SURFSIDE, Fla .– A beachfront condominium building partially collapsed outside Miami on Thursday, killing at least one person and trapping others in the tower that looked like a giant fractured dollhouse, with one side sheared. Dozens of survivors were withdrawn and rescuers continued to search desperately for more.
One wing of the 12-story Surfside community building collapsed with a roar around 1:30 a.m. As of late evening, nearly 100 people were still missing, authorities said, raising fears that the death toll could rise sharply. Authorities did not know how many were in the tower when it fell.
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“The building is literally a pancake,” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett. “It’s heartbreaking because it doesn’t mean, to me, that we’re going to be as successful as we want to find people alive.”
Hours after the collapse, researchers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to have died. In another case, rescuers saved a mother and her child, but the woman’s leg had to be amputated to get it out of the rubble, Frank Rollason, Miami-Dade emergency management director, told the Miami Herald. .
The video showed fire crews removing a boy from the wreckage, but it was not clear if this was the same person Rollason mentioned. The teams were trying to enter the building from a parking lot under the structure.
Governor Ron DeSantis, who visited the scene, said television failed to capture the scale of what had happened.
Rescue teams “are doing everything they can to save lives. It’s happening, and they’re not going to rest,” he said.
Teams of 10 to 12 rescuers at a time entered the rubble with dogs and other equipment, working until tired from lifting heavy loads, then making way for a new team, a said Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, the state fire marshal.
“They’re not going to stop just because of dark,” Patronis told Miami TV station WPLG. “They may just have a different path that they are pursuing.”
Patronis said he was deeply moved by the image of a bunk bed near the now exposed top of the building.
“Someone was probably sleeping in it,” he said. “There are all of these what ifs.”
Authorities have not specified what may have caused the collapse. In video footage captured nearby, the center of the building appeared to fall first, with a section closest to the ocean wobbling and sinking seconds later as a huge cloud of dust engulfed the neighborhood.
Work was underway on the building’s roof, but Burkett said he didn’t see how that could have been the cause.
President Joe Biden has pledged to provide federal assistance upon request.
Hotels have been opened to some displaced residents, the mayor said, and deliveries of food, medicine and more have been hastily arranged.
About half of the building’s approximately 130 units have been affected, the mayor said at a press conference. Rescuers removed at least 35 people from the rubble by mid-morning, and heavy equipment was brought in to help stabilize the structure to provide better access, said Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue.
The tower has a mix of seasonal and permanent residents, and although the building keeps a guest log, it doesn’t keep track of when the owners are in residence, Burkett said.
Fortuna Smukler posted an article about the disaster on Facebook, hoping someone would know the whereabouts of Myriam Caspi Notkin and Arnie Notkin, an elderly couple who lived on the third floor.
Arnie Notkin has spent years teaching physical education at a local elementary school, said Smukler, a North Miami Beach commissioner who is friends with Myriam Notkin’s daughters.
“He was such a beloved physical education teacher from people’s past,” she said. “Everyone posted, ‘Oh my god, that was my trainer.'”
“It would be a miracle if they were found alive,” she added.
Nicholas Fernandez spent hours after the collapse trying to call two friends who were staying in the building with their young daughter. The family had come to the United States to avoid the COVID-19 outbreak in their home country of Argentina, said Fernandez, of Miami.
“The hope is that maybe someone will hear the call. I know there are dogs inside,” he said. “I know it might sound silly what I’m saying, but there is always hope until we hear different.”
A total of 22 South Americans were missing in the collapse – nine from Argentina, six from Paraguay, four from Venezuela and three from Uruguay, officials from those countries said.
The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore off walls and tore up some houses in the still standing part of the building. TV footage showed beds, tables and chairs inside. Air conditioners were hung from parts of the building, where wires were hanging.
Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were sleeping in the apartment building when he first heard what he thought was thunderclap. The couple went to their balcony, then opened the door to the hallway of the building to find “a pile of rubble, dust and smoke blowing up”.
“I couldn’t walk past my door,” said Cohen, the former vice mayor of Surfside.
Surfside City Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told WPLG the county-mandated 40-year recertification process is underway. Salzhauer said the process would go smoothly. A home inspector was on site Wednesday.
“I want to know why this happened,” Salzhauer said. “This is really the only question. … And can it happen again? Is there another of our buildings in town in danger? “
The beachfront condo development was built in 1981. There were a few two-bedroom units on the market, with asking prices of $ 600,000 to $ 700,000. The neighborhood feel of the area provides a stark contrast to the glitz and bustle of nearby South Beach.
The area has a mix of new and older apartments, houses, condominiums, and hotels, with restaurants and shops serving an international mix of residents and tourists. The main street by the ocean is lined with glass-walled luxury condominiums, but more modest homes can be found inland. Among the locals are snowbirds, Russian immigrants, and Orthodox Jewish families.
Associated Press editors Tim Reynolds and Ian Mader in Miami; Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; and RJ Rico in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Firefighters conduct a search and rescue with dogs in the rubble of Champlain Towers South Condo after the multi-story building partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla. On Thursday, June 24, 2021 (David Santiago / Miami Herald via AP)
A rescuer walks among the rubble where a wing of a 12-story oceanfront condominium collapsed on Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Miami’s Surfside neighborhood. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)
A couple kiss while awaiting news from the survivors of a collapsed condominium on Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. Dozens of survivors have been withdrawn and rescuers continue to look for more. (AP Photo / Marta Lavandier)
People look at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Florida on Thursday, June 24, 2021 (David Santiago / Miami Herald via AP)
Jennifer Carr, right, sits with her daughter as they wait for news at a family reunification center, after a wing of a 12-story beachfront building collapsed on Thursday, June 24, 2021 , in the Surfside district of Miami. Carr and his family were evacuated from a nearby building. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)
Housewares and debris hang from a partially collapsed multi-story oceanfront condo on Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee)
This photo from a video provided by ReliableNewsMedia firefighters rescues a survivor from the rubble of Champlain Towers South Condo after the multi-story building partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla., Early Thursday, June 24, 2021 (ReliableNewsMedia via AP).
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, center left, and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, center right, arrive for a press conference near the stage where a wing of a 12-story oceanfront building s ‘collapsed on Thursday, June 24, 2021, in the Miami Surf Zone. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)
A woman reacts by looking at a partially collapsed building on Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. A wing of a 12-story oceanfront building collapsed with a roar in a city outside of Miami early Thursday, trapping residents in rubble and twisted metal. (AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee)