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One dead, 100 missing as 12-storey building collapses in Florida

The 12-storey oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo collapsed in Surfside, Florida. Source: AFP

MIAMI: A 12-storey oceanfront apartment block in Florida partially collapsed on Thursday, killing an unspecified number of residents and leaving almost 100 unaccounted for as rescuers combed the rubble for victims.

Video footage posted online showed a large portion of the building in the town of Surfside — just north of Miami Beach — reduced to rubble, with the apartments’ interiors exposed.

It was unclear what caused the building to collapse, nor how many people were inside at the time, since it was occupied by a mix of full-time and seasonal residents and renters.

Miami-Dade County authorities were quoted by news reports as saying that as many as 99 people had been reported missing. Residents from other parts of the building were evacuated.

Officials did not know how many were in the tower when it suddenly fell to the ground at around 1:30 am local time (04:30 GMT). Many people were asleep at the time.

“The building is literally pancaked,” said Charles Burkett, the mayor of the town of Surfside. “That is heart-breaking because it doesn’t mean to me that we are going to be as successful as we wanted to be in finding people alive.”

Around 55 apartments were affected by the collapse, according to Miami-Dade fire rescue official Ray Jadallah. He told a news conference that emergency services arrived at the scene and evacuated 35 people from the building.

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Some residents were able to walk down the stairs to safety while others had to be rescued from their balconies. Surfside mayor Charles Burkett said 14 survivors had been recovered from the rubble.

The search phase of operations concluded by sundown and the focus shifted to recovery of possible victims amid the rubble, in a massive operation assisted by drones and dogs and involving both police and firefighter units.

Surfside’s town manager Andrew Hyatt told the news conference that search operations could last a week. Four Argentinians — three adults and a six-year-old girl — were among those unaccounted for, according to the country’s foreign ministry.

Surfside’s mayor said the reasons for the collapse were still unclear. “It looks like a bomb went off, but we’re pretty sure a bomb didn’t go off, so it’s something else,” Burkett said.

Structural engineers were on site to assess the damage and make sure the area was safe for rescue teams. They will then begin to assess what might have caused the building to fall down.