What to know as search for survivors of Florida condo collapse continues

A view of the 12-story condo tower that partially collapsed in Miami, Florida, shown on June 24, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Saul Martinez

The frantic search for survivors in Surfside, Fla., continued Friday, June 25, 2021, at the site of a condo building collapse that killed four people and left 159 others missing.

Engineers have begun investigating the cause of the collapse, but officials say determining what led the 40-year-old, 12-story building to partially fall will take time.

The building’s residents reflect the Miami area’s diversity. Among those missing reportedly included citizens of Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela, and Israel.

Here’s what you need to know about the situation:

Q: What is known about the collapse?

A: A portion of Champlain Towers South, north of Miami Beach, caved in around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. The collapse destroyed 55 of the building’s 136 units without warning, while many inside were asleep.

The collapse happened in less than 30 seconds, leaving a cloud of gray dust billowing over a massive pile of concrete, steel and other debris. A man staying at a nearby hotel shared video of the aftermath on social media.

“We were right there on the second floor,” he said. “The building, one of these huge buildings, gone, right here beside us. The craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Q: How is the search for survivors going?

A: The disaster has prompted a massive ongoing search-and-rescue effort, now on its second day. Firefighters and other first responders who arrived on the scene within about 30 minutes of the collapse first used ladders to reach survivors trapped in the building.

A young boy was among those rescued early Thursday morning. Video showed him being pulled from the beachfront building’s rubble. His mother remained missing as of Thursday.

Witnesses initially described hearing more cries for help from the wreckage. Authorities say 120 people have been accounted for, but 159 people remain missing as of Friday morning.

Fire department officials said the search for survivors has been made more complicated by small blazes erupting in the debris. Officials said rescue workers were also in the tower’s basement parking garage, where there was heavy damage and constantly changing conditions.

President Joe Biden early Friday approved an emergency declaration in Florida, allowing federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to assist in relief efforts.

Q: What caused the collapse?

A: Engineers have begun investigating the cause of the collapse, but officials say determining what led the tower to partially fall will take time.

Champlain Towers South passed a roof inspection on Wednesday, Surfside Vice Mayor Tina Paul told The Washington Post. Kenneth Direktor, an attorney for the building’s condominium association, said it also recently underwent a routine inspection, which is required once structures hit the 40-year mark.

The Post has not yet reviewed a copy of that report. Direktor called its findings “fairly typical” for a building of its age, adding there was nothing that pointed to issues of structural integrity.

“Something horrible happened,” Direktor told The Post. “This isn’t the result of hairline cracks in the concrete.”

According to a 2020 research paper, the structure, which was built on reclaimed wetlands, has been sinking since the 1990s. Shimon Wdowinski, one of the paper’s authors, told USA Today that researchers found the building had “some kind of unusual movement.”

“I looked at it this morning and said, ‘Oh my God.’ We did detect that,” Wdowinski told the paper.

Officials have not commented on the report’s findings.

Q: Is there any information about the victims?

A: Officials as of Friday morning have not identified the four people killed.

Firefighters have rescued 35 people from inside the building as of Thursday, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Ten of those were injured, and two more were pulled from the wreckage and transported to hospitals, where one died.

Families of some of the missing described an agonizing wait for information on their loved ones. A family reunification center was set up in Surfside on Thursday.

The building’s residents reflected the Miami area’s diversity. Among those missing reportedly included citizens of Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela and up to 20 from Israel, although Israeli authorities later said they believe the number to be lower. Relatives of Silvana López Moreira, the first lady of Paraguay, are among the missing. A synagogue near the collapsed tower, the Shul, released a list of members who are missing.

Brad Cohen, an orthopedic surgeon, remains unaccounted for along with Arnie Notkin, a well-known physical education teacher.

Adriana Chi told The Post her brother, Edgar Gonzalez, a 45-year-old lawyer, was among the missing. He was home with his wife and daughter when the building collapsed, she said. The wife and daughter were hospitalized, but Gonzalez still had not been located as of Thursday.

“I’m just trying to find somebody who can tell me if they saw him or where he is,” Chi said.

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