Families Pray for ‘Miracle’ With 159 Missing in Florida Condo Collapse

By Reuters
Reuters
Reuters
June 25, 2021 Updated: June 25, 2021

SURFSIDE, Fla.—Rescue workers scouring the debris of a collapsed condo building in a Miami suburb said they heard sounds in the rubble overnight, as officials on Friday raised the number of people unaccounted for to 159 and the confirmed death toll to four.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters that three more bodies were pulled from the wreckage overnight. Another person was reported to have died on Thursday. The mayor also said the number of presumed missing had increased from the 99 reported missing on Thursday.

“I’m praying for a miracle,” Rachel Spiegel, whose mother, Judy Spiegel, is missing, told CNN on Friday.

The last time Spiegel communicated with her mom was Wednesday night, when her mother excitedly texted her that she had bought a dress online for Spiegel’s daughter, her granddaughter.

Hours later, early Thursday morning, a large section of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, authorities said.

“The dress is in the mail and I just want my mom to give it to her,” Rachel Spiegel told CNN, wiping away tears.

ambulence at collapsed florida condo
Emergency crews continue search and rescue operations near Miami Beach, Fla., on June 25, 2021. (Octavio Jones/REUTERS)

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jadallah said on Friday that rescuers had heard sounds in the rubble overnight, but said it could be either falling debris or people tapping.

Video captured by a security camera nearby showed an entire side of the building suddenly folding in two sections, one after the other, at about 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, throwing up clouds of dust.

“We are listening for sounds, human sounds and tapping,” Jadallah said, as rescuers use shovels and jackhammers to tunnel under the debris to find pockets where survivors could be.

On Thursday, search teams detected sounds of banging and other noises but no voices coming from the mounds of debris.

Mariela Porras, a friend of a woman who lived in the building with her young daughter and is now missing, said she has not abandoned hope that the two were still alive beneath the rubble.

“I vacillate between hope and I’m heartbroken,” Porras told CNN.

Porras said she has called, texted, and visited a reunification center, but has not heard from her friend, a photographer who was working to get a real estate license.

‘We Still Have Hope’

Cava on Friday said that rescue teams were “incredibly motivated” to find anyone who might have survived the collapse.

“We still have hope that we will find people alive,” the mayor said.

Partial building collapse near Miami Beach
A partially collapsed building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Fla., on June 25, 2021. (Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department/Handout via Reuters)

President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration in the state of Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts.

“The president’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts,” the White House said on Friday.

What caused the 40-year-old high-rise to cave in was not immediately known, although local officials said the 12-story tower was undergoing roof construction and other repairs.

Cava told reporters on Thursday that 99 people remained unaccounted for, although some may not have been in the building at the time of the disaster.

Another 110 individuals whose whereabouts were initially unknown have since been located and “declared safe,” she said.

A fire official said earlier that 35 people were evacuated from the section of the high-rise left standing, and response teams using trained dogs and drones in the search pulled two individuals from the rubble. One of them was dead.

Officials said the complex, built in 1981, was going through a recertification process requiring repairs, with another building under construction on an adjacent site.

The Champlain Towers South had more than 130 units, about 80 of which were occupied. It had been subject to various inspections recently due to the recertification process and the adjacent building construction, Surfside Commissioner Charles Kesl told Miami television station WPLG Local 10.

By Francisco Alvarado

Reuters
Reuters