SURFSIDE, FLA. (WSVN) - Search and rescue crews have discovered a body among the rubble of a condominium that partially collapsed in Surfside.
7Skyforce flew over the scene, as crews marked the location of the discovery with a white tarp, at around 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
The identity and gender of the deceased remains unknown.
The collapse happened earlier that day at the Champlain Towers South Condo near 88th Street and Collins Avenue, just before 1:30 a.m.
All day the official count had been 1 person dead, 35 others rescued and 99 unaccounted for. However, early Friday morning, the death count increased to a total of four.
At a news conference, just after 4:30 p.m., Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava noted that 102 people had been accounted for. Earlier that day, only 53 had been accounted for.
More than 80 Miami-Dade Fire Rescue units responded to the scene. Rescue crews from other cities also responded to the scene to assist.
According to fire officials, “Thirty-five people were pulled from collapsed building in Miami area, search and rescue efforts ongoing.”
Among the injured was a woman who had to have her leg amputated on the scene.
Authorities have brought live-victim dogs to the scene, as it remains a search and rescue effort.
By 8 a.m., the search of the units that were not affected by the collapse was completed.
“About 2 o’clock in the morning, I was called by the chief of police who said there was a collapse” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, “couldn’t imagine that we were going to see what we saw. Looks like a bomb went off.”
Burkett said he was told by the fire chief that 10 people were treated on site, and of those 10, two were transported to the hospital.
One of the two victims transported succumbed to their injuries.
When asked if he believes there are people buried underneath the rubble, Burkett responded, “I do. I do. Surfside has set an area for the residents of that building in our community center. We have 15 family units, I believe, that we’re making arrangements with the Red Cross, and they’re going to be getting them into hotel rooms. We also have a building next door, which is a hotel with about 50 something units, and those people will have to be displaced too because it’s not safe for them to go back into the hotel next to this building, because we’re not sure whether this building is going to continue to come down.”
Maggie Castro with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said search and rescue K-9s have marked on areas of interest amid the rubble. Rescue teams are currently conducting further searches in those areas using camera and sound equipment.
Cadaver dogs will be brought to the scene once the rescue mission is complete and it becomes a recovery mission.
Burkett said, “I believe we had 10 people treated at the site early this morning. The rest of the people have gone down to the community center and are waiting for housing. We’re gonna get them temporary housing, and everybody else, we just don’t have a good answer for.”
DeSantis spoke at a media conference before heading to the scene.
“It’s a really tragic situation, so we’ll hope for the best in terms of additional recoveries, but we are bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we’re seeing,” he said. “I do think the quick response was very important, and I do think it saved lives, so I want to thank the folks for their bravery.”
City leaders also held a news conference following the collapse.
“A massive search and rescue is underway, and we know that we’re going to do everything that we can possibly do to identify and rescue those who have been trapped in the rubble,” Levine Cava said.
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MDFR Chief Raide Jadallah said, “The northeast corridor of the apartment [building] had collapsed, approximately 55 apartment units.”
“It is important that your prayers go out to the family members and those who are suffering right now,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz. “I want to thank the first responders for the incredible job that they’ve been doing, that they’ve done and will be doing for the next several days in dealing with this.”
When asked what could have led to the collapse, Burkett said, “Well, what we know is they were doing roof work on the building at the time. Certainly, that doesn’t seem like it would be the issue that would have caused it. Some of the residents at the community center have complained to me that the new building that went up to the south used to shake the building when they were putting the pilings in, but I think that we need to look very hard at what happened there and find out because buildings just don’t fall down like this. They just don’t fall down like this. It’s less likely than a lightning strike. It just doesn’t happen. You don’t see buildings falling down in America.”
A family reunification center has been set up for anyone looking for unaccounted or missing relatives at 9301 Collins Avenue.
- If you have family members that are unaccounted for, please call 305-614-1819 to file a missing person report. The number is for filing a report and does not have information on casualties.
One woman at the center was seen holding onto a picture of her great aunt who she has not heard from.
The American Red Cross is currently at the center offering help to those who need it.
- Those who live at the Champlain Towers are being asked to complete a Wellness Check Form as part of Miami-Dade County’s efforts to ensure all tenants of the building are located. To complete the form, click here.
Barry Cohen told 7News he lived in the building for three years. He said he and his wife were sleeping when he heard what he thought was loud thunder from a thunderstorm. He said he quickly realized that wasn’t the case.
