At least 159 missing after partial building collapse near Miami

By Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 6:57 a.m. ET, June 26, 2021
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8:40 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

President Biden approves federal emergency aid

President Biden has approved an emergency declaration for the state of Florida.

"The president’s action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts, which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Miami-Dade County,," a FEMA press release states.

FEMA is now on the ground in Surfside to assist in the response to the catastrophic collapse of the Champlain Towers South building.

Florida's FEMA Director, Kevin Guthrie, said he received the emergency declaration from FEMA shortly after midnight. Guthrie said the declaration will turn on debris removal, emergency protective measures and individual assistance for reimbursement.

The FEMA state regional coordinator, who was the first to arrive, was on the scene around 3:00 a.m. ET.

9:16 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

People from these Latin American countries are missing following the building collapse 

From CNN en Español's Gerardo Lemos and CNN's Radina Gigova

Authorities from several countries in Latin America have confirmed that nationals from their respective countries resided or were in the building in Surfside, Florida, that collapsed early Thursday. 

Here is the breakdown:

  • Paraguay: 6 nationals missing, including Paraguayan First Lady Silvana López Moreira's sister, brother-in-law and their three children.
  • Colombia: 6 nationals resided in the building.
  • Venezuela: 6 nationals are missing.
  • Argentina: 9 nationals are missing.
  • Uruguay: 3 citizens are missing.
8:46 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

"A delicate balance of saving lives, while risking lives," search and rescue supervisor details efforts

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Firefighters wait in a truck near the site of a building that partially collapsed on Thursday.
Firefighters wait in a truck near the site of a building that partially collapsed on Thursday. Wilfredo Lee/AP

As the search continues for the 159 unaccounted people after a partial collapse of a residential building in Surfside, Florida, Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis says the crews are being “innovative.”

“We're even going and looking at the license plates of the cars that are in the parking garage to try to do more cross-referencing and matching to verify if people are in or out of the building,” he told CNN.

Talking to families waiting for an answer in such a situation is “tough,” he added.

“That's about the hardest place I've ever dealt in my entire life was was meeting with the families there. But we have got to get the answers to understand who could still be in the building,” he said Friday.

Working through such a building presents unique challenges.

“You got a lot of other combustible materials that, eventually, they will catch to a point where they will ignite. Well now, you are adding water to the building to control a fire, while men and women are saving lives and that water adds a tremendous amount of weight. It then, challenges the integrity of what is still standing there. And then, that delicate balance of saving lives, while risking lives," he said.

A team of 80 people is involved in this effort and crews from Orlando and Naples will also join in later today, Patronis said, adding that the one mission of the crew is to save lives.

“We’re going to do everything, put every effort of our energy into saving the lives in that building, and the families deserve it. The people deserve it," he said.

8:13 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

Almost 30 hours after collapse, rescue crews are still frantically searching for survivors, fire marshal says

From CNN's Melissa Alonso 

Miami-Dade County rescue teams are still battling fires, water and shifting materials at the at the Surfside collapse site almost 30 hours after the building crumbled to pieces in the middle of the night, Florida State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis told CNN's Sanjay Gupta Friday morning.

"You get a lot of lithium-ion batteries and other combustible materials that eventually they will catch to a point where they will ignite," he said. 

Crews are using search dogs to comb through the rubble "and of course listening for anything that could be a clanging, but as you're pumping water out, you're also shifting materials that creates a ripple effect and you're competing with all the noise of the equipment," said Patronis. 

"They're doing the best they can with what they've got, [its] a tremendous risk," Patronis added. 

"You're adding water to the building to control the fire while men and women are saving lives, and that water adds a tremendous amount of weight. It then challenges the integrity of what's still standing there, and then that delicate balance of saving lives while risking lives," Patronis said. 

Patronis said added "they're being innovative." Crews are "looking at the license plates of the cars that are in the parking garage to try to do more cross-referencing and matching to verify that people are in or out of the building as you assemble this manifest, [and] as you talk to the loved ones in the unification center," said Patronis. 

"We had every department in this region in response, but the skill set that these men and women have are unique," said Patronis of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue teams. "They are...built to go from building to building after hurricane disaster, manmade or natural, they're used to digging through debris to find lives."

Rescue teams from Orlando and Naples are expected to arrive later today to supplement the rescue efforts.

