SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — A wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed in a town outside Miami early Thursday morning, killing at least one person while trapping residents in rubble and twisted metal. Scores of rescuers pulled survivors from the debris as a cloud of dust floated through the neighborhood.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett warned during a news conference that the building manager told him the tower was quite full and the death toll was likely to rise.
“The building is literally pancaked,” 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.”
Ten people were treated at the scene and two were brought to the hospital, one of whom died, Burkett said, adding that 15 families walked out of the building on their own.
Work is currently being done on the building’s roof, but Burkett said he did not see how that could have caused the collapse. Authorities did not say what the cause may be.
The collapse left a number of homes in the still-standing part of the building exposed. Television footage showed bunk beds, tables and chairs still left inside. Air conditioner units were hanging from some parts of the building, where wires now dangled.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve never seen anything like this happen,” the mayor said.
Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were asleep in the building when he first heard what he thought was a crack of lightning. The couple went onto their balcony, then opened the door to the building’s hallway to find “a pile of rubble and dust and smoke billowing around.”
“I couldn’t walk out past my doorway,” said Cohen, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”
He and his wife eventually made it to the basement and found rising water there. They returned upstairs, screamed for help, and were eventually brought to safety by firefighters using a cherry-picker.
Cohen said he raised concerns years ago about whether nearby construction might be causing damage to the building after seeing cracked pavers on the pool deck.
Santo Mejil, 50, told the Miami Herald that his wife called him from the building, where she was working as an aide for an elderly woman.
“She said she heard a big explosion. It felt like an earthquake,” Mejil told the newspaper. He said she later called him and said rescuers were bringing her down.
Miami Dade Fire Rescue was conducting search and rescue operations, and said in a tweet that more than 80 units were “on scene with assistance from municipal fire departments.”
Police blocked nearby roads, and scores of fire and rescue vehicles, ambulances, and police cars swarmed the area. Teams of firefighters walked through the rubble, picking up survivors and carrying them from the wreckage.
“We’re on the scene so it’s still very active,” said Sgt. Marian Cruz of the Surfside Police Department. “What I can tell you is the building is 12 floors. The entire backside of the building has collapsed.”
The collapse appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower. Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area just outside the building, and cars up to two blocks away were coated with a light layer of dust from the debris.
The seaside condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside. It had a few two-bedroom units currently on the market, with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000.
The area has a mix of new and old apartments, houses, condominiums, and hotels, with restaurants and stores serving an international combination of residents and tourists. The community provides a stark contrast from the bustle and glitz of nearby South Beach with a slower-paced neighborhood feel.