Miami building collapse: Rescuers using machinery and dogs to focus on sounds as 159 remain missing

Authorities have identified one of the people killed by the collapse

Graig Graziosi
Saturday 26 June 2021 03:51
Florida rescue crews search through night after Miami building collapse
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Rescuers searching for survivors in the twisted wreckage of an apartment building that collapsed just outside of Miami have started using dogs and heavy machinery in their bid to save lives.

Nearly 160 people are unaccounted for, and another four have died as a result of the collapse in Surfside, Florida.

One woman, Stacie Fang, has been confirmed dead. Her teenage son, Jonah Handler, was rescued from the rubble.

The 12-storey Champlain Tower South collapsed at 0130 local time [0530 GMT] on Thursday, with more than half the building crumbling into a smoldering pile of rubble.

On Thursday, rescue crews brought dogs and heavy machinery in to assist with the effort. Authorities on site say they still have hope they will find survivors amid the rubble.

In addition to the heavy machinery, rescue crews are also using technology that allows them to detect sounds beneath the rubble to help them pinpoint where survivors might be trapped.

Rescuers have reported hearing noises beneath the debris, though those sounds may be the result of twisting metal and shifting rubble.

Torrential rainfall has added to the difficulty of the rescue mission, though officials have insisted that the rain will not stop them.

However, the storms in the area may bring lightning, which could bring the rescue efforts to a halt due to the metal in the rubble and the potential for fuel and other accelerants in the rubble to be ignited by a lightning strike.

Rescue crews have already had to put the search on hold twice due to lightning.

President Joe Biden authorised the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to assist with the rescue operation, joining state and local rescue crews in the effort.

One resident, who spoke with The Associated Press, said he heard a crack that sounded like lightning around 0115 local time [0515 GMT]. When he went to his balcony, the resident saw dust in the air. After looking out his apartment's front door, he saw that half the building had collapsed.

The resident was eventually rescued by firefighters using a cherry picker. About 55 of the 130 apartments were lost in the collapse.

The son of a woman who is still missing in the collapse said his mother called him the day before, complaining about loud “creaking noises” that woke her up.

“She just told me she had woken up around 3 [or] 4 in the morning and had heard like, some creaking noises,” Pablo Rodriguez told CNN. “They were loud enough to wake her.”

He said that after visiting the site of the collapse, he had “no hope” that his mother and grandmother, who is also missing, will be found alive, noting that they lived in the section of the building that “pancake” collapsed.

Fernando Velasquez said his 66-year-old brother Julio, his sister-in-law Angela and their daughter Theresa, who was visiting from California, were in the building when it fell. “I miss my brother very much. I talk to him almost every day,” said Mr Velasquez, of Elmhurst, New York. “His call was always a welcoming call. But I know he’s in heaven, because he was in love with Christ. If he is gone, he is in a much better place.”

Rachel Spiegel described her mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, who was among the missing, as a loving grandmother known for chauffeuring her two granddaughters everywhere, advocating for Holocaust awareness and enjoying chocolate ice cream every night. “I’m just praying for a miracle,” Ms Spiegel said. “We’re heartbroken that she was even in the building.”

Euclides Acevedo, Paraguay’s foreign minister, said members of Paraguay’s president Mario Abdo Benítez’s family are among those missing after the collapse.

The minister said government authorities were “frantically” searching Miami hospitals and communicating with US officials to locate the president’s family members.

Nicolas Fernandez, speaking with USA Today, said he has been desperately trying to locate family friends who lived in the building.

“Since it happened, I’ve been calling them nonstop, just trying to ring their cellphones as much as we can to help the rescue to see if they can hear the cellphones,” Mr Fernandez said.

More than 130 firefighters are involved in the rescue effort, many of whom are removing rubble by hand or using light equipment like shovels and handsaws.

Surfside's mayor, Charles Burkett, told The Associated Press that the city did not have a resource problem, but a "luck problem”.

Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade, said despite the risks associated with the rescue operation, responders are continuing through the night and the inclement weather to try to find survivors.

"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," she said.

Ms Cava said she, and the rescuers, are still hopeful that they will find survivors. Two survivors, one of them a young boy, have already been pulled from the rubble.

A pregnant British mother, her husband and their daughter are believed to be among those still missing.

People with loved ones in the building have been waiting at a nearby reunification site, providing on-site officials with DNA swabs which could be used to help identify individuals who were killed in the collapse.

Senator Marco Rubio's office has been working to obtain emergency visas for individuals from more than a dozen countries who have family living in the building.

"Many are starting to or have already arrived in South Florida," the senator said in a tweet.

Images of the collapse were shared on news outlets and across social media on Thursday and Friday. One video, from a security camera over a set of nearby pools, shows half the building sliding off and crumbling into a cloud of dust.

Other images, captured by photographers at the scene, showed personal items hanging from the debris, including children's bunk beds, sheets, and other household items.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that the images could not properly capture the devastation at the site.

“The TV doesn’t do it justice,” Mr DeSantis said. “It is really, really traumatic to see the collapse of a massive structure like that.”

He thanked Mr Biden for "stepping up the plate" and providing federal aid for the rescue effort.

While the initial focus is rightly on the rescue of survivors in the rubble and, later, on the recovery of those who died, officials are already demanding an investigation into how the building could have collapsed.

Mr DeSantis said the families of the victims and survivors "have a right to know" what went wrong.

"We need a definitive explanation for how this happened," the governor said.

The structure was built in 1981 and recently passed a 40-year inspection, according to an attorney representing the company that owns the building.

A researcher at the Florida International University told USA Today that the building has been sinking into the surrounding wetlands at a shocking rate since the 1990s.

Barry Cohen, one of the building's resident and a former vice mayor of Surfside, said he raised concerns years ago about cracks in the pavement by the condo's pool, suggesting that nearby construction was undermining the structural integrity of the building.

There is no indication currently that those factors played into the collapse, and the attorney representing the owners of the building has vehemently condemned those positing potential reasons for the collapse prior to an investigation.

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