159 people unaccounted for, at least 4 dead, after Miami-area beachfront condo collapse


A wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed with a roar in a town outside Miami early Thursday, killing at least four people, according to CBS Miami, and trapping residents in rubble and twisted metal. Rescuers pulled out dozens of survivors and continued to look for more.

Over 150 people were still unaccounted for by Friday morning, authorities said, raising fears that the death toll could climb sharply. But officials did not know how many were in the tower when it fell around 1:30 a.m.

“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.”

About half of the building’s roughly 130 units were affected, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava 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 stabilize the structure to give them more access, Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue said.

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Sally Heyman, of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, initially said that 51 people were thought to be in the building at the time of the collapse. At 2:30 p.m. Miami-Dade Police upped that number to 99 people being unaccounted for and 102 people accounted for that either survived or were not home at the time of the collapse.

The tower has a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, and while the building keeps a log of guests staying, it does not keep track of when owners are in residence, Burkett said.

Hours after the collapse, 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.

Cava said she got a call from President Joe Biden, who offered federal aid.

“We’ll be there,” he said at the White House.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order Thursday afternoon, opening the door for that federal aid to come in.

Hotels already had opened to some displaced residents, the mayor said, and deliveries of food, medicine and more were being hastily arranged. Rescue officials tried to determine how many people might be missing and asked residents to check in with them.

WINK News spoke with Yuby Pettengill, who was desperate to hear about her nephew. No one knows where he, his wife and their three young children are. They were on vacation and staying at Champlain, on the 10th floor in a beach-view condo. Pettengill’s nephew’s wife is reported to be the sister of Paraguay’s first lady. (Credit: Morgan Rynor/WINK News)

WINK News spoke with Yuby Pettengill, who was desperate to hear about her nephew. No one knows where he, his wife and their three young children are. They were on vacation and staying at Champlain, on the 10th floor in a beach-view condo. Pettengill’s nephew’s wife is reported to be the sister of Paraguay’s first lady.

Pettengill was sent to the Reunification Center.

“You never lose hope and I’m not losing my hope. Their parents are coming on a private plane because they were on vacation from Paraguay.”

She was holding hands and hugging others filled with the same fear: that of the unknown.

“We’ve been trying to locate them since 4 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “I hope they turn up as soon as possible. This is a nightmare we can’t wake up from.”

DeSantis said officials were “bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we’re seeing.” He joined local officials to tour the scene Thursday afternoon and then held a media briefing. You can watch it below or by clicking here.

DeSantis 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.

Helpline services for immediate emotional support:Disaster Distress Helpline – 800-985-5990
Florida 211 Network – 211
Crisis Text Line – Text HELLO to 741741

Teams of 10 to 12 rescuers were entering the rubble at a time with dogs and other equipment, working until they tire 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.”

Reporter Morgan Rynor: People with loved ones still inside are telling me this is like Ground Zero. I’m hearing one testimony after another of desperation as they anxiously await any news. Rabbi Lipskar told me through tears the only thing they have to hold on to is hope.

People are looking to Rabbi Lipskar for advice.

“The sensation here is like you’re in a war zone because people are walking around like in a daze,” he said.

He’s looking for answers, too.

“Hope is one thing that there is​​ left.”

Because none of it makes sense.

“Everyone is devastated and in shock. I think it might be too early to talk about it because I live here. This could have been my building as well,” Lipskar said.

But it was his friend’s building that collapsed.

“They’re in the rubble right now. They could be alive.”

“Alive” is the one word everyone is holding on to.

Authorities did not say what may have caused the collapse. On video footage captured from nearby, the center 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 neighborhood.

Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area, and cars up to two blocks away were coated with a light layer of dust from the debris. As crews went through the rubble around midday, smoke wafted through the area. The source was not clear.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue tweeted that it had more than 80 units at the scene along with units from municipal fire departments. Miami Beach Police tweeted that “multiple police and fire agencies from across Miami-Dade” were assisting.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office said it was offering mutual aid if needed.

Nonprofit Marco Patriots in Southwest Florida provides relief nationwide in response to disasters in communities. Thursday, it shared a fundraiser post on its Facebook page with plans to use donations to provide relief to families affected by the building collapse in Surfside.

Florida Power & Light said it cut electricity to about 400 customers in the vicinity.

A family reunification center was set up nearby for anyone looking for unaccounted-for relatives.

A man who was evacuated from a nearby hotel Thursday morning said, “The building – one of these huge buildings – gone! … The building – it’s gone. … The whole building’s gone. … Oh my gosh. This is the most insane thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

A man who lives in a building next door told CBS Miami that at one point, the building shook and he thought it was a storm but when he looked outside, he didn’t see anything.

CBS West Palm Beach affiliate WPEC-TV reports that the collapse’s remnants were still being felt hours later:

The seaside condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside. It had a few two-bedroom units currently on the market, with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000.

Realtor Silvio Righetti told WINK News he sold his good friend a home in the tower.

