Florida building collapse: At least 4 dead, nearly 160 unaccounted for. Here's what we know about the search effort.

Friday - 25/06/2021 08:17
A condominium building partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida. Many are still considered missing

Story Highlights
  • 12-story beachfront building 'pancaked' when it collapsed
  • Urgent search for survivors continues Friday
  • Building was undergoing an inspection but cause remains unknown

Almost 160 people are unaccounted for Friday morning, a day after a 12-story beachfront condominium building just north of Miami collapsed, killing at least four people.

Miami Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed the increased missing and death toll at a Friday news conferences. She said 120 people have been accounted for.

A wing of the residential building in Surfside, Florida, came down with a roar around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. 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.

Fire Rescue personnel and others worked through the night Thursday in hopes of finding survivors.

Early Friday, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency authorizing funding and other disaster relief to Surfside, a small, tight-knit community with about 6,000 residents. 

Here's what we know right now:

Could king tides, sea level rise contributed to collapse?

Saltwater and brine-soaked air settle into the pores of coastal construction, growing a rusty crust around the steel skeletons that reinforce oceanfront structures. It weakens the bonds between metal and concrete creating cracks and crumbles in vulnerable areas, such as balconies.

But some building experts wondered if the environmental assault supercharged by climate change could have played a role in the catastrophic collapse at Champlain Towers South Condo.

“Sea level rise does cause potential corrosion and if that was happening, it’s possible it could not handle the weight of the building,” said Zhong-Ren Peng, director of University of Florida’s International Center for Adaptation Planning and Design. “I think this could be a wakeup call for coastal developments.”

Albert Slap, president of Boca Raton-based RiskFootprint, said it can be invisible machinations – the push and pull of tides on limestone bedrock – combined with rising seas that can weaken a building’s integrity.

“Even if when the building was built in 1981 the foundation was dry most of the time, with sea level rise pushing groundwater up to the surface, the foundation could be wet enough long enough to soften the concrete,” Slap said.

– Kimberly Miller

Families still 'holding out hope' Friday morning

Some family member awaiting news on their unaccounted-for loved stayed overnight at the family reunification center. Others had just arrived Friday morning from out of state.

Ashley Dean rushed to South Florida from New Orleans after she received a frantic call from her sister’s husband Thursday as word spread of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South.

Dean’s sister, Cassandra Stratton, a yoga instructor, is among the 99 unaccounted for. Dean said Stratton lived on the fourth floor of the 40-year old building. Stratton's husband, Michael Stratton, flew in from Washington, D.C.

“We’re just holding out hope,” Dean said.

– Adam Regan

Hot and muggy morning for first responders

Rescuers will wrestle with typical South Florida summer weather through the weekend, including spotty morning showers. 

The National Weather Service said temperatures would reach a high of 86º in Miami on Friday. Rain chances are between 50% and 70% through the weekend but accumulation amounts each day in the Miami area are expected to be a half-inch or lower. 

Winds were also blowing 15 mph, with gusts up to 21 mph. 

In area around the building, the air was thick with debris and dust. The streets nearby were mostly empty except for emergency workers, news media and a few local residents milling about. The reunification center for people trying to find their families was still abuzz.

– Kimberly Miller and Wendy Rhodes


Family members swabbed for DNA at reunification center

After hours without any news Thursday afternoon, police officers arrived at the reunification center.

Officers told families they would come inside one at a time and, depending on what they were told, they would be swabbed for DNA on the police clinic van parked adjacent to the community center building.

Some broke out into tears upon emerging from the room. A young woman wearing a long white blouse and jeans fainted before making it to the van.

– Romina Ruiz-Goiriena

Investigators working to determine what caused the collapse

Authorities have 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.

A researcher at Florida International University said the building was constructed on reclaimed wetlands and was determined to be unstable a year ago. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said roofing work was being done on the building. 

According to the Miami-Dade County Police Department, authorities will investigate the incident after search and rescue operations are completed, CNN reported.

Residential building was undergoing an inspection 

Built in 1981, the building was only 40 years old. Florida requires all buildings and properties to be inspected every 40 years to be recertified and Miami-Dade County officials were in the process of inspecting the building before its collapse, town officials said Thursday. 

The process involves electrical and structural inspections for a report to be filed with the town. 

Engineers were coming through to inspect the building, said Oren Cytrynbaum, an attorney who owns two units in the building along with his family and wasn't there when it collapsed. According to Cytrynbaum, there were some repairs done to the roof before the fall but nothing else he was aware of.

"Bottom line is that's not an old building, and 40-year inspection or not, that kind of thing should not be happening," Mayor Charles Burkett said.

USA TODAY Investigation:Collapsed Miami condo had been sinking into Earth as early as the 1990s, researchers say

First responders 'not giving up' in search for survivors

Crews donning hardhats and accompanied by search and rescue dogs scavenging through the piles of concrete and cables searching for any signs of life. Thunderstorms, heavy damage and changing conditions hindered efforts to locate victims, but first responders were "not giving up" the search, said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett on CNN.

They looked for gaps in the wreckage and used a garage under the building as a tunnel system to maneuver throughout the building. Ray Jadallah, assistant fire chief of Miami-Dade Fire & Rescue, said earlier Thursday crews were using sonar equipment to detect any movements in the debris and ensure safety for crews.

The equipment detected what Jadallah said sounded like "banging." 

"We did receive sounds, not necessarily people talking, but sounds," he said, describing it as possible banging under the layers of debris.

'The building is literally pancaked':Heartbreaking images capture the Surfside building collapse and rescue efforts

Who is missing in the frantic race for survivors 

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett has confirmed that at least one person died. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said officials were able to account for 102 people thus far, but 99 were still unaccounted for. 

Relatives of the first lady of Paraguay were among the 99 people who are unaccounted for, Leticia Robertti, a spokesperson for the Consul General of Paraguay in Miami, told USA TODAY.

They included the sister of the first Lady, Sofia Lopez Moreira Bó, the sister's husband, Luis Pettengill, their three children and their nanny, Lady Luna Villalba. Other Paraguayans were also among those unaccounted for. 

About 20 Jewish people were also among the unaccounted for, including some with Israeli citizenship, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, Consul General of Israel in Miami, told USA TODAY.

Some residents had been plucked from the building by firefighters using ladders. Other searchers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to be dead. In one case, rescuers saved a mother and child, but the woman’s leg had to be amputated to remove her from the rubble.

'I have no hope':Loved ones await news, survivors flee after condo building partially collapses near Miami


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