Staff photographers Wilfredo Lee, Lynne Sladky and Marta Lavandier of Miami and New Orleans staff photographer Gerald Herbert delivered standout coverage of the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse, anchoring an impressive AP response in all formats.

Lee was at home a few blocks away when the tragic, catastrophic story broke early Thursday morning. He quickly made his way to the scene to make some of the first images the world would see of the pancaked Champlain Towers South. His fast work on the ground also earned him a text byline, with customers and readers across the country waking up to a comprehensive AP story with his images.

More AP journalists were soon on the scene digging into spot developments as well as the history of the building, churning out urgent series after urgent series and sensitively reporting the human toll, finding names and details of the missing to round out a well-received vignettes package. Early video also scored heavily with AP customers.

Throughout the coverage, the photo team, led by Lavandier and South regional photo editor Mike Stewart, fought restricted access and had to innovate visually. Herbert first chartered a plane, then a helicopter, making handheld aerial photos with an 800mm lens from as much as two miles offshore as flight restrictions tightened. Then the team hit on the idea of using a boat. That allowed closer access but still required long lenses from a moving craft, with the photographers effectively timing their shots to coincide with the peaks and troughs of the waves to minimize movement. Competitors scrambled to emulate AP's strategy with their own vessels.

Surfside combo

At left, people gather at a vigil in Surfside, Fla., June 28, 2021, for victims of the Champlain Towers South condominiums complex, which partially collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24. At right, Rachel Spiegel is hugged by the Surfside, Fla., Mayor Charles Burkett on June 26, 2021, as she asks for information about the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominiums. Spiegel’s mother Judy, a resident of the building, was missing.

AP Photos / Marrta Lavandier (left); Lynne Sladky

AP wins on visuals included powerful photos by Sladky and Lavandier of people comforting each other, and three different AP photos rotating as the lead photo on Saturday’s New York Times home page — images showing the destruction, the rescue operation and the emotional toll. The Miami Herald praised AP’s visuals and has used much of the work, even as its own photographers produced strong content. The Herald and other members have shared some of their best images in AP’s photo report.

In addition to AP’s photography, members have praised the all-formats coverage, including the “microstories” AP published practically in real time, showcasing good nuggets of information throughout the news cycles. Coverage of the collapse topped AP’s measures of readership and reader engagement for the month.