Fears grow over Miami death toll after building collapses

President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida after an apartment building partially collapsed, killing at least one person and leaving 99 missing.

Fears are growing that the death toll at the site, just north of Miami, may rise as rescue crews search and clear debris overnight. Dozens were pulled out of the rubble.

Biden ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts. A White House statement on Friday said the emergency measure empowers the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate “all disaster relief efforts.”

“Whatever help the federal government wants to provide, we’re waiting, just ask us, we’ll be there, we’ll be there,” Biden said.

Ron DeSantis, Florida Governor, declared a state of emergency late Thursday in Miami-Dade County, paving the way for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reach the site and provide assistance to rescue crews and affected families.

“We still have at least 99 people missing,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniela Levine Cava said at a news conference. She added that 102 people had been counted, describing it as “very encouraging”.

Rescue authorities responded to a call in the early hours of Thursday morning and reached the beachside town of Surfside to find that the northeastern section of the 12-storey Champlain South towers had collapsed.

Officials said rescuers pulled 35 passengers from the building and two from under the rubble. Ray Gadallah, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s chief of operations, said that since about 6 a.m., rescue crews turned their attention from inside the building to the rubble.

Jadallah described the efforts as slow and dangerous and said that sonar devices, cameras and rescue dogs are being used to search for anyone trapped under the rubble.

“We received sounds. Not necessarily people talking, but voices; what sounds like people are banging,” Jadallah said at a press briefing. “Other than that we didn’t hear any sounds coming from the heap.”

Officials said it was too soon to know why the tower, which was built in the early 1980s, had collapsed. Alfredo Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade County Police Department, said his investigators, as well as state and federal authorities, will begin an investigation into the possible causes once the search and rescue operations are complete.

Barry Cohen, a resident of the area, told the BBC: “I was woken up by what sounded like thunder. It looked like a bomb had gone off: dirt, dust and smoke everywhere. The whole building shook with a massive explosion.”

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