the region also canceled fireworks shows, as officials overseeing rescue operations in Surfside prepared to demolish the still-standing portion of Champlain Towers South.

One of the few locations in Miami-Dade County that was going forward with fireworks displays was former President Donald Trump’s golf resort in Doral. All of the tickets for the free event, 20 miles (32 kilometers) inland from Surfside, had been snatched up.

But in Surfside, the holiday had taken on a new meaning: one without fanfare, but with a lot of gratitude.

“This July 4 we’re reminded that patriotism isn’t just about loyalty to country,” Cava, the Miami-Dade County mayor, said during a news conference. “It’s about loyalty to one another — to our communities, to those in need whose names or stories we may not know ever, but to whom we are connected by compassion and by resilience.”