SURFSIDE, Fla. – Firefighters continued to extinguish small fires on Friday night that were spontaneously igniting at the site of the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Miami-Dade County’s oceanside town of Surfside.
Thick smoke billowed and was irritating the eyes of some of the people who were in and near the site, at 8777 Collins Ave., where the search-and-rescue teams continued to work. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said there was still hope of finding survivors.
The rescue teams were using heavy equipment on the periphery of the pancaked concrete, and above they were working with dogs. Under the debris, rescuers with search cams and sonar devices tunneled through by making cuts and britches. The fires made the effort all the more dangerous.
“This is going to be constantly evolving with our searches, so any glimpse of hope we have, any signal that we see, that’s where we want our primary focus ... strategically we are starting to expand our search patterns,” Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan R. Cominsky said.
Levine Cava said four people died, 127 were accounted for, and the number of people who were unaccounted for increased from 99 on Thursday to 159 on Friday.
Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo Ramirez III said there was still “ambiguity” about who was in the building when the collapse happened.
“People rented there too,” Ramirez said.
There were fires on Thursday afternoon too. Paramedic Maggie Castro, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said structural engineers were at the site checking on the stability of what is left of the 12-story building.
“We have to start pulling some of the superficial metal from above and start looking for additional voids from above,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and a team from Israel joined the effort. Kevin Guthrie, the chief of staff for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said there are more teams on standby to rotate in as needed.
“There is multiple heaving equipment, cranes that we are bringing in ... to help remove the debris,” Cominsky said. “This is a very strategic methodical process.”
The Medical Examiner’s Office identified three of the four people dead, but they haven’t released their identities pending notification of next of kin. One of the victims died on the way to the hospital. Another was Stacie Fang, 15-year-old Jonah Handler’s mother.
Jonah was the rescuers saved boy on Thursday morning after Nicholas Balboa, a neighbor, said he heard him screaming for help, and ran over to see what he could do.
“He was sticking his hand out through the rubble,” Balboa said on Thursday. “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.”
The collapse was shortly before 2 a.m. on Thursday. The northeastern section of the L-shaped building crumbled and there was a pancake effect with a part of the building’s roof and the apartments’ ceilings. It was dark, cloudy, and windy. A fog of dust rose. It has rained off and on since.
Family reunification center
The town was hosting those who are waiting for information about unaccounted relatives after the partial collapse at Champlain Towers South at the community center at 9301 Collins Ave. On Friday, they moved the relatives to the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside at 9449 Collins Ave. Levine Cava said relatives had two daily briefings.
For information or to report the status of a loved one who is unaccounted for, call 305-614-1819 or 305-993-1071.
Coverage on Friday
Coverage on Thursday