FL Condo Collapse: Death Toll Rises to Four, 159 Missing

June 25, 2021
Officials said rescuers were still searching for survivors in the rubble of the collapsed Surfside condo tower, cutting through concrete and using infrared cameras, sonar and specially trained dogs.

SURFSIDE, FLThe arduous and heartbreaking task of recovering the bodies of victims at the site of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside began overnight and continued into a somber Friday morning in an unfolding tragedy that is feared to be the worst building failure in Florida history.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava said Friday morning that the number of people who are unaccounted for in Thursday’s building collapse increased to 159 — dramatically higher than the 99 reported earlier. The official death toll rose to four.


She said 120 people are now accounted for but stressed that all the numbers are “fluid” because some residents may not have been in the building when it collapsed.

“Unfortunately, this has been a tragic night,” Levine Cava said, while stressing that rescuers will “continue searching because we still have hope that we will find people alive.”

The list of unaccounted people was compiled from missing person reports and data collected at the reunification site at the Surfside Community Center.

No additional survivors have been found since Thursday morning.

State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also serves as the state fire marshal, said on CNN early Friday morning the rescue mission would continue into the day, with search-and-rescue teams from Naples and Orlando coming to relieve Miami-Dade searchers who had been working their way through the rubble for more than 24 hours.

He said search and rescue teams were using everything at their disposal in the desperate search for life, cutting into the concrete with saws and using infrared cameras after boring through holes in the rubble, along with sonar and specially trained dogs. And when they think they have heard a noise, often the dozens of workers on site will go still and silent in the hope of figuring out where it came from, he said.

“The live active rescue will continue,” Patronis said without going into how long he thinks a person can survive under the debris. “The families deserve it.”

So far, since a child and his mother were rescued on Thursday morning, workers had not found any survivors under the tons of shattered concrete and rebar at Champlain Towers South condo.

Miami Beach Sen. Jason Pizzo was at the scene overnight Thursday and into early Friday morning, where he watched as tactical teams of six worked to extricate bodies from the rubble.

He saw one body taken in a yellow body bag and another that was marked.

A homicide unit tent was set up along the beach, Pizzo said, and staff under Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Dr. Emma Lew were carrying the yellow bags.

A short distance away at the Surfside Community Center, dozens of families were maintaining a vigil at the family reunification site 24 hours since the building partially collapsed. A gust of wind and rain forced people seated outside the center to take refuge under the building’s central walkway.

Close to midnight, it was a soggy scene. Some relatives of the victims, who had been there since Thursday morning, were awaiting results to DNA swabs that would help identify their loved ones. Volunteers continued to bring in food, and others offered T-shirts, towels and blankets.

On television, Local 10 cameras captured the scene as one body wrapped in a yellow bag was brought out of the debris.

After the rain subsided, dust and smoke from the ongoing work on the debris pile had not settled.

At about the same time, President Joe Biden signed an order declaring a disaster in Florida and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide financial and logistical support to local officials and individuals. Earlier on Thursday, Levine Cava and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed their own disaster declarations, triggering the process for the president to activate FEMA’s response.

Surfside is now a warren of coned-off streets, one-ways, and detours as crews limit access to the site. Harding Avenue, the usually bustling commercial southbound route parallel to Collins Avenue, was completely cleared of any parked cars.

Day began breaking over the site around 6 a.m., the rising sun partially obscured by plumes of dust and ash as crews continued to try to drill their way into the collapsed structure. Another small fire appeared to have broken out, filling the air with an acrid, smoky scent.

The cause of the 12-story oceanfront condo’s collapse is unknown at this early stage. About 70 of the Champlain Towers South’s 130 apartments were destroyed or damaged, according to Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management.

The property, at 8777 Collins Ave., a block north of Miami Beach, was completed in 1981.

Previously, the worst building failure in Florida happened that same year.

The five-story condominium called Harbour Cay in Cocoa Beach collapsed March 27, 1981, due to multiple construction and design problems just as workers were pouring concrete for the roof slab, according to Florida Today. The building “pancaked,” killing 11 people and injuring 23 others.

Late Thursday, a lawyer representing a proposed class of Champlain Towers South homeowners filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claiming the condo association failed “to secure and safeguard the lives and property” of lead plaintiff Manuel Drezner and other residents. Drezner was not in the condo building when it collapsed.

“As a lawyer, I can’t fix what is irreparable,” said attorney Brad Sohn. “But what I can do is fight to immediately fully compensate these victims so that they can focus all of their energy on healing as best they can. Our investigation continues, but we strongly believe this was preventable.”

Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.


©2021 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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