Search for survivors continued overnight after South Florida condo collapse

The search for survivors in the rubble of a beachfront condo that partially collapsed in South Florida early Thursday morning was temporarily halted by heavy rain and lightning.

At least two people had been confirmed dead Thursday night, according to WSVN, and officials said nearly 100 were still missing. Officials warned that the death toll was likely to rise.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the building manager told him the tower was quite full at the time of the collapse, but the exact number of people present was unclear.

“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.”

The collapse happened at the Champlain Towers South, located at 8777 Collins Avenue in Surfside, north of Miami Beach.

About half of the building’s roughly 136 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.

As of 8 p.m., 102 residents had been accounted for but at least 99 had not — though some of those missing may not have been in the building at 1:20 a.m., the time of the disaster.

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. Miami-Dade County property records show the condo was built in 1981. 

Earlier, Mayor Burkett said two people were brought to the hospital, one of whom died. He added that 15 families walked out of the building on their own.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said officials were “bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we’re seeing.”

Rescuers said 35 occupants were pulled from the structure and two were rescued from the rubble. Ten people on site were treated, and two of those were transported to the hospital, one of which passed away.

Mayor Burkett said he believes there are still people buried underneath. Rescuers said they were using sonar devices to listen for sounds coming from the rubble. Dogs were also brought to the scene to help sniff out survivors. 

Officials said they have heard sounds of what appears to be banging coming from the pile, but have not picked up voices.

“The optics may seem that nothing is going on on top but all operations, I cannot emphasize enough, all operations are occurring underneath the rubble, underneath the parking garage, where we have teams of firefighters constantly as they continue making cuts, breaches, placing sonar devices, search cams to locate victims,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah.

Rubble hangs from a partially collapsed building in Surfside north of Miami Beach, on June 24, 2021. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said as the building shifted, a small fire broke out in the rubble mid-afternoon, but was extinguished within 20 minutes.

Roof work was being done for at least 30 days, but it’s unclear if it’s connected. 

“But there is roof work being done all the time,” Burkett said. “It looks like a bomb went off. Buildings don’t just fall down like this. We just don’t have any answers right now but we’ll find them. We’ll get them.”

During a press conference Thursday evening, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio thanked President Joe Biden for quickly offering resources to the search and rescue efforts. He also thanked first responders, community members, local officials, and even a Publix employee who came to the scene to hand out bottles of water.

“It’s a dark and tragic day, but we continue to pray for some miracles,” Rubio said. “And we’re inspired by the men and women, the heroes who are out there right now risking their lives to hopefully rescue people.”

Former President Donald Trump issued a statement Thursday, thanking rescue workers and sending well-wishes to the victims and their families. 

“My thoughts and prayers are with all of those impacted by the building collapse in Surfside, Florida. Thank you to the incredible First Responders and Law Enforcement for arriving so quickly on the job, as always. We wish Governor Ron DeSantis, and all of those representing the Great State of Florida concerning this tragic event, Good Luck and God Speed. I am with you all the way!” the statement read.

Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro was seen with assistant coaches Chris Quinn and Eric Glass lending a helping hand Thursday afternoon. The Heat trio was training Thursday morning before they decided to head to the disaster site, where they helped load a truck with water, food and other essentials.

Search and rescue personnel with a K9 unit work in the rubble of a 12-story residential tower that partially collapsed on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The view from SkyFOX in Surfside showed the large pile of rubble and damaged vehicles. Authorities brought in live-victim dogs and cadaver dogs for the search and rescue efforts. 

Following the collapse, a cloud of debris was sent throughout the neighborhood, coating cars up to two blocks away with a light layer of dust. 

The collapse left a number of units in the still-standing part of the building exposed. There were bunk beds, tables and chairs still left inside the damaged apartments. Air conditioner units were hanging from some parts of the building, where wires now dangled.

Santo Mejil, 50, told the Miami Herald his wife called him from the building, where she was working as an aide for an elderly woman.

“She said she heard a big explosion. It felt like an earthquake,” Mejil told the newspaper. 

He said she later called him and said rescuers were bringing her down.

Authorities had no immediate word on other casualties or details of how many people lived in the building.

Before sunrise, first responders pulled a boy from the rubble and placed him on a stretcher.

One witness, who was on vacation in the city with his family, was next door and said it sounded and felt like a tornado or earthquake. He said he believed much of the building was occupied, reports FOX News

“It was the craziest thing I ever heard in my life,” he said. Witnesses in the building nearby were told to evacuate. As of now, it’s unclear how many people were inside the building when it occurred. 

Search and rescue personnel work in the rubble of the 12-story condo tower. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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

The area is a mix of new and old apartments, houses, condominiums, and hotels, with restaurants and stores serving an international combination of residents and tourists. The community provides a stark contrast from the bustle and glitz of South Beach with a slower-paced neighborhood feel.

A family reunification center was set up for anyone looking for unaccounted or missing relatives. Authorities said if anyone has family members that are unaccounted for or are safe, call 305-614-1819.

The cause of the partial collapse remains under investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.