SURFSIDE, Fla. – A burning electrical smell filled the air and photos of missing people hung on a fence Friday night near the rubble of a 12-story beachfront condominium building that collapsed just north of Miami early Thursday morning. Nearly 160 people are still unaccounted for and at least four are dead.
Thick smoke coming from the remains of Champlain Towers South darkened the sky and made it difficult to breathe. Officials said a fire continued to burn underneath the rubble, despite efforts to put it out.
At a Friday night press conference, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said there had been no change in the number of missing people, but rescuers remained hopeful survivors could be found. Levine Cava said rescuers were encouraged to hear "knocking sounds" and that people have been found alive more than a week after similar collapses.
"We are still working. We are working around the clock, and we have hope," Levine Cava said.
A wing of the residential building in Surfside, Florida, came down with a roar around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. On video footage captured from nearby, the center of the building appeared to fall first, with a section nearest the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighborhood.
"We sent the best people from FEMA down there," President Joe Biden said in Friday afternoon remarks. He promised federal help with housing and — if needed — a mortuary. "It's a tough, tough time. There's so many people waiting."
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told USA TODAY the rescue efforts will continue "until we pull everybody we can out of that rubble."
"We will not stop. You can count on us to continue this search until we find every person who's alive in that rubble."
More on the unaccounted for: What we know about those missing in the Miami condo building collapse
'Please don't leave me': Boy trapped in Florida condo rubble rescued by man walking dog
Some major developments:
►127 people have been accounted for, 159 are unaccounted for and four are dead, Levine Cava said.
►Surfside's building official said Friday he was on the roof of the Champlain Towers South 14 hours before it collapsed and said there was "no inordinate amount of equipment or materials" that would cause the building to collapse.
►Relatives issued a statement identifying one of the deceased as Stacie Fang. Her son, Jonah Handler, was rescued from the rubble hours after the collapse.
►Rescues crews encountered the three additional deaths while working overnight, Miami-Dade Fire official Raide Jadallah said. Rescuers are using light machinery to tunnel through the rubble underneath, and crews have heard sounds, though it's unclear what they were, he said.
►Gov. Ron DeSantis said he spoke Friday with Biden about the ongoing search and rescue effort and called for a "definitive explanation" as to what caused the collapse. He said at the moment the focus is still on the possibility that survivors could be found.
►Biden declared a state of emergency authorizing funding and other disaster relief to Surfside. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending support, Levine Cava said.
►The first lawsuit, seeking $5 million in damages for the victims of the condo collapse, was filed late Thursday. The lawyer who represents the owners of Champlain Towers South blasted it as "despicable," saying the board's Vice President remains missing.
►A study published in 2020 found the building was sinking at a rate of about 2 millimeters a year in the 1990s.
'We were racing against time': New Jersey family lives to tell of harrowing escape from collapsing Florida condo building
Here's what we know right now:
New Jersey family lives to tell of harrowing escape
Just after 1 a.m. Thursday, the balcony doors of the Aguero family's 11th floor Surfside oceanfront condo unit began to rattle and shake.
Albert Aguero and his wife were asleep in the master bedroom. Their 22-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, watching a Netflix Spanish teen drama, thought it was the beginning of a trademark South Florida summer thunderstorm.
Minutes later, Aguero was awakened by a loud thud. The condo walls shook. The unit's chandelier and pendant lights swung wildly. His wife, Janette, jumped out of bed to check on their children. Champlain Towers South was collapsing. Read more here.
– Ken Alltucker
Rescue crews use cranes, hands to clear rubble
Crews working systematically to clear the debris of the collapsed condo building and search for any signs of life picked through the rubble with their hands Friday afternoon.
Heavy machinery was also removing larger pieces of the building. Rain also soaked the crews on and off throughout the morning, turning heavy by afternoon. The smell of smoke was strong near a news media staging area.
"These first responders are going in through tunnels. They're working from the top. they're working rom the bottom. This has to be done very, very carefully," Levine Cava said at an afternoon news conference.