“The apartment was wiped out, I don’t know. I can’t breathe … it’s a terrible feeling, it’s not good. Believe me, I stayed with him two days ago, we share a great time…it’s a bad sensation.”

He said he just knows his friend likely died in the unit he sold him, in the home that made them such good friends.

“First he was a client and then we became friends and I learned a lot from him; he was a great businessman, I don’t think he will survive this.”

While there is so much loss and destruction, there is also God, as relayed by one local clergyman.

“I believe in God… and God takes care of us,” said Rabbi Yanev Moryosef with Chabad Fort Lauderdale.

Eighteen of his people are missing. He came to comfort and tell the people in his crowd, “that we all feel the same pain that we all feel.”

Building resident recounts being inside during collapse: ‘Loudest thing I’ve ever heard’

A man living in the building said he “thought it was lightning” when he first heard a crash outside his door.

“It was as loud as you could — the loudest thing I’ve ever heard,” Barry Cohen told CBS News’ Manuel Bojorquez. “Now I know what a building collapsing sounds like.”

Cohen said Surfside police were already on the scene when he climbed out to his balcony.

“We said, ‘What should we do?’ And they said, ‘Go back inside.’ We don’t know what’s going on. And then we went out of our apartment,” he said.

Cohen opened the door to leave but where he was accustomed to seeing a 100-yard lobby, “It was rubble — gone.”

Cohen said he was simply “happy to be alive.”

Surfside mayor describes bleak early morning rescue efforts: ‘There were no sounds’

Mayor Charles Burkett told CBS This Morning that roughly “one-third or more” of the building was “totally pancaked.”

“Looks like an earthquake,” he told Manuel Bojorquez.

He described the grim prospects rescuers encountered in the middle of the night.

“They sent the dogs in, and there were just no hits. We had no hits on the dogs. So there were no sounds, and the dogs did not react. So we’re waiting for daylight,” he said. “They’re waiting now to go back.

“There are over 100 units in that building, and that’s — that’s what is frightening us badly right now.”

Burkett spoke about efforts to shelter those displaced by the collapse.

“We have about 15 family units up at the community center right now, and we’re making arrangements for them to find some housing — temporary housing,” he said.

Unlike some residential buildings in South Florida primarily used as vacation homes, Burkett said the building was primarily used by full-time residents — mainly families.

“Of course, some come down for the season, but you know, that was an active, very filled-up building,” he said. “We’re all just scratching our heads trying to imagine what in the world could have happened.”

At the President’s request, FEMA reached out to the President of the Red Cross and confirmed that it is providing temporary shelter and housing for those impacted by the collapsed building.

Red Cross has established a short term shelter and are locating hotel rooms for all families impacted. They are also providing a small grant to each family to help with short term expenses, in addition to providing mental health counselors to work with the families.

FEMA has been in close contact with Florida officials and is prepared to provide specialized search and rescue teams and equipment from the National Urban Search and Rescue System if requested. Two search and rescue teams from FEMA National Urban Search and Rescue System are supporting the response to this devastating incident. FEMA stands ready to assist in other ways as needed.

– White House 

Resident calls collapse ‘most horrific thing that I’ve seen in my life’

Surfside resident Mich Balkany called it “absolutely insane.”

“I’ve been living in Surfside the past 10 years, and this is by far the most horrific thing that I’ve seen in my life,” he told ReliableNewsMedia.

Balkany and his brother were taking an early morning walk when the building collapsed, and they have friends with family members living there.

“What we saw from the beginning was a huge cloud of smoke and lots of noise,” Balkany said.

His brother described the chaotic scene. “So we start rushing towards there, you know, we put our shirts over our face so we don’t get any dust in our eyes and everything,” he said. “I asked a security guard from the other building and she says that she saw it collapse and she’s like, “Yeah, they were doing construction over there.”

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

Surfside City Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told Miami television station 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?”

Firefighters racing to rescue residents

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.

Rescuers encountering trouble

Firefighters trying to reach trapped residents were in a precarious situation themselves, CBS Miami reports:

‘A really big rumble’

One man got word of the partial collapse in dramatic fashion.

He told CBS Miami he “was walking with my brothers, we were walking our dog in the neighborhood, and basically, we heard a really big rumble and we thought it was a motorcycle, you know, and we turned around and saw a cloud of dust just coming our way.

“We were like — ‘What is going on?’” the man said. “We went rushing toward it with shirts over our faces and the security guard came out and we were, like, ‘What happened?’ and she said the building collapsed.”

WINK News’ Michael Hudak, Sydney Persing and Morgan Rynor are reporting from the scene.

Scene of partial building collapse in Surfside, just north of Miami Beach, is seen from a distance early on June 24, 2021. (Credit: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue)
First responders at the scene early on June 24, 2021 of the partial collapse of a multi-story building in Surfside near Miami Beach. (Credit: CBS Miami)
(Credit: Nicholas Balboa)
(Credit: Nicholas Balboa)