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Watch: At least 99 missing after Miami building collapses

At least 99 people were unaccounted for on Thursday night with many feared dead after the collapse of a 12-floor oceanfront apartment block near Miami Beach in Florida.

One person was confirmed killed but there were fears of a much higher toll as rescuers combed through the rubble for victims. At least 10 people have been injured and 35 people were pulled from the debris.

Those unaccounted for include Sophia López Moreira, the sister of Paraguay's first lady, who was staying there with her husband and three children. 

An unknown number of residents were asleep in the building in the town of Surfside when the overnight collapse reduced a large portion of it to rubble, exposing the interiors of gutted apartments.

Surfside's mayor said the reasons for the collapse were still unclear.

Records showed the block was built in 1981 and had more than 130 units inside. The building had been undergoing construction work on its roof. 

Television footage showed bunk beds, tables and chairs exposed inside.

The building on the beachfront in Surfside
The building on the beachfront in Surfside Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area, and cars up to two blocks away were coated with with a light layer of dust from the debris.

'I'm holding on to hope'

Hours after the collapse, rescuers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to be dead.

In another case they saved a mother and child, but the woman's leg had to be amputated to remove her from the rubble.

"One side of the building just fell completely. It doesn't exist anymore," said Nicolas Fernandez, 29, who had yet to hear from friends who were staying overnight in his family's unit in the building.

"I don't know about them. I don't know if they are alive."

Footage of a boy being rescued by firefighters was shared on social media on Thursday
Footage of a boy being rescued by firefighters was shared on social media on Thursday Credit: AP

Jenny Urgelles woke up to the news that her parents' building had collapsed. She called them, but both their phones went straight to voicemail.

She said: "I am holding on to hope."

The building was occupied by a mix of full-time and seasonal residents and renters.

Around 55 apartments were affected by the collapse, said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah.

Many relatives are still waiting for news of their loved ones
Many relatives are still waiting for news of their loved ones Credit: AP

He said emergency services arrived at the scene at about 1.30am (6.30am UK), evacuating 35 people from the building.

Some residents were able to walk down the stairs to safety while others had to be rescued from their balconies.

There were 102 people accounted for from the building said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Sister of Paraguay's first lady among the missing

Paraguay’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it was monitoring the situation after it confirmed that six of its citizens were among those missing.

They were identified as Sophia López Moreira, the sister of first lady Silvana López Moreira, and her husband Luis Pettengill. Their three children and Lady Luna Villalba, a worker travelling with the family, were also missing.

Sophia Lopez Moreira, the sister of Paraguay's first lady Silvana, and her husband Luis Pettengill are among the missing. Their children are also unaccounted for
Sophia Lopez Moreira, the sister of Paraguay's first lady Silvana, and her husband Luis Pettengill are among the missing. Their children are also unaccounted for

President Mario Abdo's activities were cancelled for Thursday and Friday so that he can be with his wife while she waits for word on the fate of her sister and her family, Paraguay's government said.

The first lady was planning to travel to Miami, Florida, on Thursday night on a private plane, the presidential palace said.

The cousin of the family's assistant, said Lady Luna is a nurse who has been working with the family for two years.

'It looks like a bomb went off'

Surfside mayor Charles Burkett said it was unclear what caused the collapse.

The mayor said: "It looks like a bomb went off, but we're pretty sure a bomb didn't go off, so it's something else.

"Apparently when the building came down it pancaked, so there's just not a lot of voids that they're finding or seeing from the outside.

Rescue workers are combing through the rubble in the hunt for survivors
Rescue workers are combing through the rubble in the hunt for survivors Credit: AP

"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."

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said: "It's a really, really tragic situation so we'll hope for the best in terms of additional recoveries, but we are bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we're seeing."

As hope receded of finding more survivors the focus was on the recovery of possible victims amid the rubble.

A massive operation was launched including drones and dogs, and involving dozens of police and firefighter units. Rescue crews also had to work through a lightning storm on Thursday morning.

Emergency crews are still trying to rescue people from the rubble
Emergency crews are still trying to rescue people from the rubble Credit: REUTERS

Eliana Salzhauer, Surfside's commissioner, said the rescue operation could "play out for days." 

"I mean, it could be weeks until we really know who is under the rubble, who survived, who didn't survive," Ms Salzhauer said. "There's a lot of people unaccounted for, a lot of families very concerned."

Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava spoke with Joe Biden by telephone in the hours after the collapse.

Mr Biden said: "I say to the people of Florida, whatever help you want, that the federal government can provide, just ask us, we'll be there."

Block of flats partially collapsed
The collapse happened at 2am on Thursday morning Credit: CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 

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."

Mr Cohen said he raised concerns years ago about whether nearby construction might be causing damage to the building after seeing cracked pavers on the pool deck.

"At first it sounded like a flash of lightning or thunder," Mr Cohen, a former vice mayor of Surfside, told reporters at the scene. 

"But then it just kept on -- steadily for at least 15 to 30 seconds -- it just kept on going and going and going."

Building 'had shown signs of subsidence'

The building was about to undergo significant repairs as part of its 40-year recertification, Kenneth Direktor, a lawyer representing the residents’ association told the New York Times.

The building also showed signs of land subsidence in the 1990s, a 2020 study found.

Professor Shimon Wdowinski of the Florida International University identified the 12-storey tower where subsidence was detected when he examined the area last year.

But, he added, subsidence on its own would not have caused the building to collapse.

“When we measure subsidence or when we see movement of the buildings, it’s worth checking why it happens,” he said.

“We cannot say what is the reason for that from the satellite images but we can say there was movement here.”

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