Rescue crews worked into the night Thursday to scour through a massive pile of twisted steel and concrete for any signs of life after a 12-story beachfront condominium building collapsed, killing at least one person and leaving 99 people unaccounted for.
Residents screamed for help earlier in the day as they attempted to flee the building, and some were rescued from the building by firefighters using ladders. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett confirmed at least one death but warned that the death toll was likely to rise.
Burkett confirmed that at least one person was killed. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said officials had found 102 people so far, but 99 were still missing. It’s unclear if those 99 people were inside the building when it collapsed.
As air conditioning units dangled from gaping holes in the high rise in a tangle of wires, cables, couches, and people’s belongings, crews continued to search the debris for survivors.
Burkett said that ten people were treated at the scene and two were taken to the hospital, one of whom died, and that 15 families walked out of the building on their own. Authorities say they don’t know how many people were in the building when it collapsed or how many were able to flee. The structure is part of Champlain Towers South, which was built in 1981 and houses more than 130 apartments. Some are occupied year-round, while others are only used in the winter.
Crews wearing hardhats and accompanied by search and rescue dogs scavenge through piles of concrete and cables for signs of life.
Broken water pipes and flooded areas are among the debris, complicating the rescue mission and potentially worsening the situation for any potential survivors trapped beneath the rubble with limited air supply.
A family reunification center has been established nearby. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava stated that chaplains and victim advocates were present to assist survivors and family members in need of resources.
Search efforts in the collapsed section of the building were ongoing, but because of the way the building collapsed, those efforts may not be successful in recovering many people, according to Burkett.
The cause of the collapse near 88th Street and Collins Avenue has yet to be determined by the fire department. Hundreds of fire and rescue vehicles, ambulances, and police cars converged on the area, and police blocked nearby roads.
Burkett stated that roof work had been ongoing at the building for the past month, but he was unsure if this was a contributing factor. He said it was “difficult to imagine that could have been the impetus for a catastrophic collapse,” adding that it was “not an old building” and rare — something he’d never seen in his entire life living in the area.
The structure was only 40 years old, having been constructed in 1981. According to the Miami Herald, Miami-Dade County officials were in the process of inspecting the building before it collapsed, as Florida requires all buildings and properties to be inspected every 40 years in order to be recertified. According to the newspaper, the inspections look to see if a structure is stable and safe, and the building’s association recently hired an engineer to look into electrical and structural changes.
According to a 2020 study conducted by Shimon Wdowinski, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University, the building, which was built on reclaimed wetlands in 1981, has been sinking at an alarming rate since the 1990s.
Wdowinski stated that his research is not intended to provide any certainty about what caused the condominium to collapse. In the 1990s, the building was sinking at a rate of about 2 millimeters per year, and the sinking could have slowed or accelerated since then.
Even the level of subsidence observed in the 1990s, according to Wdowinski, typically results in impacts to buildings and their structures, such as cracked walls or shifting foundations. Based on his findings, he believes that could have been the case for the Champlain building in the 1990s.