Surfside building collapse: At least 3 dead, 99 others missing

·7 min read

At least three people are dead and 99 others are unaccounted for after a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in southern Florida's Miami-Dade County early Thursday, officials said.

The partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach, was reported around 1:30 a.m. local time. The oceanfront complex has 136 units, and approximately 55 of them collapsed along the northeast corridor, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah.

PHOTO: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel continue search and rescue operations in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel continue search and rescue operations in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A massive search and rescue operation was launched before dawn and crews are still carefully combing through the wreckage and remaining structure in hopes of finding survivors. So far, crews have rescued 35 people who were trapped in the building and two others from beneath the rubble, Jadallah told reporters.

PHOTOS: Scores missing after Florida building collapse

A Miami-Dade County official confirmed to ABC News that the death toll was up to three.

PHOTO: Rescue worker walk among the rubble where a wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed, June 24, 2021, Surfside, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
PHOTO: Rescue worker walk among the rubble where a wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed, June 24, 2021, Surfside, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
PHOTO: Rubble is piled high after the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Rubble is piled high after the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Teams of firefighters have been cutting through the rubble and placing sonar devices as part of the search efforts, which continued overnight. Responders have not heard any voices coming from the pile but have picked up "a possibility of a banging," according to Jadallah.

"This process is slow and methodical," Jadallah said during press conference in Surfside on Thursday afternoon. "Every time there's a shift in the rubble, we have additional rubble that shifts on us."

PHOTO: Police tape blocks access to a partially collapsed building in Surfside north of Miami Beach, on June 24, 2021. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Police tape blocks access to a partially collapsed building in Surfside north of Miami Beach, on June 24, 2021. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters that 102 people have now been accounted for but at leat 99 others remain missing. She said search and rescue crews will be "working around the clock."

"As the day comes to an end, their day does not," Levine Cava said during a press conference in Surfside on Thursday evening.

"We need to allow them to do their work because every minute in this search can make a huge difference," she said at an earlier press conference.

PHOTO: Soriya Cohen shows a picture of her husband, Brad Cohen, who she said is missing after the partial collapse of the 12-story condo tower that he was in on June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Soriya Cohen shows a picture of her husband, Brad Cohen, who she said is missing after the partial collapse of the 12-story condo tower that he was in on June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Footage from the scene showed firefighters pulling a boy from the rubble alive and rescuing others from still-standing balconies.

Jadallah told reporters that at least 11 people were medically assessed and treated on site, four of whom were then transported to local hospitals.

Aventura Hospital and Medical Center said it has received three patients from the scene -- two in critical condition and one in fair condition -- while Jackson Health System said it received two patients.

PHOTO: A Miami-Dade Police helicopter flies over the Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)
PHOTO: A Miami-Dade Police helicopter flies over the Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)

A "substantial number" of the condominium's residents are foreigners, according to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Paraguay's foreign ministry said that six Paraguayan nationals were in the building and are still missing: Sophia López-Moreira, the sister of the country's first lady; her husband, Luis Pettengill; their three children; and their nanny, Lady Luna Villalba. Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez canceled his events due to the incident.

Meanwhile, Argentina's consulate in Miami said that nine Argentine nationals are missing. Venezuela's ambassador to the United States confirmed that four Venezuelan nationals are missing. Uruguay's foreign ministry said that three Uruguayan nationals have been affected by the incident, though their status was unclear. Colombia's foreign ministry also reported that six Colombian nationals resided in the condominium and officials were still trying to determine whether they were there at the time of the collapse.

PHOTO: People look at the damage at the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo that collapsed early Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP)
PHOTO: People look at the damage at the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo that collapsed early Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP)
PHOTO: Family members and residents of the Champlain Towers South greet each other outside the Town of Surfside Community Center in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, on June 24, 2021. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Family members and residents of the Champlain Towers South greet each other outside the Town of Surfside Community Center in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, on June 24, 2021. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Florida resident Soriya Cohen told ABC News that her husband, Brad Cohen, a 51-year-old orthopedic surgeon, and her brother-in-law, Gary Cohen, a doctor visiting from Alabama, both are missing. Soriya Cohen said they haven't been answering their phones and she does not have hope that they are alive.

"Just look at that rubble," Soriya Cohen told ABC News, pointing at the wreckage.

She said she and her daughter were staying in a different home at the time because their family is in the process of moving. Her son is currently studying abroad and trying to get home, she said.

“It’s been surreal,” she added. “My daughter has been in absolute shock.”

PHOTO: A portion of the 12-story condo tower crumbled to the ground during a partially collapse of the building, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla., north of Miami Beach.  (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: A portion of the 12-story condo tower crumbled to the ground during a partially collapse of the building, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla., north of Miami Beach. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Gabe Nir, who lives in the Champlain Towers South with his mother and sister, told ABC News that they ran from the building when they heard the collapse.

Nir said he felt a second, more intense collapse and that they ran for their lives as a thick cloud of white dust enveloped them, making it hard to breathe. Nir, who compared the collapse to an earthquake, said he's grateful to be alive.

