Rescuers are desperately searching for any survivors trapped in the rubble of a collapsed 12-storey residential building north of Miami. At least one person has been killed and 99 are still missing, officials say.
As families desperately wait for news, search teams have been working around the clock and have reported hearing people banging beneath the debris.
What caused the 40-year-old building to collapse early on Thursday morning remains unclear.
At least 102 people have now been accounted for, but it is uncertain how many were in the building when it came down. Dozens of people have been evacuated from what is left of the structure.
President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration for Florida, meaning the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help state agencies with the relief effort.
Overnight hundreds of rescuers used sonar cameras and specially trained dogs as they scoured the rubble for survivors. Teams were tunnelling from an underground car park below the building in an effort to reach victims.
“Fire and rescue are in there with their search team, with their dogs,” Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez told reporters late on Thursday. “They’re going to work through the night. They are not stopping.”
Search teams detected sounds of banging and other noises, but no voices coming from the tonnes of debris. But officials say the efforts are dangerous as further rubble could collapse on top of them.
“Any time we started breaching parts of the structure, we get rubble falling on us,” Ray Jadallah, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue assistant fire chief said.
Constant rain and storms are further complicating an already difficult task for the search-and-rescue teams.
Authorities have begun taking DNA samples from relatives of those still missing in case only remains of their family members are found in the rubble.
Families and friends of people that could have been at the partial collapse of the building in Surfside are waiting for information at the Surfside Community Center in Surfside, Florida, on 24 June 2021
Relatives of the missing have been huddled around a community centre a few blocks away, waiting for information and fearing the worst. They have been putting out appeals on social media for information that could help them find their loved ones.
Nicolas Fernandez said his calls to missing loved ones had gone unanswered.
“I think they’re gone,” he told CBS. “I don’t want to be pessimistic, but we’ve been calling them non-stop with no reply.”
Jenny Urgelles woke up to the news that her parents’ building had collapsed. She called them, but both their phones went straight to voicemail.
“I am holding on to hope. I’m very desperate to know what’s happening,” she told a local TV channel.
A large section of the oceanfront Champlain Towers in the town of Surfside crumbled to the ground in the early hours of Thursday.
Eyewitnesses described hearing what sounded like thunder before seeing a huge cloud of dust in the aftermath of the collapse. One compared the scene to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.
- A BBC report