SURFSIDE, Fla. – Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials confirmed at least one person has been killed and numerous others are trapped after a condominium building partially collapsed early Thursday morning.
The incident occurred at the Champlain Towers South building near 88th Street and Collins Avenue in Surfside.
Santos Mejia told Local 10 News reporter Madeleine Wright that his wife, Janet Rodriguez, 55, was staying at the condominium building with a 95-year-old woman she is caring for when the collapse occurred around 1:20 a.m.
He said she immediately called him after the collapse and told him she heard an earthquake, but they soon learned the building had partially collapsed in the back on the oceanside.
The building’s pool and parking garage were on the side of the building that collapsed.
Mejia said his wife and the elderly woman are both OK, but they could have fallen off the side of the building had they been closer to the balcony.
“The whole building shook like an earthquake. I opened my sliding glass and I saw a plume of dust and then I opened the door and I saw that the building had pancaked in the back,” a woman who lives on the ninth floor of the building said.
Local 10 News was at the scene just before 5:30 a.m. as one person was being rescued from their balcony.
More than 80 MDFR units, including Technical Rescue Teams, are at the scene with assistance from municipal fire departments, including some from Broward County. There are more than 100 units that responded in all.
A photo taken from the scene shows a boy being pulled from the rubble by a firefighter.
It’s unclear how many people were injured and hospitalized, but crews did set up a triage area before some people were transported to hospitals.
Witnesses say people are currently trapped inside the building’s south tower. Crews used ladder trucks to rescue residents from balconies and are working to clear all of the floors.
As people began waking up, a crowd began gathering on the sand.
The building was built in 1981 and has more than 100 condo units. It is about 12 stories tall.
The power has been cut off to the building and it appeared that part of at least four levels were totally destroyed in the collapse.
Those who were rescued or are in the area are being kept away from the building to prevent any injuries from falling debris and to prevent further collapse.
The cause of the collapse remains unclear, however people in the area told Local 10 News that work was being done on the roof of the building with the use of heavy equipment.
Surfside Mayor Charles W. Burkett confirmed roof work was being done at the building, but said roof work is constantly being done on buildings and doesn’t believe that is a reason for the collapse.
He said he is sure an application must have been completed before the work started and that an inspection would have been made beforehand.
The mayor said he can’t imagine any reason for the tragedy other than if a sinkhole occurred or someone pulled the supports out of the building.
Burkett confirmed 10 people were treated for injuries at the scene and two were taken to hospitals, one of whom died.
He said he was aware of 15 families that walked out of the building on their own.
Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Moser commended Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and other fire departments that quickly responded to the scene, saying first responders need to be “quick on their toes” and “thinking far into the future” during catastrophic situations like these.
He said MDFR quickly called in support services, including K9s and drones to assist in the search.
First responders told Local 10 News that the search and rescue operation could take perhaps up to a week to complete, if not more.
Authorities say southbound traffic is currently being diverted west on 96th Street, while northbound traffic is being diverted at 85th Street and Collins Avenue.
The American Red Cross is assisting survivors, who will be placed in hotels for the time being.
A family reunification center has been set up for anyone looking for unaccounted or missing relatives at 9301 Collins Ave.
An emergency information hotline has also been created for those who are trying to locate their loved ones. That number is 305-993-1071.
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