Dozens missing after 12-storey building partially collapses in Florida

Hundreds of fire and rescue workers respond to incident that left at least one dead

Search and rescue personnel work in the rubble of the 12-storey condo tower that partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Search and rescue personnel work in the rubble of the 12-storey condo tower that partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

Hundreds of fire and rescue workers scoured through tons of rubble early on Thursday after a 12-storey oceanfront residential building partially collapsed north of Miami Beach in Florida, leaving at least one person dead, at least 10 injured and dozens unaccounted for, officials said.

At least 99 people remained unaccounted for on Thursday night Irish time, police told the Washington Post.

A fire official said 35 people had been rescued from the Champlain Towers South building, built in 1981, including two who were pulled from the rubble as response teams used trained dogs in a search for survivors.

The condominium building in Surfside, a seaside enclave of 5,700 residents located about 24km north of Miami, had more than 130 units, according to NBC Miami. Officials have said about 80 units were occupied.

Sally Heyman, a Miami-Dade County commissioner, said officials have been unable to make contact with 51 people who “supposedly” live in the building, home to a mix of people including families and part-time “snow birds” who spend the winter months in Florida.

“We have 51 people that were assumed to have been there, but you don’t know between vacations or anything else, so we’re still waiting,” Ms Heyman told CNN by phone. “The hope is still there, but it’s waning.”

After speaking with local officials, Florida governor Ron DeSantis said it was possible that more people could be found in the rubble.

“We’ll hope for the best in terms of additional recoveries, but we are bracing for some bad news, just given the destruction that we’re seeing,” Mr DeSantis said at an event at a community college near Tampa.

It was unclear how many people were inside at 1.30am local time, when an entire side of the building pulled away and fell to the ground below.

“It’s hard to imagine how this could have happened,” Surfside mayor Charles Burkett told reporters. “Buildings just don’t fall down.”

Construction work was being done on the roof, he said, but it was unclear whether the project involved any heavy gear.

Rescue footage

Footage from WPLG Local 10, a Miami TV station, showed a rescue team pulling a boy from piles of debris, and firefighters using ladder trucks to rescue residents trapped on balconies.

Mr Burkett said that part of the building with balconies facing the beach “pancaked” where one floor appears to have fallen atop another, cascading down.

“The back of the building, probably a third or more, is totally pancaked,” he said.

He said the collapse appeared to have affected 30 units in the building.

Resident Barry Cohen and his wife were rescued from the building.

“At first it sounded like a flash of lightning or thunder,” Mr Cohen, a former vice-mayor of Surfside and a resident of the building, told reporters at the scene. “But then it just kept on – steadily for at least 15 to 30 seconds – it just kept on going and going and going.”

Mr Cohen also said there had been construction for more than a month on the building’s roof.

The Miami-Dade Police have assumed control of the investigation into the incident. More than 80 fire and rescue units responded, the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department wrote in a Twitter message early on Thursday.

Eyewitness video obtained by Reuters showed neighbours gathering across the street from the rubble.

“This whole building here, it’s completely gone,” a person can be heard saying. – Reuters