Rescue crews on Friday continued to sift through the rubble of the partially collapsed oceanfront Florida apartment tower for any signs of survivors – as the official death toll stands at one, with 99 people unaccounted for in the disaster.
The likelihood of a far deadlier outcome emerged in the early morning when Miami Beach state Sen. Jason Pizzo visited the scene and said he watched bodies being removed from the remains of a large portion of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, near Miami Beach, the Miami Herald reported.
Pizzo said he saw staff under Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Dr. Emma Lew taking the remains of one person in a yellow body bag, while another body was marked for removal.
The grim scene unfolded as President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration, clearing the way for federal assistance in the state.
“The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts,” according to a White House statement early Friday.
Eleven people have been treated for injuries, four of whom were taken to local hospitals, officials said. The number of people who have been located stands at 102, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Danielle Levine-Cava, who said they were “declared safe.”
Some of the 99 people who remain unaccounted for may not have been in the building at the time of the collapse, she noted. It was occupied by a mix of full-time and seasonal residents and renters.
Raide Jadallah, assistant fire chief of operations for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said that 37 people were pulled from the partially collapsed, 136-unit building.
Meanwhile, scores of relatives awaited word on their loved ones at a family reunification center almost 24 hours after the 12-story building collapsed into a massive pile of rubble about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.
Among the missing are Myriam Caspi Notkin, 81, and her husband Arnold “Arnie” Notkin, 87, the Miami Herald reported.
North Miami Beach Commissioner Fortuna Smukler, who grew up with the Notkins’ three daughters about 50 years ago, told the paper that she began losing hope when she learned that the couple lived in apartment No. 302.
They’re an elderly couple and Arnie wasn’t walking well, Smukler told the Herald, adding that she has spoken to the devastated daughters.
“At this point it would be a miracle … we’re hoping for a miracle,” she said.
Also unaccounted for is 65-year-old mother and grandmother Judy Spiegel, NBC Miami reported.
“We’re just hoping and praying that we’ll have some type of good news and hoping for a miracle,” Spiegel’s daughter, Rachel, told the news outlet.
The missing woman’s husband said: “My wife Judy, she’s an amazing person, college graduate, Series 7 license, real estate philanthropist,” adding that “she’s a tireless fighter to raise the experience of patients in health care and she’s been amazing.”
What caused the 40-year-old building to collapse in a matter of seconds remains unknown, though local officials said the tower was undergoing roof construction and other repairs.
“Fire and rescue are in there with their search team, with their dogs. It’s a very dangerous site right now. Very unstable,” Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said Thursday. “They’re in search-and-rescue mode, and they will be in that mode for a while. They are not quitting. They’re going to work through the night. They are not stopping.”
Chilling footage captured by a nearby surveillance camera showed an entire side of the building crumbling in two sections, one after the other, in billowing clouds of dust that spread across the neighborhood.
“At first it sounded like a flash of lightning or thunder,” said Barry Cohen, a former Surfside vice mayor and building resident who was rescued along with his wife.
“But then it just kept on — steadily for at least 15 to 30 seconds — it just kept on going and going and going,” he said, adding that there had been construction for more than a month on the building’s roof.
Gov. Rob DeSantis told reporters late Thursday: “It’s a really, really tragic situation so we’ll hope for the best in terms of additional recoveries, but we are bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we’re seeing.”
With Post wires