SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — About 160 people were still unaccounted for Friday after an oceanside condominium building collapsed into a smoldering pile of rubble, and searchers using both heavy machinery and their own hands to comb through the shifting heap of concrete and metal feared the death toll of four could soar.
With scores of firefighters working overnight in Surfside to reach any possible survivors from under and atop the remains of the 12-story Champlain Towers South, hopes rested on how quickly crews using dogs and microphones could complete their grim, yet delicate task.
“Any time that we hear a sound, we concentrate in that area,” Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said. “It could be just steel twisting, it could be debris raining down, but not specifically sounds of tapping or sounds of a human voice.”
Buffeted by gusty winds and pelted by intermittent rain showers, two heavy cranes began removing debris from the pile using large claws Friday morning, creating a din of crashing glass and metal as they picked up material and dumped it to the side.
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, according to video released by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.
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.
Nearby, visitor Faydah Bushnaq of Sterling, Virginia, knelt on the beach and scratched “Pray for their souls” in the sand.
“We were supposed to be on vacation, but I have no motivation to have fun,” Bushnaq said. “It is the perfect time to say a prayer for them.”
Three more bodies were removed overnight, and Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said authorities were working with the medical examiner’s office to identify the victims. Eleven injuries were reported, with four people treated at hospitals.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella 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.
With searchers using saws and jackhammers to look for pockets large enough to hold a person, Levine Cava said there was still hope of finding people alive.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami Beach told the Miami Herald he watched as tactical teams of six worked to sift through the debris. He said he saw one body taken in a yellow body bag and another that was marked. They were taken to a homicide unit tent that was set up along the beach.