SURFSIDE, Fla. — A massive search and rescue effort was underway Thursday outside Miami after a 12-story, oceanside condominium building partially collapsed into a mammoth pile of rubble leaving at least one person dead, authorities said.
Raide Jadallah, assistant fire chief of operations for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said 35 people were pulled from the partially collapsed building at Champlain Towers South. Two more were pulled from the debris, he said. More than 80 technical and rescue teams were on the scene in Surfside, a few miles north of Miami Beach.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett confirmed that at least one person had died.
“The building is literally pancaked,” 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.”
Ten people were treated at the scene and two were brought to the hospital, one of whom died, Burkett said, adding that 15 families walked out of the building on their own.
Firefighters picked through the rubble – piled almost half as high as the part of the building still standing – extricating survivors and carrying them from the wreckage from the Champlain Towers South development.
Are people still trapped in the building?
Jadallah said firefighters were tunneling into the devastation and searching for survivors. Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management, told the Miami Herald that emergency workers believed they have cleared all survivors from inside the tower. He said more than 70 of the units have been destroyed or damaged.
“Everyone who is alive is out of the building,” he said.
How many people have died?
Burkett said at least one person was dead and at least another 10 were injured.
Search efforts in the collapsed section of the building were continuing but the way the building fell means those efforts may not be successful in recovering many people, Burkett said.
“The problem is the building has literally pancaked,” he said.
How many people are missing?
Authorities say they don’t know how many people were in the building when it collapsed, nor how many of them were able to flee the disaster. The building is part of Champlain Towers South, built in 1981 and containing 135 apartments
“We’re on the scene so it’s still very active,” said Sgt. Marian Cruz of Miami Dade Fire Rescue. “What I can tell you is the building is 12 floors. The entire back side of the building has collapsed.”
What caused the collapse?
The fire department has yet to say what may have caused the collapse near 88th Street and Collins Avenue. Police blocked nearby roads, and dozens of fire and rescue vehicles, ambulances and police cars converged on the area.
Burkett said that roof work had been ongoing at the building over the past month but said he was unsure whether that was a factor. He said it was “hard to imagine that could have been the impetus for a catastrophic collapse,” adding that it was “not an old building. … There’s no reason for this building to go down like that.”
Building, area has Argentinian connection
The city of Surfside has long been an enclave of the Argentine-American community after the economic collapse of the 1990s in the South American country. The sight of Steak restaurants and empanadas are nestled in high rise buildings. Sounds of porteño Spanish are more common than Caribbean Spanish in some places. Silvana Juárez, 49, of Argentina, lives near the condo building and said her good friends are missing.
“I have three friends and their little girl that are missing,” Juárez told USA TODAY. “My daughter lives in the building next door and my daughter heard a loud explosion.”
Family member: ‘I have no hope’
Pablo Rodriguez, 40 is a Miami native whose 64-year-old mother and 88-year-old grandmother lived in the wing that collapsed. He said that he last spoke to his mom around 7 p.m. last night to discuss the family weekend plans – the grandmother and great-grandmother were going to pick up Rodriguez’s 6-year-old son and spend the weekend together.
Holding back tears Rodriguez said next month it would have been my grandmother’s 89th birthday. He had plans to surprise her with brunch at a nice restaurant.
“They lived in the wing that’s collapsed,” Rodriguez said in tears at a family reunification center set up near the site. “I came to the center, but I have no hope.”
Wendy Jean Louis arrived on the scene wearing an orange University of Miami sweater and red scrubs. She’s a caregiver for a family who lives in the building. She sobbed, squalled uncontrollably on a light post as she tried to speak on the phone.
“I can see that’s where the unit was, that’s where their apartment was,” she said as she looked at the rubble. “I spend more than 10 hours here, they are my family.”
Ladder trucks used for rescues
Firefighters were seen using ladder trucks to rescue people from the high-rise. The area has a large Jewish population, and a rescue team of Orthodox Jews called Hatzalah were on the scene to help with body recovery.
What are the condominiums like?
A few two-bedroom units in the development are listed for sale with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000, an Internet search shows.
The building’s website promotes “incredible oceanfront views or spectacular views of inter-coastal waterway with the City in the Background.” It adds that year-round ocean breezes help keep the temperatures moderate in the summer and winter and that the condos are “located near some of the best shopping Miami has to offer as well as the famous Miami Nightlife.”
Contributing: The Associated Press.