After a partial collapse of a residential building caused at least one death and 99 people were missing, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida.
As rescuers searched and cleaned up debris throughout the night, there was growing concern that the death toll at the scene north of Miami might climb. Dozens of people were pulled out of the rubble.
Biden ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts. The White House issued a statement on Friday that the emergency operation authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate “all disaster relief efforts.”
Biden said: “No matter what help you want the federal government to provide, we are waiting, just ask us, we will be there, we will be there.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Miami-Dade County late Thursday, clearing the way for FEMA to go to the scene and provide assistance to rescuers and affected families.
“We still have at least 99 people missing,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference. She added that 102 people have been missing, which she called “very encouraging.”
Rescue authorities received a call early on Thursday morning and arrived in the seaside town of Surfside and found that the northeastern part of the 12-story Champlain South had collapsed.
Officials said rescuers had rescued 35 residents from the building, and two others were rescued from the rubble. Ray Jadallah, director of operations at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said that from around 6 in the morning, rescuers shifted their attention from inside the building to under the rubble.
Jadallah described these efforts as a slow and dangerous process and said that sonars, cameras and rescue dogs are being used on top of the rubble to find anyone trapped below.
“We did receive voices. It is not necessarily people talking, but voices; it sounds like people are beating,” Jadala said at a press conference. “Besides, we haven’t heard any sound coming from the pile.”
Officials said it is too early to know what caused the collapse of this apartment building built in the early 1980s. Miami-Dade County Police Chief Alfredo Ramirez said that once the search and rescue operation is completed, his detectives and state and federal authorities will begin investigating possible causes.
“I was awakened by thunder,” resident Barry Cohen told the BBC. “It looks like a bomb exploded: mud, dust, and smoke were everywhere. The entire building shook with the huge explosion.”