MIAMI — A massive search and rescue effort was underway Thursday outside Miami after a 12-story, oceanside condo building partially collapsed into a mammoth pile of rubble leaving at least one person dead, authorities said.
Miami-Dade Rescue Fire said more than 80 technical and rescue teams were on the scene in Surfside, a few miles north of Miami Beach. Firefighters picked through the rubble – piled almost half as high as the part of the building still standing – extricating survivors and carrying them from the wreckage.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett confirmed that at least one person had died.
“It’s less likely than a lightning strike,” Burkett told CNN. “It just doesn’t happen. You don’t see buildings falling down in America.”
Are people still trapped in the building?
Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management, told the Miami Herald that emergency workers believed they have cleared all survivors from inside the tower. He said more than 70 of the units have been destroyed or damaged.
“Everyone who is alive is out of the building,” he said.
Photos and video from the scene show that the collapse affected half the tower. Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area just outside the building. The fire department has 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.
How many people have died?
Burkett said at least one person was dead and at least another 10 were injured.
Search efforts in the collapsed section of the building were continuing but the way the building fell means those efforts may not be successful in recovering many people, Burkett said.
“The problem is the building has literally pancaked,” he said.
How many people are missing?
Authorities say they don’t know how many people were in the building when it collapsed, nor how many of them were able to flee the disaster. The building is part of Champlain Towers South, built in 1981 and containing 135 apartments
“We’re on the scene so it’s still very active,” said Sgt. Marian Cruz of Miami Dade Fire Rescue. “What I can tell you is the building is 12 floors. The entire back side of the building has collapsed.”
What caused the collapse?
Authorities were still trying to determine the cause of the collapse. Burkett said that roof work had been ongoing at the building over the past month but said he was unsure whether that was a factor. He said it was “hard to imagine that could have been the impetus for a catastrophic collapse.”
Burkett stressed that it was “not an old building. … There’s no reason for this building to go down like that.”
Witness says building ‘collapsed like a pancake’
Victor Cohen, who lives nearby, told WPLG-TV the building had been undergoing a major renovation when the ocean front wing “collapsed like a pancake.”
Surfside resident Michael Ruiz told WPLG he lives near the partially collapsed building.
“Before just 2 in the morning – I live off of Collins Avenue – and I’m hearing, I would say, about 50 ambulances and fire trucks and fire rescues just driving by,” said Ruiz said, who went to the scene and took videos and photos. “So there’s a third of the entire building that you cannot see from the street, but it’s completely gone in the back, toward the beach side.”
Santo Mejil, 50, told the Miami Herald his wife is an overnight caretaker for an elderly woman in the complex. His wife called from a unit on the ninth floor of the south building.
“She said she heard a big explosion. It felt like an earthquake,” Mejil said.
NBC 6 in South Florida tweeted a photo of firefighters pulling a boy from the rubble of the building. Firefighters were also seen using ladder trucks to rescue people from the high-rise.
The area has a large Jewish population, and a rescue team of Orthodox Jews called Hatzalah were on the scene to help with body recovery.
A few two-bedroom units in the development are listed for sale with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000, an Internet search shows.
The building’s website promotes “incredible oceanfront views or spectacular views of inter-coastal waterway with the City in the Background.” It adds that year-round ocean breezes help keep the temperatures moderate in the summer and winter and that the condos are “located near some of the best shopping Miami has to offer as well as the famous Miami Nightlife.”
Contributing: The Associated Press.