4 dead, 159 unaccounted for as Florida condo collapse survivor search continues

SURFSIDE, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — 159 people are still missing as the search for survivors continues Friday after part of a 12-story condo building in Florida collapsed. Officials confirmed that four people are dead and 120 people have been found.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava noted Friday that rescue officials were still searching for survivors from the condo building collapse in Surfside, saying that a search and rescue mission was ongoing.

Rescue teams are using sonar devices to listen for signs of movement in the rubble, but Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah at a news conference said they do not hear voices and that more than 130 firefighters were working at the site.

“We did receive sounds. Not necessarily people talking, but, sounds,” Jadallah said. He said the bangs could be people, but there’s no way to be sure.

Jadallah said when rescue crews would hear a sound, they would focus their resources on that area.

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Crews are now facing the perilous task of creeping through the compromised Champlain Towers South Condo. A video posted on Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Twitter page shows responders knee-deep in water working on a section of the building where the roof has sunk to eye-level.

“Every time we make a breach underneath the ground we do have some debris that rains down on the firefighters,” Jadallah said.

President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration in the state of Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts. FEMA staff began arriving at the scene overnight.

Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said they are working with the medical examiner’s office to identify the four victims.

One couple that escaped the collapse said they were worried they were trapped when they went to the bottom floor only to find that pool of water.

“I couldn’t walk out past my doorway,” said Barry Cohen, 63, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”

The couple returned upstairs, screaming for help. There were eventually brought to safety on a cherry-picker that firefighters used to lower people to the ground, he said.

This aerial photo shows part of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo that collapsed early Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla. (Amy Beth Bennett /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

The first crews to arrive at the scene told their dispatch it looked like 9/11.

“I see many people on their balconies,” the first responder told dispatch. “The building is gone, there’s just nothing. I mean it almost resembles the [World] Trade Center.”

The big question is why the building collapsed, and Cava was not ready to answer that at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“We want to understand what happened but also what risks there might be for the remaining buildings,” she said. “So it’s a structural engineering question.”

Miami-Dade police will not begin their investigation into the cause until the search and rescue teams finish their mission.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis, who toured the scene, 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,” he said.

Community leaders are stepping up to help victims’ families. Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro and assistant coaches Chris Quinn and Eric Glass donated a truck with food and water.

“This has been a very sad day for us in our community,” Miami-Dade Board Chairman Jose Diaz said. “But it’s also a day that we can see this community come together and provide the very best in support of a very bad and ugly situation.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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