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Many Feared Dead in FL Condo Collapse  06/25 06:07

   

   SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) -- A beachfront condo building partially collapsed 
Thursday outside Miami, killing at least one person and trapping others in the 
tower that resembled a giant fractured dollhouse, with one side sheared away. 
Dozens of survivors were pulled out, and rescuers kept up a desperate search 
for more.

   A wing of the 12-story building in the community of Surfside came down with 
a roar around 1:30 a.m. By late evening, nearly 100 people were still 
unaccounted for, authorities said, raising fears that the death toll could 
climb sharply. Officials did not know how many were in the tower when it fell.

   "The building is literally pancaked," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said. 
"That is heartbreaking because it doesn't mean, to me, that we are going to be 
as successful as we wanted to be in finding people alive."

   Hours after the collapse, searchers were trying to reach a trapped child 
whose parents were believed to be dead. In another case, rescuers saved a 
mother and child, but the woman's leg had to be amputated to remove her from 
the rubble, Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade emergency management, told 
the Miami Herald.

   Video showed fire crews removing a boy from the wreckage, but it was not 
clear whether he was the same person mentioned by Rollason. Teams were trying 
to enter the building from a parking garage beneath the structure.

   Gov. Ron DeSantis, who toured the scene, said television did not capture the 
scale of what happened.

   Rescue crews are "doing everything they can to save lives. That is ongoing, 
and they're not going to rest," he said.

   Teams of 10 to 12 rescuers at a time entered the rubble with dogs and other 
equipment, working until they grew tired from the heavy lifting, then making 
way for a new team, said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the 
state's fire marshal.

   "They're not going to stop just because of nightfall," Patronis told Miami 
television station WPLG. "They just may have a different path they pursue."

   Patronis said he was deeply moved by the image of a bunk bed near the 
now-exposed top of the building.

   "Somebody was probably sleeping in it," he said. "There's all those 
what-ifs."

   Authorities did not say what may have caused the collapse. On video footage 
captured from nearby, the center of the building appeared to fall first, with a 
section nearest the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later as a huge 
dust cloud swallowed the neighborhood.

   Work was being done on the building's roof, but Burkett said he did not see 
how that could have been the cause.

   President Joe Biden promised to provide federal aid if requested.

   Hotels opened to some displaced residents, the mayor said, and deliveries of 
food, medicine and more were being hastily arranged.

   About half of the building's roughly 130 units were affected, the mayor told 
a news conference. Rescuers pulled at least 35 people from the rubble by 
mid-morning, and heavy equipment was being brought in to help stabilize the 
structure to provide more access, Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue 
said.

   The tower has a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, and while the 
building keeps a log of guests, it does not keep track of when owners are in 
residence, Burkett said.

   Fortuna Smukler posted about the disaster on Facebook, hoping that someone 
would know the whereabouts of Myriam Caspi Notkin and Arnie Notkin, an elderly 
couple who lived on the third floor.

   Arnie Notkin spent years teaching physical education at a local elementary 
school, said Smukler, a North Miami Beach commissioner who is friends with 
Myriam Notkin's daughters.

   "He was such a well-liked P.E. teacher from people's past," she said. 
"Everyone's been posting, 'Oh my god, he was my coach.'"

   "It would be a miracle if they're found alive," she added.

   Nicholas Fernandez spent hours after the collapse trying to call two friends 
who were staying in the building with their young daughter. The family had come 
to the United States to avoid the COVID-19 outbreak in their home country of 
Argentina, said Fernandez, of Miami.

   "The hope is that, perhaps, someone hears the call. I know there are dogs 
inside," he said. "I know it may sound ridiculous what I'm saying but there's 
always hope until we hear different."

   A total of 22 South Americans were missing in the collapse -- nine from 
Argentina, six from Paraguay, four from Venezuela and three from Uruguay, 
according to officials in those countries.

   The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore 
away walls and ripped open some homes in the still-standing part of the 
building. Television footage showed beds, tables and chairs inside. Air 
conditioners hung from some parts of the building, where wires dangled.

   Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were asleep in the building when he 
first heard what he thought was a crack of thunder. The couple went onto their 
balcony, then opened the door to the building's hallway to find "a pile of 
rubble and dust and smoke billowing around."

   "I couldn't walk out past my doorway," said Cohen, the former vice mayor of 
Surfside.

   Surfside City Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told WPLG that the building's 
county-mandated 40-year recertification process was ongoing. Salzhauer said the 
process was believed to be proceeding without difficulty. A building inspector 
was on-site Wednesday.

   "I want to know why this happened," Salzhauer said. "That's really the only 
question. ... And can it happen again? Are any other of our buildings in town 
in jeopardy?"

   The seaside condo development was built in 1981. It had a few two-bedroom 
units on the market, with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000. The area's 
neighborhood feel offers a stark contrast to the glitz and bustle of nearby 
South Beach.

   The area has a mix of new and old apartments, houses, condominiums and 
hotels, with restaurants and stores serving an international combination of 
residents and tourists. The main oceanside drag is lined with glass-sided, 
luxury condominium buildings, but more modest houses are on the inland side. 
Among the neighborhood's residents are snowbirds, Russian immigrants and 
Orthodox Jewish families.

 
 
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