Surfside Condo Collapse Death Toll at 4, With 159 Unaccounted For As Search Continues

Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said they are working with the medical examiner’s office to identify the victims

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What to Know

  • Scores of firefighters toiled to locate and reach anyone still alive in the remains of the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside Friday
  • The condo building collapsed early Thursday, leaving at least four people dead
  • Miami-Dade's mayor said 159 people remain unaccounted for

Rescuers used both heavy equipment and their own hands to comb through the wreckage of the collapsed Surfside condominium on Friday in an increasingly desperate search for survivors as nearly 160 people remained unaccounted for and the death toll stood at four.

After working throughout the night, search and rescue teams were continuing to sift through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference Friday.

"We will continue search and rescue because we still have hope that we will find people alive," the mayor said.

The bodies of three more victims were found at the site, bringing the death toll to four, while the number of people unaccounted for rose to 159, Levine Cava said. She said 127 people have been accounted for.

Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said they are working with the medical examiner’s office to identify the four victims.

On Friday, the first victim was identified as Stacie Fang, the mother of 15-year-old Jonah Handler, who was rescued from the rubble of the building early Thursday.

NBC 6's Ari Ozer is at Surfside where he spoke to some of those desperate to hear about their loved ones.

Many people remained at the reunification center set up near the collapse site Friday, awaiting results of DNA swabs that could help identify victims.

"These are very difficult times, and things are going to get more difficult as we move forward," Ramirez said.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue assistant Chief Ray Jadallah said 130 firefighters were working on rescue operations at the site, and they were receiving additional resources from FEMA.

Crews were using dogs and microphones to sift through the wreckage and try to find signs of life, Jadallah said.

“Every time we hear a sound, we concentrate on those areas,” he said.

NBC 6's Willard Shepard has more on the procedure of the search and rescue for more people in the building collapse.

Heavy machinery was brought to the site Friday to help with the search and removal of debris. Two heavy cranes began removing debris from the pile using large claws, creating a din of crashing glass and metal as they picked up material and dumped it to the side.

Levine Cava said rescuers were at “extreme risk” going through the rubble.

"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.

Pictures Show Aftermath of Miami Beach Condo Building Collapse

Once the machines paused, firefighters wearing protective masks and carrying red buckets climbed atop the pile to remove smaller pieces by hand in hope of finding spots where people might be trapped. In a parking garage, rescuers in knee-deep water used power tools to cut into the building from below.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said crews were doing everything possible to save as many people as they could.

“We do not have a resource problem, we have a luck problem,” he said.

The 12-story building collapsed into rubble early Thursday, pancaking into a pile of concrete and metal more than 30 feet high at Collins Avenue and 88th Street.

Officials said no cause for the collapse has been determined.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said it was important to get timely answers on how the collapse happened for the victims' families.

"We need a definitive explanation for how this could have happened," DeSantis said.

Video of the collapse showed the center of the building appearing to tumble down first and a section nearest to the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later, as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighborhood.

About half the building’s roughly 130 units were affected, and rescuers pulled at least 35 people from the wreckage in the first hours after the collapse.

Desperate to be reunited with their loved ones, family members are gathering at the reunification center established at 9301 Collins Avenue for news about their relatives' whereabouts and condition. NBC 6's Ari Odzer reports.

Early Friday, crews were still fighting flareups of fires on the rubble piles. Intermittent rain over South Florida was also hampering the search.

Jadallah said that while listening devices placed on and in the wreckage had picked up no voices, they had detected possible banging noises, giving rescuers hope some are alive. Rescuers were tunneling into the wreckage from below, going through the building's underground parking garage.

Personal belongings were evidence of shattered lives amid the wreckage of the Champlain, which was built in 1981 in Surfside, a small suburb north of Miami Beach. A children's bunk bed perched precariously on a top floor, bent but intact and apparently inches from falling into the rubble. A comforter lay on the edge of a lower floor.

DeSantis said he spoke with President Joe Biden Friday and said the president reiterated that the state has the full support of the federal government.

Biden had declared an emergency in Florida early Friday to send assistance after the tragedy.

"We feel like we have all hands on deck to assist with the search effort," DeSantis said. "Nobody is quitting here."

NBC 6 and AP
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