A 12-storey oceanfront apartment block in Florida partially collapsed on Thursday, killing an unspecified number of residents and leaving almost 100 unaccounted for as teams of rescuers combed the rubble for possible victims.
Video footage posted online showed a large portion of the building in the town of Surfside — just north of Miami Beach — reduced to rubble, with the apartments’ interiors exposed.
It was unclear what caused the building to collapse, nor how many people were inside at the time, since it was occupied by a mix of full-time and seasonal residents and renters.
“It’s hard to get a count on it,” a local official told CNN. “It is 51 people who were supposedly, supposedly, residing there at the time (and) have not either called out or had people call in to reach them.
“But you don’t know between vacations or anything else. So we’re still waiting. And unfortunately, the hope is still there, but it’s waning,” she said.
Around 55 apartments were affected by the collapse, according to Miami-Dade fire rescue official Ray Jadallah. He told a news conference that emergency services arrived at the scene at around 1.30am and evacuated 35 people from the building.
Some residents were able to walk down the stairs to safety while others had to be rescued from their balconies.
Surfside mayor Charles Burkett said 14 survivors had been recovered from the rubble. The search phase of operations concluded by sundown and the focus shifted to recovery of possible victims amid the rubble, in a massive operation assisted by drones and dogs and involving both police and firefighter units.
“Apparently when the building came down it pancaked, so there’s just not a lot of voids that they’re finding or seeing from the outside,” mayor Burkett said on an NBC show.
Surfside’s town manager Andrew Hyatt told the news conference that search operations could last a week.
Four Argentinians — three adults and a six-year-old girl — were among those unaccounted for, according to the country’s foreign ministry.
Like ‘a bomb went off’
Surfside’s mayor said the reasons for the collapse were still unclear.
“It looks like a bomb went off, but we’re pretty sure a bomb didn’t go off, so it’s something else,” Burkett said.
Miami resident Nicolas Fernandez, 29, said he has yet to hear from friends who were staying overnight in a unit that his family owns in the building.
“The one day that they decided to stay there overnight is the one day that this happened,” he said.
Fernandez said that when his mother called him in the early hours to say the building had collapsed, he thought it was a joke — and hung up.
“She calls me again and tells me: `Nico, you know I would never joke about this. I need you to go over there.’ We came running.”
One witness, 25-year-old Julian Targowski, described the sound of the collapse.
“It was like a very bass-y, like boom boom, boom boom, that kind of thing,” he told a television channel.