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Miami building collapse: Desperate search for survivors continues

Hours after a Miami apartment collapsed, searchers were desperately trying to reach people trapped in the rubble.

The beachfront condo building partially collapsed in the early hours of Thursday morning (US time) in Miami, killing at least one person in the tower that resembled a giant fractured dollhouse, with one side sheared away.

Dozens of survivors were pulled out, and rescuers continued to look for more.

A wing of the 12-story building in the community of Surfside came down with a roar around 1.30am. By late afternoon, nearly 100 people were still unaccounted for, authorities said, raising fears that the death toll could climb sharply. Officials did not know how many were in the tower when it fell. More than 100 others were accounted for.

“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.”

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.

Video showed fire crews removing a boy from the wreckage, but it was not clear whether he was the same person mentioned by Rollason. Teams were trying to enter the building from a parking garage beneath the structure.

Burkett told CNN the rescue efforts have support from all over the country.

“We’re not lacking for resources, we’re lacking for a little good luck,” he said.

Burkett said he was thankful for the first responders who arrived around 2am and ran into the building that was in imminent danger of collapsing.


“Those guys ran right into the building and they started pulling anybody that was left that didn’t walk out on their own power out of that building, so this is a story of courage and heroism, but it’s also a story of a fight against time right now,” he said.

“That’s the silver lining in this very, very dark cloud. We have some heroes on our hands, and we have got a lot of work to do,” Burkett added.

Yuby Pettengill told CBS News she is praying her nephew is still alive. “You never lose hope and I…I’m not losing my hope,” Pettengill said.

Nicolas Fernandez said his calls to his loved ones who are missing have gone unanswered.

“I think they’re gone,” he said. “I don’t want to be pessimistic, but we’ve been calling them non-stop with no reply.”

Two children at the scene, whose mother Judy was in the building, said they are holding out hope that she’s alive.

“She was the best. Our best friend,” one said through tears. “I can’t live without her.”

Governor Ron DeSantis, who toured the scene, said television 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 entered the rubble at a time with dogs and other equipment, working until they grew 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.”

Authorities did not say what may have caused the collapse. On video footage captured from nearby, the centre of the building appeared to fall first, with a section nearest the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighbourhood.

Work was being done on the building’s roof, but Burkett said he did not see how that could have been the cause.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she got a call from President Joe Biden, who promised to provide any federal aid that was requested.

Hotels opened to some displaced residents, the mayor said, and deliveries of food, medicine and more were being hastily arranged.


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 stabilise 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.


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, perhaps, someone hears the call. I know there are dogs inside,” he said. “I know it may sound ridiculous what I’m saying but there’s 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, according to officials in those countries.

The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore away walls and left some homes in the still-standing part of the building exposed. Television footage showed beds, tables and chairs inside. Air conditioners hung from some parts of the building, where wires dangled.

Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area, and cars up to two blocks away were coated with dust. As crews went through the rubble around midday, smoke wafted through the area from a small fire that broke out when rubble shifted, officials said.

Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were asleep in the building when he first heard what he thought was a crack of thunder. 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, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”

Surfside City Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told WPLG that the building’s county-mandated 40-year recertification 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?”

The seaside condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside. It had a few two-bedroom units on the market, with asking prices of US$600,000 to US$700,000. The area’s neighbourhood feel offers a stark contrast to the glitz and bustle of nearby South Beach.

The area has a mix of new and old apartments, houses, condominiums and hotels, with restaurants and stores serving an international combination of residents and tourists. The main oceanside drag is lined with glass-sided, luxury condominium buildings, but more modest houses are on the inland side. Among the neighbourhood’s residents are snowbirds, Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jewish families.

Patricia Avilez considered spending the night in her brother-in-law’s vacant condo on Wednesday but didn’t, only to awake to news of the collapse.

“And then I came here, and it’s gone,” she said. “Everything is disaster.”

– additional reporting CBS News, CNN

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