The city of Miami is reeling after a beach-front condo collapsed abruptly in the middle of the night, leaving at least three people dead and over 100 more unaccounted for. The search and rescue operation continues as first responders excavate the wreckage while dozens of anxious family members hope for a miracle.
We’re learning more about the victims of the collapse, including two doctors: Brad Cohen, a 51-year-old orthopedic surgeon, and his brother, Gary Cohen, a doctor visiting from Alabama.
Searching for Survivors
Residents and survivors have been on the scene waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones.
Sylvia Cohen, the wife of Brad Cohen and sister-in-law of Gary, says neither of them have been answering their phones, and that she’s giving up hope that her husband is still alive.
“Just look at that rubble,” she told a reporter from ABC while pointing at the wreckage.
Sylvia Cohen said she and her husband would split time between their condo at the Champlain Towers South and a two-bedroom dwelling nearby. She added that she and her daughter were staying at a different house when the building collapsed as their family gets ready to move. Her son is studying abroad, but is trying to get home as soon as possible.
“It’s been surreal,” Cohen added. “My daughter has been in absolute shock.”
Dr. Gary Cohen, Brad’s brother, was in town visiting his terminally ill father at the time. Records show he is a doctor at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center in Alabama.
What We Know About the Collapse
Officials say around 55 units of the 136-unit condo building collapsed. The crash occurred at around 1:30 AM local time Thursday morning.
First responders have already rescued 36 people from the rubble with at least 99 people still missing. Crews have been slowly cutting through pieces of concrete as they look for more survivors. They’ve also been using sonar devices to listen for cries of help.
Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah said they picked up “a possibility of a banging,” but finding the source of the sound proves difficult. “This process is slow and methodical,” Jadallah said during yesterday’s press conference. “Every time there’s a shift in the rubble, we have additional rubble that shifts on us.”
The city’s search and rescue team is world-renowned for its ability to save lives in the aftermath of earthquakes and other natural disasters. They are usually dispatched to countries around the world, but this is the first time they’ve been needed at home.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said crews will be “working around the clock” as the search continues. “We need to allow them to do their work because every minute in this search can make a huge difference,” she added.
Jadallah said 11 people have been treated on the scene and several others have been transported to local hospitals. Aventura Hospital and Medical Center confirmed that it received three patients from the crash; two remain in critical condition with one in fair condition. Jackson Health System says it’s received two patients as well.
FL Senator Marco Rubio (R) said a “substantial number” of the building’s residents are of foreign descent.
The Foreign Ministry of Paraguay says six of its residents were in the building at the time and are considered missing. Nine Argentinian nationals and four Venezuelan nationals are missing as well. Colombia’s Foreign Ministry says six of its residents resided in the building and is in the process of determining whether they were inside at the time of the collapse.
Authorities are still trying to determine how many people in total were staying in the building. There is no onsite management company to keep track of vacancies. It’s made up of a mix of full-time residents, seasonal, and short-term rentals.
The remaining 80 condo units remain a hazard to the surrounding area. Loose wires have been catching fire on and off throughout the last 36 hours. The building was cleared as of 8 AM Thursday morning, according to officials.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett referred to the incident as a “catastrophe.” He said the building was erected in the 1980s and that it was believed to be mostly full at the time. He added that around 15 families managed to escape on their own during the crash. They’ve been put up in hotels nearby. Surfside Commissioner Nelly Velasquez said the building was due for its 40-year recertification inspection.
Kenneth Direktor, a lawyer for the Champlain Towers South Condo Association, told reporters that he wasn’t aware of any structural issues of the building, other than saltwater damage, which is common among buildings near the ocean.
“Nothing like this has ever been seen, at least not in the 40 years I’ve been doing this,” Direktor added.
We hope these brave first responders manage to extract more survivors from the wreckage. Our hearts go out to all the survivors and those still waiting to hear from their loved ones.