Another witness told ABC News that his wife cares for an elderly woman who lives in the condominium and frantically called him around 1:15 a.m. local time, after the units next door came crashing down. He said his wife and the elderly woman both were rescued.

PHOTO: Items and debris dangle from a section of the oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo that partially collapsed, June 24, 2021, in the Surfside area of Miami, Fla. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
PHOTO: Items and debris dangle from a section of the oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo that partially collapsed, June 24, 2021, in the Surfside area of Miami, Fla. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

A Miami-Dade county official told ABC News it's been difficult to determine how many people were in the collapsed section of the building, partly due to the fact that there isn't an on-scene management company that keeps track. The condominium is a mix of full-time residents, seasonal residents, renters and short-term visitors, so authorities have been relying largely on neighbors and word of mouth.

Miami-Dade County has an urban search and rescue team that has been dispatched to earthquakes and other disasters all around the world, but this is the first time that the team has been deployed on home turf, according to the official.

PHOTO: A building that partially collapsed is seen in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Fla., June 24, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)
PHOTO: A building that partially collapsed is seen in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Fla., June 24, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

The official told ABC News that there's real concern about the structural integrity of the remaining building, particularly from dangling wires and portions of concrete. Fires have flared up throughout the day, adding to the danger for the search and rescue teams, the official said.

The unaffected section of the condominium was cleared as of 8 a.m. local time. But due to the lingering dangers, several blocks of the complex will be closed for the next week, according to the official.

PHOTO: Fire rescue personnel conduct a search and rescue with dogs through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla., Thursday, June 24, 2021. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)
PHOTO: Fire rescue personnel conduct a search and rescue with dogs through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla., Thursday, June 24, 2021. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett called the partial collapse a "catastrophe." He told reporters that the condominium was built in the 1980s and was believed to be substantially full at the time of the partial collapse. The building was undergoing roof work, he said.

Some 15 families escaped the building on their own and were put up in a local hotel, according to Burkett. Search dogs did an initial pass around the wreckage when it was still dark and the site was considered dangerous, but there were no signs of survivors at that time, the mayor said.

PHOTO: Luz Marina holds a picture of her aunt, Marina Azen, who she said is missing after the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo tower that she was in on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Luz Marina holds a picture of her aunt, Marina Azen, who she said is missing after the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo tower that she was in on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Surfside Commissioner Nelly Velasquez told ABC News that the building was up for its 40-year recertification.

The Champlain Towers South Condo Association was preparing to start a new construction project to make updates and the condominium had been through extensive inspections, according to Kenneth Direktor, a lawyer for the association. Direktor said that he hadn't been warned of any structural issues with the building or about the land it was built on. He said there was water damage to the complex, but that is common for oceanfront properties and wouldn't have caused the collapse.

"Nothing like this has ever been seen, at least not in the 40 years I've been doing this," Direktor told ABC News.

PHOTO: Search and rescue personnel work in the rubble of the 12-story condo tower that crumbled to the ground during a partially collapse of the building, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla., near Miami Beach. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Search and rescue personnel work in the rubble of the 12-story condo tower that crumbled to the ground during a partially collapse of the building, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla., near Miami Beach. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis toured the site, telling reporters it was "traumatic to see."

"It's a tragic day," DeSantis said during a press conference in Surfside on Thursday afternoon. "We still have hope to be able to identify additional survivors."

The governor declared a state of emergency in Miami-Dade County that evening "to provide assistance for the families impacted by the Surfside tragedy," according to the order.

PHOTO: The 12-story condo tower in a Google street view image before it collapsed, left, and after, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla., near Miami Beach.  (Google Street View/Getty Images)
PHOTO: The 12-story condo tower in a Google street view image before it collapsed, left, and after, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla., near Miami Beach. (Google Street View/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters that he spoke with the Miami-Dade County mayor as well as U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents the Florida district.

MORE: Biden approves Florida emergency declaration after Miami building collapse leaves 3 dead, 99 missing

Biden said he was waiting on the governor to ask for an emergency declaration, but he is "ready to move from the federal resources immediately, immediately, if in fact we're asked for it."

PHOTO: Debris fills the lot where the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo collapsed early Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla., about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
PHOTO: Debris fills the lot where the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo collapsed early Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla., about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

The cause of the collapse was unknown. The Miami-Dade Police Department is leading an investigation into the incident.

"Our goal is to provide a thorough investigation and closure for our families," Freddy Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said during a press conference in Surfside on Thursday morning.

PHOTO: People wait for information after a partial building collapse, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
PHOTO: People wait for information after a partial building collapse, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Authorities have opened a family assistance center at the Surfside recreational center for individuals unable to locate loved ones who live in the Champlain Towers South. Anyone with family members from the condominium who are either safe or still missing is urged to call 305-614-1819 to account for them.

ABC News' Eliana Larramendia Boyd, Kendall Coughlin, Christopher Godburn, Aaron Katersky, Rachel Katz, Victor Oquendo, Ben Stein, Christine Theodorou and Nery Ynclan contributed to this report.

Surfside building collapse: At least 3 dead, 99 others missing originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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