Miami-Dade mayor says 159 unaccounted for in condo collapse, four dead

SURFSIDE, Fla. (Reuters) -Rescue workers scouring the debris of a collapsed condo building in a Miami suburb said they heard sounds in the rubble overnight, as officials on Friday raised the number of people unaccounted for to 159 and the confirmed death toll to four.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters that three more bodies were pulled from the wreckage overnight. Another person was reported to have died on Thursday. The mayor also increased the number of presumed missing after authorities put the number at 99 on Thursday.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jadallah said they heard sounds in the rubble overnight, but said it could be either falling debris or people tapping.

"We are listening for sounds, human sounds and tapping," he said, as rescuers use shovels and jackhammers to tunnel under the debris to find pockets where survivors could be.

On Thursday, search teams detected sounds of banging and other noises but no voices coming from the mounds of debris.

Early that morning, a large section of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, a barrier island town across Biscayne Bay from the city of Miami, crumbled to the ground, authorities said.

Footage captured by a security camera nearby showed an entire side of the building suddenly folding in two sections, one after the other, at about 1:30 a.m. (0530 GMT), throwing up clouds of dust.

Cava on Friday said that rescue teams were "incredibly motivated" to find anyone who might have survived the collapse.

"We still have hope that we will find people alive," the mayor said.

U.S. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration in the state of Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts.

"The president's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts," the White House said on Friday.

What caused the 40-year-old high-rise to cave in was not immediately known, although local officials said the 12-story tower was undergoing roof construction and other repairs.

Cava told reporters on Thursday that 99 people remained unaccounted for, although some may not have been in the building at the time of the disaster.

Another 110 individuals whose whereabouts were initially unknown have since been located and "declared safe," she said.

A fire official said earlier that 35 people were evacuated from the portion of the high-rise left standing, and response teams using trained dogs and drones in the search pulled two individuals from the rubble. One of them was dead.

Officials said the complex, built in 1981, was going through a recertification process requiring repairs, with another building under construction on an adjacent site.

The Champlain Towers South had more than 130 units, about 80 of which were occupied. It had been subject to various inspections recently due to the recertification process and the adjacent building construction, Surfside Commissioner Charles Kesl told Miami television station WPLG Local 10.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Peter Szekely in New York; additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Mike Collett-White and Jonathan Oatis)

06/25/2021 13:16

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