Miami-area condo collapse: At least 4 dead, 159 missing as search continues

A frantic search continued Friday for dozens of people still unaccounted for after a beachfront condo building partially collapsed outside of Miami, Florida, killing at least four people and leaving more than 150 others unaccounted for.

Three bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight, bringing the death toll to four, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Friday morning. At least 159 people were still missing, raising fears that the death toll could climb sharply. Eleven injuries were reported, with four people treated at hospitals.

Rescue personnel and others worked through the night in hopes of finding survivors. 

"We still have hope that we will find people alive," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference Friday.

A wing of the 12-story Champlain Towers came down around 1:30 a.m. Thursday in the town of Surfside, located just north of Miami Beach. Officials did not know how many people were in the tower when it fell. Early Friday, President Joe Biden signed an emergency declaration for the state of Florida, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

"The building is literally pancaked," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said. "It has gone down, and I mean there’s just feet in between stories where there was 10 feet. That is heartbreaking because it doesn’t mean to me that we’re gonna be as successful as we would want to be to find people alive."

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Hours after the collapse, searchers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to be dead. In another case, 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.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also made remarks on Friday, saying he is working very closely with the mayor and the federal government as needs arise.

"We feel like we have all hands on deck to be able to assist with the search and rescue mission and then obviously help people who have been displaced and then help the families who still have loved ones who are unaccounted for," DeSantis said.

DeSantis noted that he is in agreement with the mayor on the need for a definitive explanation for how the catastrophic collapse could have happened.

"That’s an explanation that needs to be an accurate explanation," DeSantis said. "It’s an explanation that we don’t want to get wrong obviously. But at the same time, I do think it’s important that it’s timely, because you have a lot of families here. You have families that lost loved ones in this building collapse. They have a right to know." 

He acknowledged that others in the state and across the country will want answers on how a building could "just collapse like that."

"I think it’s a really important thing," the governor said. 

DeSantis said he spoke with the Biden administration and appreciates their support and the community’s support, "stepping up to help people who are in need."

He called the incident a "unique type of tragedy" and one that has been "gut wrenching" for many people.

"But, nobody is quitting here. We are going to stand by those families, and we’re going to stand by everyone who’s been displaced. You can guarantee that," DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who toured the scene on Thursday and was scheduled to return Friday, said television 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," DeSantis said.

President Joe Biden addressed the condo collapse ahead of signing H.R. 49, designating the National Pulse Memorial into law on Friday,

Biden said his administration stands ready to provide additional resources and assistance that state and local officials need. 

"I’ve spoken to governor DeSantis, and we’ve provided all the help that they have, they need. We sent the best people from FEMA down there," Biden said. 

The president expressed his gratitude to the first responders and expressed his condolences to the people of the Surfside community, sharing his grief for the families who lost loved ones in this devastating tragedy and for the families who are waiting as search and rescue efforts continue.

"It’s a tough, tough time. There’s so many people waiting. Are they alive? What will happen? So, our hearts go out to them," Biden said.

Teams were trying to enter the building from the basement parking garage at the Champlain Towers. The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue shared a video on Twitter of rescuers standing in knee-high water using a power drill to break through a wall.

"Firefighters continue working on locating possible victims while dealing with heavy damage and changing conditions in the parking garage," the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue wrote on Twitter. 

The Miami-Dade mayor added that the search and rescue teams were facing an "extreme risk" amid the unstable conditions at the scene. Crews were searching the rubble from both above and below. 

About half of the building’s roughly 130 units were affected, Cava told a news conference. Rescuers had pulled at least 35 people from the rubble on Thursday, and heavy equipment was being brought in to help stabilize the structure to provide more access, Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire and 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, local officials said.

Barry Cohen and his wife, who live in the condo, said they were asleep when they were awakened by a loud boom. 

"We went to leave our apartment and we opened up the door from our apartment and there was a huge pile of rubble and dust — just havoc," Cohen told reporters. 

Personal belongings were evidence of shattered lives amid the wreckage of the Champlain, which was built in 1981. Many were moved by a children's bunk bed perched precariously on a top floor, bent but intact and apparently inches from falling into the rubble. 

"Somebody was probably sleeping in it," Jimmy Patronis, the state’s fire marshal, told reporters. "There’s all those what-ifs."

Roof work was reportedly being done at the condo but it remained unclear if that was connected to the collapse, according to FOX 35 Orlando

"There is roof work being done all the time," Burkett said. "It looks like a bomb went off. Buildings don’t just fall down like this. We just don’t have any answers right now but we’ll find them."

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

Meanwhile, rain and thunderstorms were again in the forecast Friday for the area, which complicated the search and rescue efforts on Thursday.

This story was reported from Los Angeles and Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.