A 12-story oceanfront condo tower partially collapsed early Thursday morning on Collins Avenue in the town of Surfside, spurring a massive search-and-rescue effort with dozens of rescue crews from across Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Part of Champlain Towers South Condo, completed in 1981 with more than 100 units at 8777 Collins Ave., collapsed around 2 a.m. A portion of the building facing the beach crumbled, leaving a heap of rubble.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett confirmed that 10 people were treated for injuries on-site, two transported to the hospital, and at least one person has died. Authorities anticipate more fatalities.
“They brought dogs who can sniff for survivors in the rubble,” said Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer. “They aren’t turning up very much. No one is celebrating anyone being pulled out.”
Several people have gathered at the town’s community center, where the Red Cross is assisting those who are waiting to hear about missing loved ones.
Salzhauer said the building was beginning its 40-year recertification, and the building’s roof was being redone, but it is unknown if any construction activity contributed to the disaster.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the county’s Fire and Rescue Department was taking lead in rescue operations, with city and county first responders on the scene. She said “cause unknown” as to the partial collapse of the building.
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Santo Mejil, 50, was roused out of bed when his wife called from a unit on the ninth floor of the south condo, one of three buildings that make up the Champlain Towers complex. She is an overnight caretaker for an elderly disabled woman.
“She said she heard a big explosion. It felt like an earthquake,” Mejil told the Miami Herald.
As he recounted rushing over to the beach from their home near Miami International Airport, his phone rang. It was his wife.
“They’re bringing you down?” he said. Tears welled in his eyes. “Thank God.”
Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, of district four, told the Herald multiple people have been taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital and other nearby hospitals. She said there are search dogs combing through the rubble.
Move away, the building is going to collapse
Adriana Chi waited outside Jackson’s Ryder Trauma Center shortly before 7 on Thursday morning, worried about two relatives inside and another she can’t locate.
She said her brother, sister-and-law and teenage niece live in a ninth-floor unit there. She was able to speak to her niece ahead of her emergency surgery at Ryder. She said the 16-year-old recalled being awoken by her mother to a shaking building, then had the sensation of the floor giving way.
“She felt the building shake,” said Chi, a nurse practitioner. “Then everything collapsed.”
Chi said her sister-in-law, a psychologist, was brought to Ryder as well but she doesn’t know the whereabouts of her brother, a lawyer.
Chi said her father has owned the unit for about 30 years. She said leaks were a chronic problem, leading to a nagging worry for her.
“The last time I was there, I looked at him and I said: ‘I am serious,’” she recalled between tearful cellphone calls by hospital’s driveway and hugs with other family members gathered outside. “‘This building is going to collapse.’”
It defies everything that we know
A South Florida-based home insurance inspector who asked not to be named said she had visited Champlain Towers in February 2020 to verify impact windows and doors for a client.
She said while the building is coming up on its required 40-year inspection, the building is reinforced concrete and should not have collapsed the way it did.
“As someone who has been in this business for years, it defies logic,” she said. “It defies everything that we know.”
The area around 88th Street and Collins and Harding avenues have been shut down for several blocks. Dozens of fire engines and rescue vehicles are lining the streets. According to the county’s fire rescue call list, 113 Fire-Rescue units are on scene.
Photos and videos from the scene show piles of rubble from the collapse. It appears the collapse affected half of the tower. A source involved with the county’s response told the Herald that the portion of the building that collapsed had 45 units.
“Over 80 MDFR units … are on scene with assistance from municipal fire departments,” Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said in a statement on Twitter. The response included technical rescue teams.
The building is a block north of Miami Beach city limits. The town of Surfside runs along Collins Avenue, south of Bal Harbour. Condos and motels line Collins Avenue. [MiamiHerald]
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