Rescuers have heard potential signs of life coming from the Miami building rubble as the death toll rises and 159 people are now declared missing.
Rescue crews have heard potential signs of life coming from the rubble of the partially collapsed oceanfront Florida apartment tower.
The official death toll has risen to four, and the number of people unaccounted for has been increased to 159, believed to include several Australians.
“We do have 120 people now accounted for, which is very, very good news. But our unaccounted for number has gone up to 159,” Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference. “We will continue search and rescue because we still have hope that we will find people alive.”
Ms. Cava described the dedication of the dozens of rescuers on-site as “incredibly moving.” “They are totally, totally motivated to find people. They have to be pulled off the shift,” she said.
US President Joe Biden declared an emergency early Friday in response to the disaster, ordering federal assistance for the relief effort.
Erick de Moura, 40, happened to spend Wednesday night at his girlfriend’s house, so he was not present at the time of the collapse. “I just came back, and the scene is shocking,” he said. “There is a lot of pain. I’m blessed that I am alive.” Search teams detected sounds of banging and other noises but no voices coming from the mounds of debris.
Miami resident Joseph Waks said he had not been able to contact an elderly Australian couple who were believed to have been inside the Surfside apartment building.
“I am originally from Australia — we have friends who live in that building from Australia, and they are unable to be communicated with,” Mr. Waks said. “They both became grandparents yet again a few hours before the tragedy.”
Mr Waks told Nine News the couple were from Sydney but had lived in Melbourne and split their time between Australia and Miami.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it was aware of reports that Australians may have been involved in the collapse.
“The Australian embassy in Washington is closely monitoring developments and making urgent enquiries to determine if any Australians were affected,” a spokesperson said.
The likelihood of a far deadlier outcome has now emerged, with Miami Beach state senator Jason Pizzo visiting the scene and saying he watched rescuers “pull bodies” from the remains of a large portion of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, near Miami Beach, the Miami Herald reported.
RELATED: 99 missing in Miami building collapse
The grim scene unfolded as US President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration, clearing the way for federal assistance in the state.
“The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts,” according to a White House statement early on Friday US time.
Eleven people have been treated for injuries, four of whom were taken to local hospitals, officials said. The number of people who have been located stands at 102, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Danielle Levine-Cava, who said they were “declared safe.”She noted that some of the 99 people who remain unaccounted for may not have been in the building at the time of the collapse. It was occupied by a mix of full-time and seasonal residents and renters.
Raide Jadallah, assistant fire chief of operations for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said 37 people were pulled from the partially collapsed, 136-unit building.
Meanwhile, scores of relatives awaited word on their loved ones at a family reunification center almost 24 hours after the 12-story building collapsed into a massive pile of rubble about 1.30am Thursday.
Among the missing are Myriam Caspi Notkin, 81, and her husband Arnold “Arnie” Notkin, 87, the Miami Herald reported. North Miami Beach Commissioner Fortuna Smukler, who grew up with the Notkins’ three daughters about 50 years ago, told the paper that she began losing hope when she learned that the couple lived in apartment number 302.
They’re an elderly couple, and Arnie wasn’t walking well, Ms. Smukler told the Herald, adding that she has spoken to the devastated daughters. “At this point, it would be a miracle … we’re hoping for a miracle,” she said. Also unaccounted for his 65-year-old mother and grandmother Judy Spiegel, NBC Miami reported.
“We’re just hoping and praying that we’ll have some type of good news and hoping for a miracle,” Ms Spiegel’s daughter, Rachel, told the news outlet.
The missing woman’s husband said: “My wife Judy, she’s an amazing person, college graduate, Series 7 license, real estate philanthropist,” adding that “she’s a tireless fighter to raise the experience of patients in health care and she’s been amazing.”
What caused the 40-year-old building to collapse in a matter of seconds remains unknown, though local officials said the tower was undergoing roof construction and other repairs.
“Fire and rescue are in there with their search team, with their dogs. It’s a very dangerous site right now. Very unstable,” Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said on Thursday. “They’re in search-and-rescue mode, and they will be in that mode for a while. They are not quitting. They’re going to work through the night. They are not stopping.”
Chilling footage captured by a nearby surveillance camera showed an entire side of the building crumbling in two sections, one after the other, in billowing clouds of dust that spread across the neighborhood.