8:16 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

SOON: Miami-Dade County officials will give updates at a press conference

A dog walks with rescue workers among the rubble where a wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed on Thursday in Surfside.
A dog walks with rescue workers among the rubble where a wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed on Thursday in Surfside. Lynne Sladky/AP

The frantic search for dozens of missing people has been underway overnight after a residential building partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, early Thursday.

Miami-Dade County officials are expected to give updates at a press conference at 8 a.m. ET.

At least four people are dead, according to county officials, and at least 11 were injured in this incident.

The cause of the collapse is also unknown. Authorities will investigate the possible cause after the search and rescue operation is completed.

8:16 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

At least 4 dead after Surfside building collapse, county mayor says 

From CNN’s Rosa Flores, Gregory Lemos and Tina Burnside

Four people have died from the Surfside building collapse according to Rachel Johnson, spokesperson for Miami-Dade Mayor’s office.

The mayor of Miami-Dade told ABC that three bodies were pulled from the Champlain Towers South wreckage overnight, though none of them have been identified.  

“Tragically, I woke up to learn that three bodies had been pulled from the wreckage overnight,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” 

Levine Cava said the development is “devastating news for families waiting for any hope for survival.”

She confirmed there are now four total dead, but said she is “very hopeful” there are people who can still be rescued. 

The mayor said 102 people have been accounted for, “and that number is way up from the original count so we are very, very grateful.”

7:56 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

Biden is expected to speak about the building collapse today

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

President Biden is receiving updates on the building collapse in Surfside, Florida, an administration official says, and is expected to address the tragedy again later today at the White House. 

Overnight, the President’s decision to declare a state of emergency in Florida — which immediately authorizes federal assistance for the Surfside building collapse — came after a day of discussions between the White House and the office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

More on this: An official request for assistance must come from the governor’s office. Throughout the day on Thursday, that did not occur, which struck officials in the White House as unusual. When CNN asked Biden around 5 p.m. on Thursday whether he had spoken to DeSantis, he said: “No, I haven’t yet. I’m waiting on a call from him if he needs the help. We told him it’s available. My team has gotten in touch. I have not yet personally spoken to him. 

That changed late Thursday evening when the governor’s office made the official request, a senior administration official said, and the declaration was announced by the White House at 12:43 am on Friday. 

As of this morning, the President and the governor have still not spoken, an official says, but he has been in contact with top White House officials, including chief of staff Ron Klain.

DeSantis, a Republican, has been one of Biden’s biggest critics – and he is widely seen inside the GOP as a top contender for the 2024 presidential race. 

A Florida official familiar with the matter tells CNN that DeSantis finally agreed to ask the White House for assistance at the urging of local officials in Miami-Dade County. 

The emergency declaration opens the door for federal assistance from FEMA and other agencies.

7:40 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

Here is what we know so far about the building that collapsed

Debris dangles from Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed on Thursday, June 24, in Surfside, Florida.
Debris dangles from Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed on Thursday, June 24, in Surfside, Florida. David Santiago /Miami Herald/AP

A residential building in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed early Thursday.

Here is what we know about the building so far:

  • The building is located at 8777 Collins Avenue, a few miles north of Miami Beach.
  • It was built in the 1980s, according to the Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, and was "not lowly occupied."
  • The building has 12 stories and had 136 units. About 55 apartment units collapsed, according to Ray Jadallah of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.
  • An attorney for the building's residents association, Kenneth Direktor, told CNN the building had “thorough engineering inspections over the last several months” in preparation for compliance with a 40-year certification.
7:38 a.m. ET, June 25, 2021

"Everybody was screaming and panicking" as they tried to evacuate, witnesses say

From CNN’s Amanda Watts

Witnesses of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, which partially collapsed Thursday, said as they were trying to evacuate the adjacent building, “everybody was screaming and panicking.“ 

Aaron Miles, his girlfriend, and members of their family were staying next door at the Bluegreen resort which has been evacuated. He said, “once you got down to the lobby… it was filled with nothing but dust and debris." 

Abigail Crosby said they quickly grabbed the five children who were staying with them and evacuated, “whatever I had, I took.” 

We “got out as fast as we could,” Miles said. The group went downstairs to the parking garage basement where a valet let them out. 

Miles said that immediately following the collapse, people were running around screaming.

“It was awful. Kids, grownups screaming. Women and children crying. It was probably one of the worst experiences I’ve ever witnessed in my life," Miles said.

The family, who is on vacation from Virginia, said everything seemed normal yesterday. 

Miles said, “yesterday, the building seemed normal and nothing seemed off, and then like I said we woke up and the building was just gone."