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Monday, August 2, 2021

At least 1 dead after high-rise condo building partially collapses near Miami Beach

A massive search and rescue effort was underway Thursday after a high-rise condominium building partially collapsed near Miami Beach, killing at least one person and injuring dozens more.

Authorities got a call about the collapse at the 12-story building in Surfside, a town in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, around 1:30 a.m. ET, officials said during a morning press conference.

Raide Jadallah, the assistant chief of operations for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said the building had 136 units. Of that number, 55 units in the northeast corridor of the building collapsed.

Thirty-five people so far have been pulled from the collapsed part of the building, and two people were pulled out of the rubble, Jadallah said.

NBC Miami aired video of a boy being pulled out alive and being placed on a stretcher.

It was unclear how many people were missing.

Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer said search and rescue operations could “play out for days.” A lightning storm was complicating those efforts Thursday morning.

“I mean, could be weeks until we really know who is under the rubble, who survived, who didn’t survive. There’s a lot of people unaccounted for, lot of families very concerned,” she said.

In addition to the fatality, which was confirmed by Miami-Dade Police, at least 10 people were being treated for injuries at the scene, according to Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett.

Aventura Hospital and Medical Center said it received three patients, including two listed in critical condition.

In an interview with NBC’s “TODAY” show, Burkett said: “It’s hard to imagine how this could happen. Buildings just don’t fall down.”

He said that the building had roof work going on, “but you would never expect that to be the issue. I think that this is a catastrophic failure of that building.”

Officials have not said what caused the collapse.

“I mean it looks like a bomb went off, but we’re pretty sure a bomb didn’t go off,” Burkett added.

Though authorities have not released exact numbers, the mayor said there were “quite a few” people in the building at the time of the collapse. Some were able to make their way to the front of the structure as the back collapsed.

The Red Cross was working to get people from 15 units set up at hotels after they escaped from the building on their own, Burkett said.

Search dogs weren’t finding any survivors, which is “a great disappointment,” he said.

“When the building came down, it pancaked,” Burkett said. “So there’s just not a lot of voids that they’re finding, or seeing from the outside. That’s a tragedy.”

“There’s just feet in between stories,” he later added.

Footage from the scene showed a large section of the multistory building collapse into a pile of rubble below.

“The Miami-Dade Fire Department has been awesome,” Burkett said. “They’ve gotten in there and they’re in there risking their lives. I mean we don’t know if the rest of that building’s gonna come down.”

Emergency crews were going from balcony to balcony with a fire ladder on the side of the building that was left standing, seemingly looking for people who might be trapped.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue was on the scene of the incident near 88th Street and Collins Avenue with more than 80 fire rescue units involved in the response, the agency said.

That included a Technical Rescue Team that is trained in the removal of victims trapped in complex or confined spaces, fire officials said.

Municipal fire departments and Miami Beach police were also assisting.

A Biden administration official said the White House was monitoring the situation and, along with FEMA, was in touch with local officials.

“It’s a very active scene,” Surfside Police Sgt. Marian Cruz said, according to NBC Miami. “I advise everyone to just stay out of the area so that fire rescue and officers can conduct rescues and do what we need to do.”

Records showed the condo, called Champlain Towers South, was built in 1981. It is located across from a sandy beach in the oceanfront community of about 6,000 people.

Salzhauer said the building was undergoing the process of inspection for its 40-year recertification, which takes about a year. A nearby “sister-building,” Champlain North, was built around the same time, according to the commissioner.

Police blocked nearby roads and traffic in the area was diverted early Thursday. The mayor said that 50 hotel rooms next to the condo were also evacuated.

Yuliya Talmazan and Elisha Fieldstadt

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