SURFSIDE, Fla. — Shocked and shaken witnesses described a deadly condo building collapse near Miami Beach early Thursday morning as an earthquake and bomb rolled into one.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said the Champlain Towers South condominium building, located at 8777 Collins Avenue in Surfside, partially collapsed around 1:30 a.m.
"Earthquake, slash bomb, slash tornado," one resident told WPTV. "I jumped up, went straight out and looked out the window. Broken glass, everything. Stuff was flying."
That resident said there was so much smoke and dust from the collapse, he thought they were caught in the middle of a tornado.
"All of the sudden, the alarms started going off like crazy," the resident said. "I just ran and grabbed by kids real quick. Just picked them up, pulled them out of bed and took off outside."
HEAR FROM WITNESSES:
Ofi Osin-Cohen was sleeping in her condo at the Champlain Towers when the building suddenly started shaking overnight.
"I opened the door and saw all the debris. It was impassable," Osin-Cohen said. "We went down the stairwell and there were other people in the stairwell, which is where the pool deck is, to get out and we couldn’t get out."
Osin-Cohen said she went down one more floor to the garage and found it full of water. Trapped and unable to get out, she and her husband returned to their condo.
"We went to our balcony. Fire rescue was all over the place. God bless them. They are amazing heroes," Osin-Cohen said. "They lifted us out of the building with one of those cherry pickers on the fire trucks."
Osin-Cohen called the tragic incident a "surreal experience" and "unimaginable."
"You just can’t think that can happen to you in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping," Osin-Cohen said. "It’s a very emotional experience for many reasons. Thank God for us we got out alive, and I just pray other people did too."
Witness Roberto Castillero lives nearby and saw the building collapse.
"It was a lot of noise," Castillero said. "Then my wife told me, we gotta leave here. That building is gonna go down."
Officials said at least one person is dead and 102 others are accounted for. At least 11 people were injured and four of them were taken to the hospital.
An intense search and rescue operation is now underway to locate victims who may be trapped in the rubble.
"It is a very slow and methodical process because every time we start breaching parts of the structure, we do get debris that falls on us," said MDFR Assistant Chief of Operations Raide Jadallah. "All operations are occurring underneath the rubble."
If you live at the Champlain Towers, you are encouraged to complete this Wellness Check Form to ensure all tenants of the building are located.
A family assistance and reunification center is open at the Surfside Community Center, located at 9301 Collins Avenue, for people who are unable to locate relatives who live in the building. You can open a Missing Person Report Online or call 305-614-1819.