Surfside, Florida | US authorities remained without news Thursday of 99 people after the dramatic collapse of an apartment building near Miami, which raised fears of heavy casualties as rescue workers excavate rubble.
At least one person died in this unexplained disaster so far.
“102 people have been located … and they are fine,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniela Levine Cava said at a news conference.
“We are still without news of at least 99 people,” she added, adding that the US Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had been called to the rescue.
Among the missing are 20 Latin Americans.
“We are preparing for bad news, given the level of devastation,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned. President Joe Biden told him that the federal state was ready to help with emergency relief and resettlement operations.
She told press-elect Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was brought back to the scene, that seeing “the traces of people who lived their daily lives and that everything, everything evaporated in an instant, is so overwhelming.”
One person has died, according to Charles Burkett, mayor of the town of Surfside, where the Champlain Towers South complex is located in Florida, in the southeastern United States.
The twelve floors collapsed at about 1:30 a.m. (05:30 GMT), according to witnesses and released a large cloud of dust over several blocks.
“I was in a deep sleep, and I heard a loud crash, which I mistakenly thought was a collision and lightning. But it went on, for 15-20 minutes I say,” Barry Cohen, 63, a resident of the building, testified and had collapsed.
Among the missing are several nationals of Latin American countries, including nine Argentines, three Uruguayans and six Paraguayans. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, Euclid Acevedo, the sister of Paraguay’s First Lady, Silvana López Moreira, and her family confirmed.
Nicholas Fernandez, an Argentine who lives in Miami, told AFP that his family’s friends were staying at the compound. I haven’t heard of them. I don’t know if they’re alive or… ”, the 29-year-old stammered.
“It’s like a terrible nightmare,” said Viviana Peña, the niece of one of the residents of the building.
‘Hope is fading’
“You never know, between the holidays and like…so we’re waiting. Unfortunately, even if there’s still some hope, hope is fading,” Miami-Dade County Sheriff Sally Heyman said on CNN.
The collapse of an entire wing of the oceanfront resort affected about 55 apartments, Miami-Dade County Vice President of Rescue Services Ray Gadallah said at a press conference, adding that 35 people were evacuated from the building, including some from the collapsed part.
Daniela Levine Cava said Surfside is home to a “predominantly Jewish community,” where rabbis have been mobilized to provide support to the evacuee Jewish residents and their families.
The Jewish Telegraph Agency reported in 2018 that the city north of Miami Beach has approximately 2,500 Jewish residents and a population of 6,000.
Ms Levin Kava said that in addition to “hotel rooms”, evacuees were receiving “medicine, blankets and clothes” after being evacuated in the middle of the night.
A neighborhood resident, Santo Miguel, was pleased to tell the newspaper on Thursday morning Miami Herald that his wife – a domestic help – was in the building when it collapsed.
She said she heard a big explosion. It was like an earthquake,” he said with tears in his eyes as his wife called him to tell him they would be evacuated.
The reasons are still unknown
Daniela Levine Cava told the Miami Herald Daniela Levine Cava that the causes of the apartment complex’s collapse were still “unknown” Thursday morning.
Several officials said work is to raise it to the required level, particularly on the roof of the building, however they consider it unlikely that they were the cause of the collapse.
Emergency services dispatched nearly 80 response units to the scene near the beach.
Andrew Hyatt, another Surfside official, said the research could take “at least a week”.
Local media reported that the building was built in 1981 and includes more than 130 apartments.