Rescue workers continued through the night scouring the rubble of the collapsed Miami-area condo looking for survivors from the nearly 160 people still unaccounted-for. A portion of the 12-story Champlain Towers came crashing down in the early morning hours Thursday, around 1:30 a.m., shearing off half of the Surfside community complex and pancaking the structure into the ground below. As of Friday morning, four people were confirmed dead. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse, emergency workers were able to rescue at least 35 people from the rubble by midmorning, but as the day wore on, and the extent of the damage became clear, fears grew about the potential death toll.
“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.”
Officials said 55 of the 40-year-old building’s units went crashing to the ground in the middle of the night and roughly half of the seaside condo development’s 136 units were impacted by the collapse. “The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore away walls and ripped open some homes in the still-standing part of the building,” the Associated Press reported. “Television footage showed beds, tables and chairs inside. Air conditioners hung from some parts of the building, where wires dangled.”
“Early on, rescuers saved one boy whose fingers wiggled from atop the jumble of concrete and steel as he cried for help and passers-by tried to climb up to get him,” the New York Times reports. Specialized equipment was brought in to stabilize the building and assist rescue workers in finding missing persons while friends and family frantically tried to contact unaccounted-for loved ones. The complex was home to a mix of retirees and affluent professionals with young families, including many residents from Latin America and Surfside’s Jewish community. As many as 22 South Americans were counted as missing from the collapse—nine from Argentina, six from Paraguay, four from Venezuela, and three from Uruguay. The sister and family of the first lady of Paraguay were among the missing.
Structural engineers who observed video of the collapse speculated that the failure of a single column of the structure would have been sufficient to bring the building down. The exact cause of the collapse is not yet known. An attorney for the condo residents association said the building had “thorough engineering inspections over the last several months” in anticipation of the structure’s required 40-year recertification. A handful of the complex’s two-bedroom condos were on the market at the time of the collapse with asking prices between $600,000 and $700,000. Some roof repairs had been made to the building, but experts said it was unlikely that the repairs would be the cause of the structural failure.
This post has been updated with new information as it became available.