Florida condo collapse: Four dead, 159 remain unaccounted for as search continues
SURFSIDE, Fla. - First responders continued the search for survivors more than 24 hours after a large portion of a South Florida condominium collapsed early Thursday morning.
What caused part of the 12-story building to collapse was still unclear, and the governor said it could remain unclear for some time.
On Friday morning, authorities said three bodies were found in the wreckage, bringing the death toll to four.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a press conference that 127 people remain accounted for. Now, 159 are still missing, that's an increase from the 99 previously listed as unaccounted for on Thursday night.
The first victim who died at Aventura Medical Center following collapse was identified as 54-year-old Stacie Fang, reports WSVN. Her cause of death was due to blunt force injuries, according to the Medical Examiner.
Her family sent the following statement:
"There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie. The members of the Fang and Handler family would like to express our deepest appreciation for the outpouring of sympathy, compassion and support we have received. The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time. On behalf of Stacie's son, Jonah, we ask you now to please respect our privacy to grieve and to try to help each other heal."
The Washington Post reports that Fang's sister, Virginia Borges, was searching for information on Fang on Thursday. She told the Post that Fang's son was one of two people pulled from the rubble before sunrise Thursday.
The other three victims who died have not been publicly identified.
At least 60 firefighters have been working alongside four rescue dogs. There is a parking garage under the condo building that firefighters have been able to tunnel through and get to some of the units. They're using sonar and fire rescue says firefighters have heard sounds of people banging, but not voices.
Overnight, President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency in response to the collapse. The declaration commits resources from FEMA as well as the Department of Homeland Security and enables both bodies to assist in relief efforts. Local authorities said FEMA officials have started arriving to the Surfside scene.
The Champlain Towers South Condo was built in 1981 and was in the process of mandatory recertification. Surfside City Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told WPLG that the building’s county-mandated 40-year recertification process was ongoing. Salzhauer said the process was believed to be proceeding without difficulty. A building inspector was on-site Wednesday.
"I want to know why this happened," Salzhauer said. "That’s really the only question. ... And can it happen again? Are any other of our buildings in town in jeopardy?"
RELATED: Search for survivors continued overnight after South Florida condo collapse
Officials said it didn’t have any known problems. About half of the building's roughly 136 units were affected.
At least 35 people have been pulled from the rubble alive. Officials fear the death toll will rise.
MORE: Florida professor: Surfside condo showed signs of sinking, but that wouldn't be only cause for collapse
Governor Ron DeSantis issued an emergency declaration order to help families impacted by the tragedy. The move opens up federal aid that can be used to help them find new homes.
Search crews are using sonar equipment to help locate people. K9s are also playing an important role in these types of missions.
MORE: Inside the search for survivors after devastating partial collapse of South Florida condo
A beachfront condo building partially collapsed Thursday around 1:30 a.m. outside Miami. with one side sheared away. A wing of the 12-story building in the community of Surfside came down with a roar, with one side sheared away.
Officials did not know how many were in the tower when it fell.
"The building is literally pancaked," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said. "That is heartbreaking because it doesn’t mean, to me, that we are going to be as successful as we wanted to be in finding people alive."
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said as the building shifted, a small fire broke out in the rubble mid-afternoon, but was extinguished within 20 minutes.
Roof work was being done for at least 30 days, but it’s unclear if it’s connected.
"But there is roof work being done all the time," Burkett said. "It looks like a bomb went off. Buildings don’t just fall down like this. We just don’t have any answers right now but we’ll find them. We’ll get them."
Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro was seen with assistant coaches Chris Quinn and Eric Glass lending a helping hand Thursday afternoon. The Heat trio was training Thursday morning before they decided to head to the disaster site, where they helped load a truck with water, food, and other essentials.
Hours after the collapse, searchers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to be dead. In another case, rescuers saved a mother and child, but the woman’s leg had to be amputated to remove her from the rubble, Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade emergency management, told the Miami Herald.
Video showed fire crews removing a boy from the wreckage, but it was not clear whether he was the same person mentioned by Rollason. Teams were trying to enter the building from a parking garage beneath the structure.
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.
RELATED: How long can survivors of Miami high-rise collapse survive under rubble?
Teams of 10 to 12 rescuers at a time entered the rubble with dogs and other equipment, working until they grew tired from the heavy lifting, then making way for a new team, said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the state’s fire marshal.
"They’re not going to stop just because of nightfall," Patronis told Miami television station WPLG. "They just may have a different path they pursue."
Patronis said he was deeply moved by the image of a bunk bed near the now-exposed top of the building.
"Somebody was probably sleeping in it," he said. "There’s all those what-ifs."
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, creating a layer of dust on vehicles within two blocks.
Rubble hangs from a partially collapsed building in Surfside north of Miami Beach, on June 24, 2021. - The multi-story apartment block in Florida partially collapsed early June 24, sparking a major emergency response. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP)
Work was being done on the building’s roof, but Burkett said he did not see how that could have been the cause.
Hotels opened to some displaced residents, the mayor said, and deliveries of food, medicine, and more were being hastily arranged.
The tower has a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, and while the building keeps a log of guests, it does not keep track of when owners are in residence, Burkett said.
Courtesy Jimmy Patronis
Fortuna Smukler posted about the disaster on Facebook, hoping that someone would know the whereabouts of Myriam Caspi Notkin and Arnie Notkin, an elderly couple who lived on the third floor.
Arnie Notkin spent years teaching physical education at a local elementary school, said Smukler, a North Miami Beach commissioner who is friends with Myriam Notkin’s daughters.
"He was such a well-liked P.E. teacher from people’s past," she said. "Everyone’s been posting, ‘Oh my god, he was my coach.’"
"It would be a miracle if they’re found alive," she added.
Nicholas Fernandez spent hours after the collapse trying to call two friends who were staying in the building with their young daughter. The family had come to the United States to avoid the COVID-19 outbreak in their home country of Argentina, said Fernandez, of Miami.
"The hope is that, perhaps, someone hears the call. I know there are dogs inside," he said. "I know it may sound ridiculous what I’m saying but there’s always hope until we hear different."
A total of 22 South Americans were missing in the collapse — nine from Argentina, six from Paraguay, four from Venezuela and three from Uruguay, according to officials in those countries.
The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore away walls and ripped open some homes in the still-standing part of the building. Television footage showed beds, tables, and chairs inside. Air conditioners hung from some parts of the building, where wires dangled.
Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were asleep in the building when he first heard what he thought was a crack of thunder.
The couple went onto their balcony, then opened the door to the building’s hallway to find "a pile of rubble and dust and smoke billowing around."
A family reunification center was set up for anyone looking for unaccounted or missing relatives. Authorities said if anyone has family members that are unaccounted for or are safe, call 305-614-1819.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.