“It just kept on going for like 30 seconds and my wife and I got whatever we could together, and we went to leave our apartment, and we opened up the door, and there was a huge pile of rubble and dust and just havoc. What we did was, we went to the stairs, and we rushed down the stairs. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, we couldn’t open the door because the steel had bent in the door, and all this stuff was preventing us from being able to go there.”
He said he and his wife went back to their unit, and when they looked out their window, they saw the emergency crews arriving. Rescue crews hoisted Cohen, his wife and two neighbors from the building.
He said he is thankful that he is OK.
Julio Brener explained to 7News how he woke up to the situation.
“Well, I was sleeping, and I heard a lot of noise, and then I heard the big, big, bang,” he said. “The bed moved. The whole house moved, and I was surprised, so I got up from bed, went to the front door, tried to open it, and it was kind of stuck together. I just couldn’t open it. I had to go and get the pliers to open it up.”
7News spoke with one man who said he was worried about his brother, but he was able to hear from him.
“We were right there on the second floor and the building, one of these huge buildings, gone, right here beside us,” he said. “[It’s] the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
His brother was evacuated from a hotel in the area.
One woman said she was parking near the building when she heard a boom, and then there was silence.
“It was quiet because it was 1:30 a.m., so everybody was sleeping,” she said. “There was no people. Then my mom saw two people hurt, and then we saw two people also come running. I think that was some people, some family that they have inside the building.”
“The building shook and then you couldn’t see anything,” said witness David. “I thought it was, like, a storm or something coming in. What happened was, when the dust cleared, there was the back half of the building or the back two-thirds of the building was gone, just down to the ground.”
Patricia Aviles said she was running an errand for her brother-in-law when she came upon the heavy emergency response in the area.
“This is the owner of one [of the] apartments that collapsed over there,” said Aviles. “I show him so, you know, I’m shaking. I came to pick it up, the mail, because I’m in charge of the apartment, but I found this one.”
Aaron Miles was visiting the area and staying at the hotel next to the building.
“My girlfriend, she woke me up. I didn’t hear the collapse initially,” said Miles. “She shook me up. She said, ‘Baby, you gotta wake up,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ and I looked out the curtain, and my heart kind of dropped. You could just see dust and debris going everywhere. You could hear people out in the hallway screaming, trying to get down the stairwell. It was probably one of the most horrific things I’ve seen in my life.”
“I came running here and trying to see what’s going on, and when I saw the building I just couldn’t believe myself,” said Nicholas Fernandez. “I’m just hoping that I’m dreaming and like somebody or the alarm sounds and I’m like, ‘OK, it’s a dream. It’s a bad dream.'”
Fernandez said he got a call from his mother in the middle of the night about the situation and didn’t believe her at first. The family has close friends who live on the eighth floor of the collapsed part of the building.
He told 7News they have been calling their friends’ phone as much as often as possible in an effort to reach them, but if not, they hope the ringing of the cellphones can guide rescue crews to possible victims.
“The only information I have is that they’re not replying,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re still alive. I’m gonna say possibly, they are.”
Fire rescue crews are working in teams of four and five to pull people from both sides of the building.
On Thursday afternoon, White House spokesperson Ike Hajinazarian issued a statement reading in part:
“The President spoke with Mayor Levine Cava to offer federal assistance and support for dealing with the terrible tragedy in Surfside. All of our hearts go out to the family and friends who have lost their beloved during this horrific incident, as well as to the families who wait in anguish as search and rescue teams assess and work through the devastation. In coordination with FEMA, the White House is continuing to monitor the situation and we send our gratitude to the heroic first responders working tirelessly to save lives today.”
The northbound lanes of Collins Avenue, as well as the southbound lanes of Harding Avenue between 85th and 96th streets, have been shut down.
Florida Power and Light officials issued a statement reading in part:
“We are aware of the serious incident in our service area in Surfside. We extend our thoughts and prayers to those affected. We are working with Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue and have de-energized our equipment in the area for their safety, and the safety of our customers and crews. Service is affected to more than 400 customers in the vicinity of the building that partially collapsed. We currently do not have an expected time of when power will be restored.”
The building was constructed in 1981.
- RELATED: Questions arise as to what caused partial building collapse at Champlain Towers in Surfside
“The bottom line is that’s not an old building, and 40-year inspection or not, that kind of thing should not be happening,” said Burkett.
The Miami Dade Police Department and Miami Dade Fire Department are the lead agencies handling the investigation and search. The operation is expected to take days, perhaps as long as a week.
Please check back on WSVN.com for more details on this developing story.
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