June 25 (Reuters) – Rescue workers scouring the debris of a collapsed condo building in a Miami suburb said they heard sounds in the rubble overnight, as officials on Friday raised the number of people unaccounted for to 159 and the confirmed death toll to four.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters that three more bodies were pulled from the wreckage overnight. Another person was reported to have died on Thursday. The mayor also said the number of presumed missing had increased from the 99 reported missing on Thursday.
“I’m praying for a miracle,” Rachel Spiegel, whose mother Judy Spiegel is missing, told CNN on Friday.
The last time Spiegel communicated with her mom was Wednesday night, when her mother excitedly texted her that she had bought a dress online for Spiegel’s daughter, her granddaughter.
Hours later, early Thursday morning, a large section of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, a barrier island town across Biscayne Bay from the city of Miami, crumbled to the ground, authorities said.
“The dress is in the mail and I just want my mom to give it to her,” Rachel Spiegel told CNN, wiping away tears.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jadallah said on Friday that rescuers had heard sounds in the rubble overnight, but said it could be either falling debris or people tapping.
Video captured by a security camera nearby showed an entire side of the building suddenly folding in two sections, one after the other, at about 1:30 a.m. (0530 GMT) on Thursday, throwing up clouds of dust.
“We are listening for sounds, human sounds and tapping,” Jadallah said, as rescuers use shovels and jackhammers to tunnel under the debris to find pockets where survivors could be.
Mariela Porras, a friend of a woman who lived in the building with her young daughter and is now missing, said she has not abandoned hope that the two were still alive beneath the rubble.
“I vacillate between hope and I’m heartbroken,” Porras told CNN.
Porras said she has called, texted and visited a reunification center, but has not heard from her friend, a photographer who was working to get a real estate license.
‘WE STILL HAVE HOPE’ Mayor Cava on Friday said that rescue teams were “incredibly motivated” to find anyone who might have survived the collapse.
Emergency personnel continue to search at the site of a partially collapsed building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Florida, U.S., June 25, 2021. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department/Handout via REUTERSRead More
“We still have hope that we will find people alive,” the mayor said.
She said on Thursday that 110 individuals whose whereabouts were initially unknown have since been located and “declared safe.”
A fire official said earlier that 35 people were evacuated from the section of the high-rise left standing, and response teams using trained dogs and drones in the search pulled two individuals from the rubble. One of them was dead.
U.S. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration in the state of Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts.
“The president’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts,” the White House said on Friday.
What caused the 40-year-old high-rise to cave in was not immediately known, although local officials said the 12-story tower was undergoing roof construction and other repairs.
Space-based radar data showed that the land underneath the building was sinking during the 1990s, according to a 2020 study. That by itself would not cause a building’s collapse but it is worth investigating further, according to Florida International University professor Shimon Wdowinksi, one of the study’s authors.
The sinking, or subsidence, underneath the building amounted to 1 to 3 millimeters per year, which could add up to several inches over a decade, according to the study.
Late Thursday night, a resident of the collapsed building filed what is believed to be the first lawsuit against the condominium, the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association.
Manuel Drezner said in the proposed class action that the collapse could have been avoided had the condominium made needed repairs and ensured it was safe.
He said the condominium should pay unit owners millions of dollars for their “unfathomable loss.”
Officials said the complex, built in 1981, was going through a recertification process requiring repairs, with another building under construction on an adjacent site.
The Champlain Towers South had more than 130 units, about 80 of which were occupied. It had been subject to various inspections recently due to the recertification process and the adjacent building construction, Surfside Commissioner Charles Kesl told Miami television station WPLG Local 10.
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