SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – The Champlain Towers South has drawn people from all over the world to enjoy life on South Florida’s Atlantic coast, some for a night, others for a living. A couple from Argentina and their young daughter. A beloved retired Miami area teacher and his wife. Orthodox Jews from Russia. Israelis. The sister of the first lady of Paraguay. Others from South America.
They were among nearly 100 people who were still missing on Friday morning, a day after the 12-story building collapsed Thursday morning. Much of the Champlain beach side was sheared for unknown reasons, turning into a pile of concrete and metal over 30 feet (10 meters) high.
Only one person had been confirmed dead, but authorities feared the number could skyrocket. Eleven injured were reported, including four people treated in hospitals.
“These are very difficult times, and things are going to get more difficult as we go along,” said Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez.
Firefighters and others worked through the night in hopes of locating survivors. Crews appeared to remove a body from the rubble in a yellow body bag.
Officials said no cause for the collapse had been determined.
Video of the collapse showed that the center of the building appeared to collapse first and that a section closest to the ocean wobbled and collapsed seconds later, as a huge cloud of dust engulfed the neighborhood.
About half of the approximately 130 units in the building were affected and rescuers removed at least 35 people from the wreckage in the first hours after the collapse.
Raide Jadallah, deputy chief of the Miami-Dade County fire department, said that although listening devices placed on and in the wreckage did not pick up any voices, they detected possible clicking noises, giving the rescuers hope some are alive. Rescuers were tunneling into the wreckage from below, passing through the building’s underground parking lot.
The personal effects were evidence of shattered lives amid the wreckage of the Champlain, which was built in 1981 in Surfside, a small suburb northwest of Miami. A children’s bunk bed perched precariously on the top floor, folded but intact and apparently inches from falling into the rubble. A quilt lay on the edge of a lower story. Televisions. Computers. Chairs.
Argentines Dr Andres Galfrascoli, her husband, Fabian Nuñez and their 6-year-old daughter, Sofia, had spent Wednesday evening in an apartment belonging to a friend, Nicolas Fernandez.
Galfrascoli, a plastic surgeon from Buenos Aires, and Nunez, a theater producer and accountant, had come to Florida to escape a COVID-19 resurgence in Argentina and its strict lockdowns. They had worked hard to adopt Sofia, Fernandez said.
“Everyday they chose the worst to stay there,” Fernandez said. “I hope they don’t, but if they die like this it would be so unfair.”
They weren’t the only South Americans missing. Foreign ministries and consulates in four countries said 22 nationals were missing in the collapse: nine from Argentina, six from Paraguay, four from Venezuela and three from Uruguay.
Among the Paraguayans were Sophia López Moreira – the sister of the first lady Silvana Abdo and the sister-in-law of President Mario Abdo Benítez – and her family.
Israeli media have said that the country’s consul general in Miami, Maor Elbaz, believes that 20 citizens of that country are missing.
Also missing was Arnie Notkin, a retired Miami-area elementary school physical education teacher, and his wife, Myriam. They lived on the third floor.
“Everyone posted, ‘Oh my gosh that was my trainer,'” said Fortuna Smukler, a friend who took to Facebook in hopes of finding someone who would report them safely.
“They were also such happy and joyful people. He always had a story to tell and she always spoke so kindly about my mother, ”said Smukler. “Originally there were rumors that he had been found, but it was a mistaken identity. It would be a miracle if they were found alive.
Associated Press editors Tim Reynolds and Ian Mader in Miami; Freida Frisaro and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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