Miami building collapse: 99 people unaccounted for as rescuers continue search for survivors

Ninety-nine people remain unaccounted for and one person is dead after an apartment block partially collapsed near Miami – with footage showing a huge section of the 12-storey building being reduced to rubble as it crashed to the ground.

The number of missing was updated by police and Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava after officials initially said 51 people were unaccounted for.

Ms Levine Cava also said 102 people are accounted for and safe as the search continues for survivors in the rubble at Champlain Towers South in the town of Surfside, Florida.

The Jackson Memorial Hospital has confirmed it has received two patients from the site of the building collapse, which happened around 1.30am on Thursday local time (6.30am UK time).

Brian Fincheltub, Venezuela’s consular affairs director, said the country has identified four of its citizens who lived in the building and are missing. Argentina’s consulate in Miami said nine of its citizens who lived in the building are missing.

A family of three from Colombia are also missing and are feared to have been in the apartment block.

Luis Fernando Barth Gomez, his wife Catalina Barth Gomez and their 14-year-old daughter Valeria Barth Gomez were staying on the second floor of the building, a family spokesperson told NBC News.

Valeria was attending a tennis camp in South Florida. The family were last heard from at 8pm local time on Wednesday.

Colombia’s embassy in Miami has said six of its citizens are among those unaccounted for.

A UK Foreign Office spokesperson has said the department is working with authorities in Miami to establish if any British nationals have been caught up in the disaster.

US President Joe Biden spoke to Miami-Dade Mayor Levine Cava and offered federal assistance and support for dealing with the disaster.

A White House official said: “Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their beloved as a result of this horrific incident – and to those families who wait in anguish as search-and-rescue teams assess the situation.”

Footage from a nearby building appears to show the middle of the apartment block collapsing first, causing a huge cloud of dust as it is reduced to rubble in just a matter of seconds.

Another section then appears to sway slightly before crashing to the ground, leaving what seems to be around half of the building still standing.

Mrs Levine Cava posted on Twitter that she had signed a “declaration of local state of emergency” that will begin to allocate the necessary resources need to respond to the disaster.

She urged Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to do the same.

Mr DeSantis, who toured the scene of the catastrophe on Thursday afternoon, had earlier said officials were “bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we’re seeing”.

He added in a news conference: “We all woke up in the early morning hours to a tragic scene.

“We still have hope to identify additional survivors.”

Charles Burkett, the town’s mayor, confirmed in a news conference on Thursday morning that at least one person had died, while officials say 10 were injured.

Mr Burkett warned that the building manager told him the tower was quite full and the number of dead was likely to rise.

In an afternoon news conference held to provide an update on the tragedy, Mr Burkett told reporters: “It was something like I never believed could happen.

“It was a complete collapse of the building. I thought maybe a balcony had gone down, but we’ve got 134 units in that building, I understand, and literally half that building is not there anymore.

“We’re working hard… we’ve got resources like you can’t believe here, we’ve got the dogs, we’ve got the equipment and we’re going to do our very best to save as many people in that pile of rubble as we possibly can.”

More than 80 fire and rescue units were at the beachfront apartment block after the collapse, with images showing a pile of rubble and debris spilling down from what was left of the balconies of the building.

About 35 occupants who were trapped in the building were pulled from the rubble, a Miami-Dade Fire spokesperson said on Thursday morning.

NBC Miami showed a video of a boy, who appeared to be in his early teens, being pulled out alive by firefighters.

The footage shows a firefighter carrying the youngster over his shoulder after rescuing him from the rubble.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the victims”, said Alfredo Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department told a press conference.

Police have cordoned off nearby roads, with scores of fire and rescue vehicles, ambulances and police cars deployed in the area.

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 on to 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 Mr 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.

Mr Cohen said he raised concerns years ago about whether nearby construction might be causing damage to the building after seeing cracked paving on the pool deck.

Santo Mejil, 50, told the Miami Herald 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,” Mr Mejil told the newspaper.

He said she later called him and said rescuers were bringing her down.

Champlain Towers South was built in 1981 and has more than 100 residential units, according to NBC News.

It had a few two-bedroom units currently on the market, with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000.

The building is located across from a beach in the oceanfront community of about 6,000 people and police blocked nearby roads and traffic was being diverted early on Thursday.

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