Florida building collapse: 4 dead, 159 missing as survivor search continues

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SURFSIDE, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — 159 people are still missing as the search for survivors continues after part of a 12-story condo building in Florida collapsed. Officials confirmed that four people are dead and 127 people have been found.

They gave the same numbers out at a news conference just after 8 p.m. ET Friday as they had nearly 12 hours earlier.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava noted Friday night that rescue officials were still searching for survivors from the condo building collapse in Surfside, saying that a search and rescue mission was ongoing. Cava said authorities were providing briefings every four hours to waiting families in the reunification center.

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.

Survival odds are long, but not impossible. Former Miami-Dade Emergency Management Director Carlos Castillo said the first earthquake he responded to in 1988 taught him not to lose hope.

“Five days after the earthquake, we rescued a 60 year old woman that who survived,” he said on NewsNation Prime. “She lived off rainwater whenever she could, but she was able to survive.”

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.

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)

“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.

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.”

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

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.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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