Surfside, Florida – The Champlain Towers South attracted people from all over the world to enjoy life on the Atlantic coast of South Florida, some for one night, others living there. A couple from Argentina and their young daughter. A much loved retired Miami teacher and his wife. Orthodox Jews of Russia. Israelis. The sister of the first lady of Paraguay. And other South American citizens.
They were among nearly 100 people still missing Friday morning, a day after the 12-story building collapsed early Thursday morning. Much of the waterfront construction gave way for unknown reasons and became a pile of concrete and metal more than 30 feet high.
Authorities confirmed only one death, but it is feared that the number could skyrocket. 11 injured were also reported, four of whom were treated in hospitals.
“These are very tough times, and things are going to get more difficult as we move forward,” said Miami-Dade County Police Director Freddy Ramirez.
Rescuers and other workers worked through the night in hopes of finding survivors. The teams appeared to remove a body from the wreckage wrapped in a yellow body bag.
The cause of the collapse has not yet been determined, authorities said.
In video recorded from nearby, it appears that the center of the building was the first to fall, followed seconds later by a section closer to the sea as a huge cloud of dust engulfed the neighborhood.
About half of the building’s 130 apartments were affected and rescuers pulled at least 35 people out of the rubble in the first hours after the fall.
Raide Jadallah, aide to the Miami-Dade fire marshal, explained that although the listening devices placed on and in the wreckage had not registered voices, they did pick up possible pounding noises, giving rescuers hope that some of the missing stay alive. Crews were entering the rubble from below, through the building’s underground garage.
Personal belongings were evidence of slanted lives among the remains of the Champlain, which rose in 1981 in Surfside, a small suburb northwest of Miami. A children’s bunk bed hung precariously on one of the tall floors, bent but intact and seemingly inches from falling. A quilt lay on the edge a few stories below. Televisions Computers. Chairs.
The Argentine family formed by Dr. Andrés Galfrascoli, her husband, Fabián Núñez, and their six-year-old daughter, Sofía, had spent Wednesday night there, in the apartment of their friend Nicolás Fernández.
Galfrascoli, a plastic surgeon from Buenos Aires, and Núñez, an accountant and theater producer, arrived in Florida fleeing the rebound in COVID-19 cases and the strict confinements in Argentina. They had worked hard to adopt Sofía, Fernández said.
Deborah Berezdivin, who is among the missing persons, with her boyfriend in an image shared by the family. (Supplied)
Jay Kleiman and Frankie Kleiman. (Supplied)
Nancy Kress Levin. (Supplied)
Luis Bermúdez and his mother Ana Ortiz. According to Local 10 News (Miami), Bermúdez has muscular dystrophy. (Supplied)
The Champlain Towers South condo partially collapsed around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. Since then, dozens of rescuers have searched the rubble for people. (The Associated Press)
Google Maps screenshot of the Champlain Towers condominium, in Surfside Miami. The framed area is the one that collapsed in the early morning of June 24. (GFR Average)
Articles, air conditioning consoles and beds are exposed after the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Miami. (The Associated Press)
A Miami-Dade Fire Department helicopter flies over the area where the condominium that partially collapsed this morning is located. (The Associated Press)
Citizens waiting for news of their loved ones were placed in nearby shelters. (Lynne Sladky)
People observe the damage. (Susan Stocker)
“Of all the days, they chose the worst to stay there,” Fernández said. “I hope that is not the case, but if they die like this, it would be very unfair.”
They weren’t the only missing South Americans. Foreign ministries and consulates of four countries reported 22 citizens missing in the collapse: nine from Argentina, six from Paraguay, four from Venezuela and three from Uruguay.
Among the Paraguayans were Sophia López Moreira – sister of the country’s first lady, Silvana Abdo, and sister-in-law of the president, Mario Abdo Benítez – and her family.
Israeli media reported that the country’s consul general in Miami, Maor Elbaz, believes that 20 of his compatriots are missing.
Also on that list is Arnie Notkin, a retired elementary school physical education teacher from the Miami area and his wife, Myriam. They lived on the third floor.
“Everybody is posting ‘Oh my god, he was my coach,'” said Fortuna Smukler, a friend who took to Facebook in hopes of finding someone to say they were safe.
“They were also very happy, very cheerful people. He always had a story to tell and she always spoke very kindly to my mother, “added Smukler. “At first there were rumors that they had been found, but it was a case of identity confusion. It would be a miracle if they appeared alive. “