SURFSIDE, Fla .– A wing of a 12-story oceanfront building collapsed with a roar in a city outside of Miami early Thursday, killing at least one person and trapping residents in the rubble and twisted metal. Rescuers removed dozens of survivors from the tower during the morning and continued to search for more.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett warned the death toll is likely to rise, saying the building manager told him the tower was fairly full by the time of the collapse around 1:30 a.m., but the exact number of people present was not clear.
âThe building is literally a pancake,â Burkett said. “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.”
Authorities have not specified what may have caused the collapse. Work was underway on the building’s roof, but Burkett said he didn’t see how that could have been the cause.
About half of the building’s approximately 130 units have been affected, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference. Rescuers removed at least 35 people from the wreckage by mid-morning, and heavy equipment was brought in to help stabilize the structure to give them more access, said Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue. .
Sally Heyman, of the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners, said 51 people who were in the building at the time of the collapse were missing by mid-morning – but some may not be at home . The tower has a mix of seasonal and permanent residents, and while the building keeps a log of staying guests, it doesn’t keep track of when the owners are in residence, Burkett said.
Earlier, Burkett said two people were taken to hospital, one of whom died. He added that 15 families left the building on their own.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said officials “are bracing for bad news just in light of the destruction we are witnessing.”
The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore off walls and left a number of houses in the still standing portion of the building exposed in what looked like a giant dollhouse. TV footage showed bunk beds, tables and chairs still inside. Air conditioners were hung from parts of the building, where wires were now hanging.
Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area, and cars up to two blocks away were covered with a light coating of dust from the debris.
Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were sleeping in the building when he first heard what he thought was a 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”.
âI couldn’t walk past my door,â said Cohen, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”
He and his wife went to the basement and found water rising there. They returned upstairs, shouted for help, and were finally brought to safety by the firefighters using a lifting basket.
Cohen said he raised concerns years ago about whether construction nearby could cause damage to the building after seeing cracked pavers on the pool deck.
At an evacuation site set up at a nearby community center, people living in buildings near the collapse gathered after being ordered to flee. Some cried. Some were still in their pajamas. Some children tried to sleep on mats spread out on the floor. When a press conference about the collapse appeared on television, the room fell silent.
Jennifer Carr was sleeping in a nearby apartment building when she was woken up by a big boom and her room shook. She thought it was a thunderstorm, but checked the weather app on her phone and didn’t see any. The building’s fire alarms went off and she and her family came out and saw the collapse.
âIt was devastation,â Carr said. âPeople were running and screaming.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said in a tweet that more than 80 units were “on scene with assistance from municipal fire departments.”
Fire crews moved through the rubble, picking up survivors and transporting them from the wreckage.
Nicolas Fernandez waited Thursday morning for news from close family friends who lived in the collapsed part of the building.
“Ever since it happened I have been calling them nonstop, just trying to ring their cell phones as much as possible to help the emergency services and see if they can hear cell phones.”
The oceanfront condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside. There were currently a few two-bedroom units on the market, with asking prices of $ 600,000 to $ 700,000 in an area with a neighborhood feel that contrasts sharply with 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 Jews.
Patricia Avilez considered spending the night at her brother-in-law’s vacant apartment on Wednesday, but didn’t, only to wake up to the news of the collapse.
âAnd then I came here, and it’s gone,â she said. âEverything is a disaster. “
This story has been corrected to show that Sgt. Marian Cruz works for the Surfside Police Department, not the Miami Dade Fire Department.
Associated Press editors Tim Reynolds and Ian Mader in Miami; Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.