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Rescuers Search For Survivors After Partial Collapse Of 12-Story Condo Near Miami

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Rescue crews worked through the early morning hours and all day today searching for survivors of a partial building collapse near Miami. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis toured the scene of the 12-story condominium in Surfside, and then he spoke to the media.

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RON DESANTIS: Right now, we have the fire rescue. They are in search and rescue mode. They are trying to identify survivors. I know they have made contact with some, and they are doing everything they can to save lives.

CHANG: One person is confirmed dead, but Miami-Dade's police director says nearly 100 people are still unaccounted for.

NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Surfside. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what happened exactly?

ALLEN: Well, it's around 1:30 in the morning, this 12-story condominium building in Surfside, just north of Miami Beach, collapsed just inexplicably without any kind of warning. A surveillance video captured the collapse. And what it shows is horrifying. It happened when people were asleep. They had no warning. It just came down. And this is part of a condominium complex called the Champlain Towers. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett went out to the scene by 2 a.m., says he was shocked by what he saw when he arrived there.

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CHARLES BURKETT: We've got 134 units in that building, I understand, and literally half of that building is not there anymore.

ALLEN: This is a 40-year-old building. Officials say they believe that 55 apartment units in the building collapsed in total.

CHANG: Incredible. And how are search and rescue efforts going at this point?

ALLEN: Well, it's been a very difficult situation, officials say. You know, the 12 floors in this one section of the condominium just pancaked, just went flat. And rescue crews have been on the scene since overnight using dogs, going carefully through the rubble - and also high-tech listening devices, sonar devices, listening for sounds. They didn't get any sounds from on top of the rubble. They went in underneath and are hearing some things.

But here's Miami-Dade County Assistant Fire Rescue Chief Ray Jadallah.

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RAY JADALLAH: The northeast corridor of the apartment had collapsed. Our units began search and rescue efforts. They pulled 35 occupants that were trapped inside the building.

ALLEN: They did get two people from the rubble earlier today. But since then, there's been very little success. They're now - been working in the parking garage and underneath, beginning to tunnel into the rubble. But this is a slow process, they say. With the rubble shifting, dust rains down the rescuers. A fire started at one point. So they have to go really slowly. And they say they have heard some sounds coming from the rubble. But so far, nothing since those two people from this morning.

CHANG: Well, were a lot of people able to get out on their own?

ALLEN: Right. Well, when this came down, people in the adjoining building - their building was damaged badly as well - a lot of those people heard the rumbling and rushed to safety. Rescue crews got 35 people out of that structure that was damaged. Sixty-three-year-old Barry Cohen was one of the people who was rescued.

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BARRY COHEN: I was in a deep sleep, and I heard what I thought was a crash of lightning. But the crashing noise didn't stop. And it just kept going and going and going for, I'd say, 20, 30 seconds.

ALLEN: Cohen and his wife rushed downstairs, but then they - he says they couldn't get out through the emergency door. They went down to the basement, which was flooding from broken pipes. So then they went back up to their apartment, where crews were able to rescue them from their balcony.

CHANG: That's absolutely horrifying. What do we know at this point about what may have caused a collapse like this?

ALLEN: Officials say that they don't really know at this point. It's kind of early. That will be the focus of an investigation by Miami-Dade County's police department. But right now, they're focused on the ongoing search and rescue mission and helping the people who are left homeless. And they're - they've also evacuated people from the adjacent buildings as a precautionary measure in the meantime.

CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Allen in Surfside, Fla.

Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.