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Lincoln rescuer notes mental toll of recovery efforts in Surfside condo collapse
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Lincoln rescuer notes mental toll of recovery efforts in Surfside condo collapse

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As he reflected on the last 10 days at the site of the Champlain Towers South Collapse in Surfside, Florida, the chief of Nebraska’s Task Force 1 stood mere yards away from the jungle of pulverized concrete and rebar that now serves as the site for a wake for those mourning the dead and missing.

The disaster site peeked out over the right shoulder of Brad Thavenet as he spoke with Nebraska-based reporters via Zoom, shouting into his phone as recovery operations continued not far behind him, fielding questions from 1,500 miles away. 

Brad Thavenet

Thavenet

It's the grieving families — of 60 people who died in the June 24 collapse and of the 80 residents who remain unaccounted for, all now presumed dead — who have kept Thavenet going, nearly two weeks into his deployment as the the only member of Nebraska's Urban Search and Rescue crew dispatched to the collapse site in Florida.

Lincoln rescuer reflects on Surfside condo collapse as search efforts remain paused

"We are 100% motivated by bringing closure," Thavenet said Thursday morning. "Closure to the family members who lost loved ones here. And that's what puts it in perspective.

"You can take the heat, you can take the long days, you can take the lack of sleep and all that, but knowing that you're indeed making a difference … that you can at least try to bring some hope and some closure so that they can move on." 

Thavenet said he largely hasn't had the chance to reflect on the last few weeks as he toils in a high-stress environment, amid what he called "one of the most extreme, complex incidents the nation's ever faced." 

Immersed in a roughly 1,000-person response unit that has struggled to uncover good news even as it has moved nearly 14 million pounds of rubble, Thavenet said it's small victories — like getting laundry done at 2 a.m. — that have propelled him and other responders through 16-hour days.

Nebraskans who responded to Hurricane Laura will return home

Thavenet said he knows that there will be a decompression period when his time in Surfside ends — an acknowledgement of the mental toll he's paying now as he works underneath the dueling pressures of national scrutiny and local grief.

But he hasn't given that toll much thought. Instead, his focus remains on delivering closure, he said, and representing the state of Nebraska in the wake of calamity in Florida.

"You know what your task is," he said. "You know what the leaders intend, you know what the locals expect. And you just put your skill set to work. 

"You really don't let your mind dwell on reflecting back on 'what ifs.' You kind of just keep charging forward." 

Nebraska Task Force 1 heading to Texas in advance of Hurricane Laura

Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or awegley@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @andrewwegley. 

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A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Andrew Wegley joined the Journal Star as breaking news reporter after graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in May 2021.

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