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A 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed, killing at least 1, mayor says

Authorities in South Florida responded to a "partial building collapse" early Thursday morning, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said. CNN's Leyla Santiago reports.

Posted: Jun 24, 2021 11:50 AM
Updated: Jun 24, 2021 11:50 AM

Part of a 12-story residential building collapsed early Thursday in the South Florida town of Surfside, killing at least one person, a mayor said, and sparking an intense search and rescue effort.

Two people have been pulled from the rubble at Champlain Towers South, and 35 others have been evacuated from standing portions of the building since the collapse happened in darkness around 1:30 a.m., Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah said.

About 55 of the building's 136 units collapsed, Jadallah said, leaving huge piles of rubble below and materials dangling from the structure that remained in the beachfront community a few miles north of Miami Beach.

One person has died, Surfside Mayor Charles W. Burkett told reporters hours before Jadallah spoke.

"A massive search and rescue is underway, and we know we are going to do everything we can possibly to identify and rescue those who have been trapped in the rubble," Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Thursday morning.

Rescuers helped a boy from the debris alive, a witness said, and video showed responders helping others leave the standing portions of the building, sometimes using a bucket atop a fire truck's ladder. Jadallah did not speak about the conditions of the two people he said were pulled from the rubble.

Kimberly Morales told CNN she lives in a building across the street from the collapse and was awakened by alarms going off and pounding on her door.

"I woke everyone up in the room because when I looked out the window, I saw everyone outside," she told CNN. "I told everyone to hurry up and leave the building."

Morales said she didn't hear the collapse but when she went outside, she saw a significant portion of the building was missing. She's now in a community center with other evacuees, she said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said officials are hoping for additional rescues, but "we are bracing for some bad news, just given the destruction we're seeing."

Besides two people being taken to hospitals, 10 were assessed and treated at the scene, Jadallah said.

The building was undergoing roof work, but it's unknown whether this was a factor in the collapse, Burkett said.

Witness finds trapped boy and gets rescuers to him

Witness Nicholas Balboa told CNN he saw a boy's wriggling fingers sticking out of the debris shortly after the collapse -- a discovery that led to the child's rescue.

Balboa, who lives nearby, said he was walking his dog around 1:30 or 1:40 a.m. when he felt the ground shake and saw plumes of dust and debris. He and another man went to the back of the building. Just as he was doubting anyone could survive the collapse, he heard someone screaming, he said.

"Finally, I got close enough to hear him, and (the trapped boy) said, 'Can you see my hand?'" Balboa told CNN's "New Day."

"He was sticking his hand up ... through the debris. And I could see his hand and his fingers wiggling."

Balboa and the other man got a police officer to come over, and other rescuers eventually arrived, Balboa said.

The boy, who was under a mattress and bed frame when he was found, was pulled out, he said.

Video captured by ReliableNewsMedia shows rescuers helping a survivor out of the rubble -- it was not immediately clear if this was the boy that Balboa described.

A rescuer reached an arm under what looked like a collapsed wall, its reinforcing metal bars now pointing skyward, to help the survivor, who was wearing a dark shirt and pajama pants.

The survivor slowly leaned over, laying their body over a rescuer's right shoulder and draping their legs over the bigger person's chest, the ReliableNewsMedia video shows. Then, the survivor was lowered onto a white stretcher and helped the rescue team secure orange straps. The team carried the person away.

Shortly after that, at least six stories up, a trio of survivors and what looked like a dog climbed from a balcony into the bucket atop a fire truck's elevated ladder. The bucket then slowly descended.

Levine Cava, the Miami-Dade County Mayor, said a family reunification hotline has been set up for people trying to get information about their loved ones who may have been in the building: 305-614-1819.

Resident looked down hallway and 'there was nothing there'

Barry Cohen was in his apartment on the building's third floor when the collapse happened. His apartment was intact, but when he opened his door and tried to leave, he "looked down the hallway ... and there was nothing there," he said.

"It was just a pile of dust, and rubble," Cohen told CNN's "New Day."

As he waited for rescue, the building was shaking, he said.

"Knowing what it looked like outside my door, I thought that any minute we could be that same pile of rubble," he said.

After about 20 minutes, a rescue crew used a cherry picker to help him, his wife and another resident from a balcony, he said.

'We just see a cloud of dust coming our way'

Shmuel Balkany was on a walk with his brothers and dog when "we hear a really big rumble," he told ReliableNewsMedia.

"And we think that it was a motorcycle -- like, classic, early in the morning -- and we turn around and we just see a cloud of dust coming our way. And we're just like, what is going on? So we, like, we start rushing towards there. We pull our shirts over our face so we don't get any, like, dust, in our eyes and everything."

"What we saw from the beginning was a huge cloud of smoke and a lot of noise," added Mich Balkany, who was also on the walk, ReliableNewsMedia reported.

"We saw this happen. It was by far the most horrific thing that I've seen. I was alive for 9/11. I didn't see that happen in real life. I saw something like this happen and it's the closest thing that I can relate to 9/11," Mich Balkany said. "This is something that is absolutely insane ... insane, insane, insane, insane."

Added Shmuel Balkany: "We have friends who have family that live in the building. We don't even know if they're OK. Some of them are OK. We don't know if the rest are OK."

"It's very shocking. We're shook. We're pretty shook. It's not, like, processing in our minds yet," Shmuel Balkany said.

David Shaw was visiting from Alabama when "the building next door to us fell down," he told ReliableNewsMedia.

"The building shook, and then I looked out the window. You couldn't see. I thought it was, like, a storm or something coming in," he said. "When the dust cleared, the back ... two-thirds of the building was gone, it was down to the ground."

Fire department personnel soon knocked on Shaw's door, telling him to evacuate. "So we just got our stuff together and left," he said, then walked away rolling a suitcase and carrying two luggage bags.

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