Jadallah said 130 firefighters were on the scene and more resources were expected. “We do not have a resource problem, we have a luck problem,” Burkett said.
"Debris is falling on them as they do their work. We have structural engineers on-site to ensure that they will not be injured, but they are proceeding because they are so motivated and they are taking extraordinary risk on the site every day,” Levine Cava said earlier in the day.
Federal scientists, engineers heading to Surfside
Federal scientists and engineers will head to Champlain Towers South to determine whether federal officials should conduct a full investigation, said Jennifer Huergo, spokeswoman for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Huergo said the team of six will arrive by Sunday and begin work immediately without interfering with search and rescue operations.
'What will I tell my son?': Family wrestles with missing mother and grandmother after building collapse in Florida
The federal agency was given more authority to investigate building collapses after several buildings fell in the 9/11 terror attacks. The standards institute also had a role in investigating other events, including a deadly Kansas City hotel walkway collapse and a deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire.
It could take several days to determine whether to conduct a full investigation. If it does, the organization would try to determine the technical causes of the collapse and recommend changes to building codes or practices, Huergo said.
– Mike Stucka
Lawsuit filed for condo victims seeking $5 million
What's believed to be the first lawsuit on behalf of victims of the Surfside collapse was filed late Thursday, seeking more than $5 million in damages. The class-action lawsuit on behalf of Manuel Drezner, a nearby property owner, and other victims "seeks to compensate the victims of this unfathomable loss."
The court filing alleges the condominium did not provide adequate protection for residents and visitors to the building, did not repair structural issues and failed to prevent the “catastrophic” collapse of the building. Read more here.
– Asha C. Gilbert
Did king tides, sea level rise contribute to collapse?
Saltwater and brine-soaked air settle into the pores of coastal construction, growing a rusty crust around the steel skeletons that reinforce oceanfront structures. It weakens the bonds between metal and concrete creating cracks and crumbles in vulnerable areas, such as balconies.
But some building experts wondered if the environmental assault supercharged by climate change could have played a role in the catastrophic collapse at Champlain Towers South Condo.
“Sea level rise does cause potential corrosion and if that was happening, it’s possible it could not handle the weight of the building,” said Zhong-Ren Peng, director of University of Florida’s International Center for Adaptation Planning and Design. “I think this could be a wake-up call for coastal developments.”
Albert Slap, president of Boca Raton-based RiskFootprint, said it can be invisible machinations – the push and pull of tides on limestone bedrock – combined with rising seas that can weaken a building’s integrity.
“Even if when the building was built in 1981 the foundation was dry most of the time, with sea level rise pushing groundwater up to the surface, the foundation could be wet enough long enough to soften the concrete,” Slap said.
– Kimberly Miller
Families still 'holding out hope' Friday morning
Some family members awaiting news on their unaccounted-for loved stayed overnight at the family reunification center. Others had just arrived Friday morning from out of state.
Ashley Dean rushed to South Florida from New Orleans after she received a frantic call from her sister’s husband Thursday as word spread of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South.
Dean’s sister, Cassandra Stratton, a yoga instructor, is among the 159 unaccounted for. Dean said Stratton lived on the fourth floor of the 40-year old building. Stratton's husband, Michael Stratton, flew in from Washington, D.C.
“We’re just holding out hope,” Dean said.
– Adam Regan
USA TODAY Investigation: Collapsed Miami condo had been sinking into Earth as early as the 1990s, researchers say
Hot and muggy morning for first responders
Rescuers will wrestle with typical South Florida summer weather through the weekend, including spotty morning showers.
The National Weather Service said temperatures would reach a high of 86º in Miami on Friday. Rain chances are between 50% and 70% through the weekend but accumulation amounts each day in the Miami area are expected to be a half-inch or lower.
Winds were also blowing 15 mph, with gusts up to 21 mph.
In the area around the building, the air was thick with debris and dust. The streets nearby were mostly empty except for emergency workers, news media and a few local residents milling about. The reunification center for people trying to find their families was still abuzz.
