99 people still unaccounted for after partial building collapse near Miami
Rescue teams have freed dozens of survivors from rubble, 1 person confirmed dead
A wing of a 12-storey beachfront condo building collapsed with a roar in a town outside Miami early Thursday, killing at least one person and trapping residents in rubble and twisted metal. Rescuers pulled dozens of survivors from the tower during the morning and continued to look for more.
Nearly 100 people were still unaccounted for at midday, authorities said, raising fears that the death toll could climb sharply. But officials did not know how many were in the tower when it fell around 1:30 a.m.
"The building is literally pancaked," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said. "That is heartbreaking because it doesn't mean, to me, that we are going to be as successful as we wanted to be in finding people alive."
Hours after the collapse, searchers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to be dead. In another case, rescuers saved a mother and child, but the woman's leg had to be amputated to remove her from the rubble, Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management, told the Miami Herald.
The Canadian Embassy in Washington said there are no reports of any Canadians hurt, injured, or missing.
Biden offers help
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who toured the scene, said television cameras did not capture the scale of what happened.
Rescue crews are "doing everything they can to save lives. That is ongoing, and they're not going to rest," he said.
Teams of 10 to 12 rescuers were entering the rubble at a time with dogs and other equipment, working until they tired from the heavy lifting, then making way for a new team, said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the state's fire marshal.
"They're not going to stop just because of nightfall," Patronis told Miami television station WPLG. "They just may have a different path they pursue."
Patronis said he was deeply moved by the image of a bunk bed near the now-exposed top of the building.
"Somebody was probably sleeping in it," he said. "There's all those what-ifs."
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she got a call from U.S. President Joe Biden, who offered federal aid. Hotels opened to some of the displaced residents, she said, and deliveries of food, medicine and more were being hastily arranged. Rescue officials tried to determine how many people might be missing and asked residents to check in with them.
Work is currently being done on the building's roof, but Burkett said he did not see how that could have caused the collapse. Authorities have not said what the cause may be.
About half of the building's roughly 130 units were affected, the mayor told a news conference. Rescuers pulled at least 35 people from the wreckage by mid-morning, and heavy equipment was being brought in to help stabilize the structure to give them more access, Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue said.
The tower has a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, and while the building keeps a log of guests, it does not keep track of when owners are in residence, Burkett said. The Argentine Consulate in Miami said nine people missing in the collapse were from Argentina.
'A gaping hole of rubble'
The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore away walls and left a number of homes in the still-standing part of the building exposed in what looked like a giant dollhouse. Television footage showed bunk beds, tables and chairs inside. Air conditioners hung from some parts of the building, where wires now dangled.
Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area, and cars up to two blocks away were coated with a light layer of dust from the debris.
Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were asleep in the building when he first heard what he thought was a crack of lightning. The couple went onto their balcony, then opened the door to the building's hallway to find "a pile of rubble and dust and smoke billowing around."
"I couldn't walk out past my doorway," said Cohen. "A gaping hole of rubble."
He and his wife eventually made it to the basement and found rising water there. They returned upstairs, screamed for help and were eventually brought to safety by firefighters using a cherry-picker.
Cohen said he raised concerns years ago about whether nearby construction might be causing damage to the building after seeing cracked pavers on the pool deck.
'Can it happen again?'
Surfside City Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told Miami television station WPLG that the building's county-mandated 40-year re-certification process was ongoing. Salzhauer said the process was believed to be proceeding without difficulty. A building inspector was on site Wednesday.
"I want to know why this happened," Salzhauer said. "That's really the only question. … And can it happen again? Are any other of our buildings in town in jeopardy?"
Santo Mejil, 50, told the Miami Herald that his wife called him from the building, where she was working as an aide for an elderly woman.
"She said she heard a big explosion. It felt like an earthquake," Mejil told the newspaper. He said she called him later and said rescuers were bringing her down.
Nicolas Fernandez waited early Thursday for word on close family friends who lived in the collapsed section of the building.
"Since it happened, I've been calling them nonstop, just trying to ring their cellphones as much as we can to help the rescue to see if they can hear the cellphones."
The sea-view condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside, on the beach. It had a few two-bedroom units currently on the market, with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000 US.
The area is a mix of new and old apartments, houses, condominiums and hotels, with restaurants and stores serving an international combination of residents and tourists.
With files from CBC News