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Twelve-Story Building Collapses in South Florida, Trapping Dozens

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is holding out hope of finding signs of life in the debris field.

(CN) — Emergency responders are searching for survivors in a towering pile of concrete rubble after more than 50 condominium units collapsed early Thursday in an oceanside town near Miami.

A section of the 12-story Champlain Towers apartment complex in Surfside crumbled to the ground around 1 a.m., leaving dozens of people trapped. 

Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue officials said during a morning press conference that 35 people had been rescued from the site.

"We are shoring up the structure on the inside as we continue to tunnel in to locate additional survivors," said Miami-Dade assistant fire chief Ray Jadallah.

The county has confirmed that one victim was fatally injured. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that the number of casualties is expected to rise. Dozens of residents are still unaccounted for.

"We'll hope for the best in terms of additional recoveries, but we are bracing for some bad news given the destruction we are seeing," DeSantis said.

Footage of the rescue operation showed a boy in a blue shirt being carried away from the destruction on a first responder's shoulder Thursday morning.

Emergency responders navigate debris from the collapse of a section of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla., on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue)

One man told CBS News that he was a resident of the building and was inside at the time of the collapse. 

"We opened up the door to our apartment, and there used to be a 100-yard lobby, hallway, and it was rubble. Gone," the man, identified as Barry Cohen, told CBS News.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett praised first responders for combing the site in the dead of night when the structural integrity of the remainder of the condo complex was uncertain. 

He said that Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has cleared the residential units that remained accessible and intact. But the search for survivors through the sprawling pile of concrete debris is ongoing.

"We had the dogs out in the middle of the night last night, and it was very difficult to get [them] out on the pile of rubble," he said.

The building was completed in 1981 and was undergoing a standard 40-year recertification process required in Miami-Dade County. Located on a barrier island next to the Atlantic Ocean, the tower had approximately 130 apartments and was the largest of three buildings in the complex.  Units in the complex had been selling for between $600,000 and $700,000. 

Burkett said that the cause of the sudden loss of the building's structural integrity is unknown. The apartment complex was undergoing roofing work, but it's unclear whether the construction had anything to do with the collapse, he said.

"It just doesn't happen. You don't see buildings falling down in America," the mayor said.

As the search operation progressed Thursday afternoon, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's team focused on cutting through walls underground in a parking garage area to make contact with potential survivors.

The team waded through murky, knee-deep water in the flooded garage while trying to tunnel into the structure. Engineers were conducting hourly assessments of the surrounding concrete, with an eye towards protecting workers from another collapse. 

"Every time we make a breach underneath the ground, we do have some debris that rains down on the firefighters," Jadallah, the assistant fire chief, said.

The team, which included more than 60 fire rescue workers, used sonar devices and search cameras to find signs of life. No one was pulled from the rubble in the late afternoon hours, according to Jadallah. 

"We did receive sounds, not necessarily people talking. ... Sounds of a possibility of a banging. Short of that, we haven't heard any voices coming from the pile," Jadallah said.

Categories / Personal Injury, Regional

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