– Kimberly Miller and Wendy Rhodes
Family members swabbed for DNA at reunification center
After hours without any news Thursday afternoon, police officers arrived at the reunification center.
Officers told families they would come inside one at a time and, depending on what they were told, they would be swabbed for DNA on the police clinic van parked adjacent to the community center building.
Some broke out into tears upon emerging from the room. A young woman wearing a long white blouse and jeans fainted before making it to the van.
– Romina Ruiz-Goiriena
Investigators working to determine what caused the collapse
Authorities have yet to say what may have caused the collapse near 88th Street and Collins Avenue. Police blocked nearby roads, and dozens of fire and rescue vehicles, ambulances and police cars converged on the area.
A researcher at Florida International University said the building was constructed on reclaimed wetlands and was determined to be unstable a year ago. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said roofing work was being done on the building.
According to the Miami-Dade County Police Department, authorities will investigate the incident after search and rescue operations are completed, CNN reported.
Residential building was undergoing an inspection
Built in 1981, the building was only 40 years old. Florida requires all buildings and properties to be inspected every 40 years to be recertified and Miami-Dade County officials were in the process of inspecting the building before its collapse, town officials said Thursday.
The process involves electrical and structural inspections for a report to be filed with the town.
Engineers were coming through to inspect the building, said Oren Cytrynbaum, an attorney who owns two units in the building along with his family and wasn't there when it collapsed. According to Cytrynbaum, there were some repairs done to the roof before the fall but nothing else he was aware of.
"Bottom line is that's not an old building, and 40-year inspection or not, that kind of thing should not be happening," Mayor Charles Burkett said.
The 40-year building inspection and recertification rule in Miami-Dade County has puzzled many, but former Surfside mayor Paul Novack says it came about because of another building collapse, in 1974.
In that case, washed beach sand that still contained trace amounts of salt was used in the building’s concrete, causing it and the rebar inside to corrode over time, Novack said.
“At that time, engineers and building officials for the county decided to be sure that it didn’t happen again, so they decided to look at building every 40 years,” he said.
First responders 'not giving up' in search for survivors
Crews donning hardhats and accompanied by search and rescue dogs scavenging through the piles of concrete and cables searching for any signs of life. Thunderstorms, heavy damage and changing conditions hindered efforts to locate victims, but first responders were "not giving up" the search, said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett on CNN.
They looked for gaps in the wreckage and used a garage under the building as a tunnel system to maneuver throughout the building. Ray Jadallah, assistant fire chief of Miami-Dade Fire & Rescue, said earlier Thursday crews were using sonar equipment to detect any movements in the debris and ensure safety for crews.
The equipment detected what Jadallah said sounded like "banging."
"We did receive sounds, not necessarily people talking, but sounds," he said, describing it as possible banging under the layers of debris.
'The building is literally pancaked': Heartbreaking images capture the Surfside building collapse and rescue efforts
Who is missing in the frantic race for survivors
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett has confirmed that at least one person died. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said officials were able to account for 102 people thus far, but 159 were still unaccounted for.
Relatives of the first lady of Paraguay were among the 159 people who are unaccounted for, Leticia Robertti, a spokesperson for the Consul General of Paraguay in Miami, told USA TODAY.
They included the sister of the first lady, Sofia Lopez Moreira Bó, the sister's husband, Luis Pettengill, their three children and their nanny, lady Luna Villalba. Other Paraguayans were also among those unaccounted for.
About 20 Jewish people were also among the unaccounted for, including some with Israeli citizenship, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, Consul General of Israel in Miami, told USA TODAY.
Some residents had been plucked from the building by firefighters using ladders. Other searchers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to be dead. In one case, rescuers saved a mother and child, but the woman’s leg had to be amputated to remove her from the rubble.
Contributing: John Bacon, Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, Elizabeth Weise and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Miami building collapse: Surfside, Florida, condo search continues