Surfside survivors: Man says all he saw was ‘white clouds of dust’

A man living on the first floor of the Sunrise condominium building that collapsed describes his escape.

SURFSIDE, Fla. – A man who lives on the first floor of the Champlain Towers South building told Local 10 what he heard that woke him up early Thursday morning as the

After sounds of what he described as loud rumbles and bangs, he looked out of his back window and saw what he said was an area above the parking deck that had collapsed. He said he then went outside to take a look to see what was happening.

“Two minutes later, I hear this large rumbling noise out of nowhere and I just see white clouds of dust coming out. I told me and my mom and sister to start running – all we could see was this white dust, thick. We couldn’t breathe and it was really bad.”

The former vice mayor of Surfside Barry Cohen said he and his wife were sound asleep when he heard what he thought was a crack of thunder early Thursday. They got up, opened the door leading to their hallway and faced a pile of rubble and billowing smoke.

“I couldn’t walk out past my doorway,” said Cohen, 63, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”

Trying to get out, Cohen said he and his wife tried to take stairs down to the pool area, only to find that door wouldn’t open. They descended to the basement and found rising water there.

The couple returned upstairs and screamed for help, they told the Associated Press. They were eventually brought to safety on a cherry-picker that firefighters used to lower people to the ground, he said.

According to Surfside Mayor Charles W. Burkett, firefighters treated 10 people at the scene. He said two people were taken to hospitals, one of whom died while being transported, and 15 families walked out of the building on their own.

A total of 35 people were rescued from the building and many others remain unaccounted for.

Numbers of victims and survivors continue to come in as this story develops.

About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

Michelle F. Solomon is a multi-platform producer/reporter for Local10 and is the podcast producer/reporter/host of the station's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and producer of's DigiShorts.