On June 24, 2021, a high-rise in Surfside, near Miami collapsed killing at least eleven individuals as of today and leaving about 150 missing. The reason for the collapse of the 12-story, 156-unit apartment building remains unknown. Rescue crews continued working around the clock trying to locate survivors that may be trapped in the debris.

Rescuing survivors of collapsed buildings is dangerous because the structures are unstable and further collapse can result without warning as rescuers excavate searching for survivors. Firefighters have been carefully working to find survivors. In the last two days, three international rescue teams arrived at the scene. One team is from Israel and the other two teams are from México. They are helping with the rescue operations.

The team from Israel is made up from members of Israel’s Defense Forces. There are about 10 members in their group.

There are two Mexican teams operating at the site.

One is Cadena and the other team are the TOPOS Azteca.

Who Are The Topos Azteca?

The Brigada Internacional de Rescate Azteca, Tlatelolco (BIRTA), or the TOPOS Azteca, are a volunteer rescue group formed spontaneously after the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City. The TOPOS, or moles in English, specialize in rescuing individuals from collapsed buildings. They have operated in El Salvador, in Japan in 1995, in Colombia in 1999, in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, in Indonesia in 2004, in Haiti in 2010 and in Nepal in 2015.

The TOPOS have garnered international recognition for their work in locating survivors and their expertise in excavating collapsed buildings.

There are two groups who use the name TOPOS. On September 20, 2017, Héctor Méndez, “El Chino” and one of the original founders of the original TOPOS held a press conference denouncing the other group of TOPOS who were holding fundraising events. According to Méndez, as volunteers they do not expect to be paid nor do they ask for funds.

The TOPOS Azteca do not accept donations. They wear the orange jumpsuits. Méndez, who was at the 1985 Mexico City rescue efforts is the founder of TOPOS Azteca.

The other group are the TOPOS Tlatelolco. It was founded by Fernando Alvarez, who was also at the 1985 site helping rescue victims. Alvarez’ group dress in red jumpsuits and have a registered trademark on the word Topos in México. They raise funds through donations. According to their organization, they use the funds for lodging and meals while deployed in rescue operations.

Méndez’ group, the TOPOS Azteca, pay their own expenses.

TOPOS Azteca In Miami

The Mexican rescue squad that is helping locate survivors in the collapsed building are the TOPOS Azteca, the one who use orange jumpsuits. Héctor Méndez is leading the group.

The Facebook page for the Alvarez TOPOS did not respond to multiple requests for clarification on whether their group was participating in rescue efforts. Their social media makes no mention of them participating.

The Second Mexican Team

The second Mexican rescue team is from CADENA. El Comité de Ayuda a Desastres y Emergencias Nacionales (Cadena) was founded in 2005 to conduct rescue operations and provide humanitarian aid. The group was founded by five friends from Mexico City because of Hurricane Stan. They are inspired by the Jewish principal of Tikún olam, which means to “repair the world,” according to their website.

In a Facebook Messenger exchange yesterday, CADENA confirmed that their “go team” is in Miami assisting in rescue efforts.

The news media has been reporting the presence of the TOPOS Azteca but have neglected the CADENA group as also assisting in the disaster.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...