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A Surfside, Fla., Priest Waits And Prays For News Of Missing Parishioners

Standing on the steps of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Surfside, Fla., you can smell the massive rubble pile, steaming and smoking two blocks away.

Inside the rectory, the Rev. Juan Sosa has been working the phones, reaching out to families trying to grasp the impact on his parish.

"The magnitude has surfaced with the identification of people," said the priest. "The impact is growing in me. I do believe in hope. I pray and hope that some of the missing will be found."

No additional survivors were found as of sundown Friday. Authorities say four people are known to have died and more than 150 people remain unaccounted for, many believed to be under the ruins of the building.

According to Father Sosa, parish records indicate at least twelve families from the congregation had loved ones living in the collapsed condominium. He said at least ten of those individuals appear to be among the missing.

"I know several of them personally. I used to have dinner with them there," he said.

Sosa emigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1961.

He said he learned while leading a parish during the 9/11 terror attacks that tragedies like this one unfold slowly as families confront a sudden, inexplicable loss.

"Whenever there's a grieving experience like that, first of all we're praying and we're holding public masses," he said. "Probably we'll have to just listen a lot and share the pain."

Asked how such events — and the loss of friends and parishioners — affect him personally, the priest smiled.

"You don't know me well but it hits me later. During the emergency moment, I'm okay. And then it hits me. So I'm waiting for that bomb to drop."

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Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.