SURFSIDE, Fla. – Two search-and-rescue teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency joined the mission on Thursday night to find survivors at the site of a partial building collapse in Miami-Dade County’s town of Surfside.
Shortly before 2 a.m., a part of the L-shaped Chaplain Towers South, at 8777 Collins Ave., crumbled. It was dark, cloudy, and windy. Residents of the 12-story building screamed for help. Nicholas Balboa, a neighbor, said he heard a boy.
“He was sticking his hand out through the rubble,” Balboa said. “He was just saying, ‘Please don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave me!’ I told him, ‘We are right here. We won’t leave you.’ That’s when I tried to signal a police officer and firefighters to get over there.”
Fire Rescue personnel had to evacuate the southern section and search for survivors in the northern area. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said there were 99 people unaccounted for and 102 survivors.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah said that at 6 a.m. his teams shifted operations from the inside of the building to underneath. The teams of 10 to 12 were tunneling through the debris listening for signs of life.
“All operations are occurring underneath the rubble,” Jadallah said. “They continue making cuts, britches and placing sonar devices, search cams to locate victims.”
Jadallah said a team heard a tapping, but they were uncertain if the sound was coming from a survivor.
State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said the “pancake effect” made the pile of rubble wider on one side, so this is where the search-and-rescue teams accessed the area.
“But when you are entering the building through that wider end, it’s also up against the building that’s standing, you have that delicate balance of trying to make a way in safely,” Patronis said.
The Red Cross established a short-term shelter and provided hotel rooms to the families impacted.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said there was ongoing roof work in the building, which was in the process of recertification. A concrete restoration project was also in the works.