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4 confirmed dead in Miami-area condo tower collapse, with scores still missing

Many are feared dead in the rubble after part of a 12-story beachfront condo tower partially collapsed in the Miami-area town of Surfside. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Four people are now confirmed dead in Thursday’s partial collapse of a beachfront condo tower outside Miami, with officials fearing that the number of those killed could skyrocket.

Three bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told “Good Morning America” on Friday, adding to the one person confirmed dead Thursday. Eleven injuries were reported, with four people treated at hospitals.

A wing of the 12-story building in the community of Surfside came down with a roar around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. By late evening, nearly 100 people were still unaccounted for, authorities said, raising fears that the death toll could climb sharply. Officials did not know how many were in the tower when it fell.

“The building is literally pancaked,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said. “That is heartbreaking because it doesn’t mean to me that we are going to be as successful as we wanted to be in finding people alive.”

Surfside, a town of about 5,700, lies north of Miami Beach, across Biscayne Bay from Miami’s northern suburbs.

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Many are feared dead and trapped in the rubble after the collapse of part of a 12-story beachfront condo tower in the Miami suburb of Surfside.

Hours after the collapse, searchers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to be dead. Rescuers saved a mother and child, but the woman’s leg had to be amputated to remove her from the rubble, Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management, told the Miami Herald.

Video showed fire crews removing a boy from the wreckage, but it was not clear whether he was the same person mentioned by Rollason. Teams were trying to enter the building from a parking garage beneath the structure.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who toured the scene, said television images did not capture the scale of what happened.

Rescue crews are “doing everything they can to save lives. That is ongoing, and they’re not going to rest,” he said.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the state’s fire marshal, said rescue teams of 10 to 12 were rotating in and out of the scene with search dogs and equipment.

“They’re not going to stop just because of nightfall,” Patronis told Miami television station WPLG. “They just may have a different path they pursue.”

Patronis said he was deeply moved by the image of a bunk bed near the now-exposed top of the building.

“Somebody was probably sleeping in it,” he said. “There’s all those what-ifs.”

Partially collapsed condo tower
A wing of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers collapsed early Thursday in Surfside, Fla.
(Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Authorities did not say what may have caused the collapse. In video captured by a nearby surveillance camera, the center of the building appeared to fall first, with a section nearest the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighborhood.

Work was being done on the building’s roof, but Burkett said he did not see how that could have been the cause.

President Biden promised to provide federal aid if requested.

Hotels opened to some of the displaced residents, and deliveries of food, medicine and more were being hastily arranged.

About half of the building’s 130 units were affected, the mayor said at a news conference. Rescuers had pulled at least 35 people from the wreckage by midmorning, and heavy equipment was being brought in to help stabilize the structure to give them more access, Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said.

The tower has a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, and while the building keeps a log of guests, it does not keep track of when owners are in residence, Burkett said.

Fortuna Smukler posted about the disaster on Facebook, hoping that someone would know the whereabouts of Myriam Caspi Notkin and Arnie Notkin, an elderly couple who lived on the third floor.

Arnie Notkin spent years teaching physical education at a local elementary school, said Smukler, a North Miami Beach commissioner who is friends with Myriam Notkin’s daughters.

“He was such a well-liked P.E. teacher from people’s past,” she said. “Everyone’s been posting, ‘Oh my God, he was my coach.’”

“It would be a miracle if they’re found alive,” she added.

Nicholas Fernandez spent hours after the collapse trying to call two friends who were staying in the building with their young daughter. The family had come to the United States to avoid the COVID-19 outbreak in their home country of Argentina, said Fernandez, of Miami.

“The hope is that, perhaps, someone hears the call. I know there are dogs inside,” he said. “I know it may sound ridiculous what I’m saying, but there’s always hope until we hear different.”

A total of 22 South Americans were missing in the collapse — nine from Argentina, six from Paraguay, four from Venezuela and three from Uruguay, according to officials in those countries.

A judge in Spain has ordered an autopsy on John McAfee, the antivirus pioneer who died in jail pending extradition to the U.S. on tax-evasion charges.

The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore away walls and left a number of units in the still-standing part of the building exposed. Television video showed bunk beds, tables and chairs inside. Wires dangled from some parts of the building where air conditioners once hung.

A group of people huddle around a cellphone.
People check for information on a cellphone after the collapse.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the southern border Friday, the administration confirmed. Republicans have criticized her for months for not going.

Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were asleep in the building when he heard what he thought was a crack of thunder. The couple went onto their balcony, then opened the door to the building’s hallway to find “a pile of rubble and dust and smoke billowing around.”

“I couldn’t walk out past my doorway,” said Cohen, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”

Surfside City Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told WPLG that the building’s county-mandated 40-year recertification process was ongoing. Salzhauer said the process was believed to be proceeding without difficulty. A building inspector was on site Wednesday.

“I want to know why this happened,” Salzhauer said. “... And can it happen again? Are any other of our buildings in town in jeopardy?”

Bunk beds are seen in an exposed unit amid the damaged building
Bunk beds can be seen on the top floor of the partially collapsed building in Surfside, Fla.
(Chandan Khanna / AFP/Getty Images)

The seaside condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside. It had a few two-bedroom units currently on the market, with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000 in an area with a neighborhood feel that provides a stark contrast to the glitz and bustle of nearby South Beach.

An aerial view of the beach area including the collapsed building.
Search-and-rescue personnel work in the rubble of the 12-story condo tower that partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

The area has a mix of new and old apartments, houses, condominiums and hotels, with restaurants and stores serving an international combination of residents and tourists. The main oceanside drag is lined with glass-sided, luxury condominium buildings, but more modest houses are on the inland side. Among the neighborhood’s residents are snowbirds, Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jewish families.


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