Miami Surfside condominium building collapse in Florida, US
The Champlain Towers South, a 12-storey beachfront condominium building in the Miami suburb of Surfside in Florida, US, experienced a sudden partial pancake collapse on Thursday, 24 June 2021, at approximately 01h25am. 18 people have been confirmed dead and 11 injured to date. About 35 people were rescued from the uncollapsed portion of the building; one person has been rescued from the rubble and 145 people remain missing as rescue operations continue. The isolated and destabilised part of the northeast corner of the building also collapsed approximately nine seconds later. Of the 136 units in the building, 55 were destroyed. From start to end, the entire collapse of both parts took about 12 seconds.
Rescue operations: 24 June 2021
More than 80 rescue units responded to the collapse, according to the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department. Surfside mayor Charles Burkett said that ten people were treated at the scene of the collapse and that two people were taken to the hospital, with one later dying. At least 35 people were rescued from the building on 24 June 2021 and as many as 159 people were unaccounted for. Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava signed a state of emergency declaration at 16h33 on 24 June 2021 and called on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to do so at the state level. Governor DeSantis viewed the site on the same day and issued a state of emergency. The White House and Federal Emergency Management Agency stated that they were in contact with local officials and providing assistance after the collapse. President Joe Biden was briefed on the event and spoke with Miami-Dade County mayor Levine Cava.
Two FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force teams, Urban Search and Rescue Florida Task Force 1 based in the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Urban Search and Rescue Florida Task Force 2 based in the Miami Fire-Rescue Department, were activated. An additional three teams, one in Ohio and two in Virginia, were alerted to be on standby to assist. Members of Hatzalah of South Florida, a Jewish faith-based ambulance service which was authorized to transport patients as part of a law signed the previous week in Surfside, were among the first to respond to the collapse, setting up an on-site triage station.
Israel offered clothes, medication, food, water and other aid to the victims of the collapse. At least 35 of the missing were Jewish but it was not yet clear whether any were Israeli citizens, according to Israeli consul general Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, who came to the scene and conveyed an official offer from the Israeli government to send the Israel Defence Force's Home Front Command search and rescue team to assist in the rescue efforts. The Command has assisted in many other disasters, such as the 2017 Puebla earthquake, 2010 Haitian earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan. Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid offered condolences and support.
Rescue operations: 25 June 2021
Mayor Levine Cava said that people from Israel and Mexico have joined in the search and rescue effort. Workers from both countries rotate in and out as work teams sift through the rubble in two daily 12-hour shifts.
Rescue operations: 26 June 2021
In a news conference, Mayor Levine Cava explained that a fire deep within the rubble and subsequent smoke, were impeding the ability of fire and rescue personnel to search for survivors. She indicated that the fire "spread laterally throughout the pile" making it difficult to isolate the source. Officials said rescue workers were also working in the tower's underground parking garage, where there was heavy damage, under constantly changing conditions. Levine Cava advised that "No further victims have been found, as you've heard. The numbers are the same as they were yesterday; 127 have been accounted for... One hundred and fifty-nine unaccounted for. Four confirmed dead." Later that afternoon, the official toll was revised without elaboration to five dead and 156 missing.
Surfside Mayor Burkett advised residents of the Champlain Towers North building, located about 150m north of the fallen structure, to evacuate with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance "pending a thorough structural investigation", noting that the North and South buildings were constructed by the same developer at about the same time, and likely using similar plans and materials. However, Burkett did not immediately order the evacuation of the building or declare it unsafe. By late afternoon, voluntary evacuations were occurring at both Champlain Tower North and Champlain Tower East.
Florida officials announced that THOR, a 1 000 square foot (93m2) mobile command centre, was being deployed from Escambia County to help coordinate search and rescue and recovery teams and operations. THOR, which includes cellular, satellite and VOIP wireless systems and UHF and VHF radio systems, as well as built-in generators, will be deployed for at least 10 days.
Rescue operations: 27 June 2021
FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell announced that the US Army Corps of Engineers, which has significant experience with complex construction, demolition, stabilisation, and forensic engineering projects, is providing assistance with rescue and recovery efforts at the site.
A search-and-rescue team from the Israeli Defence Forces' Home Front Command arrived in the morning, along with a six-person psycho-trauma unit from the Israel-based United Hatzalah and members of ZAKA, a volunteer team that specialises in rescues as well as gathering body parts for Jewish burial.
In the evening, Mayor Levine Cava advised that nine people had been confirmed dead and 152 were missing. Names of an additional four victims were released later that night, leaving only one of those confirmed dead not publicly identified. Two of the victims named were Venezuelan nationals.
Rescue operations: 28 June 2021
An additional fatality had been confirmed, bringing the number of dead to 10, with 151 people still missing. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Ray Jadallah stressed that, despite the operation entering its fifth day, the effort was still focused on the search for and potential rescue of survivors rather than shifting to recovery. In the afternoon, Levine Cava announced that an eleventh body had been found, reducing the number of missing to 150. The names of three additional victims were released later in the evening, making all of the 11 known fatalities then publicly identified.
An international nonprofit group of volunteers trained in Israel called Cadena International (cadena being a Spanish word meaning "chain") is assisting the rescue mission.
Rescue operations: 29 June 2021
Mayor Levine Cava reported that no more survivors or victims had yet been found but that 210 search and rescue workers were on site, each working 12-hour shifts. Workers are being medically evaluated regularly to ensure their fitness to work at the site. A massive fire deep in the rubble pile, which had hampered search and rescue efforts since the collapse, was finally extinguished. Small, radio-controlled robots equipped with thermal sensors and 360-degree cameras were being deployed to assist in search and recovery efforts. President Biden was expected to visit the site on 1 July 2021, having not done so earlier to avoid disrupting rescue operations.
In the evening, Mayor Levine Cava advised that 12 people had been confirmed dead and 149 were missing. Levine Cava said that authorities will audit the names of the missing to ensure none are duplicates, particularly because of provided Hebrew names. Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said 3 000 000 pounds (1 400 000 kilograms) of concrete had been removed from the site of the collapse. He said rescue workers will not re-enter the west section of the building facing Collins Avenue, which is still standing because it is unstable, making it too dangerous to do so. Rescuers currently cannot enter a large area under the rubble on the eastern side of the site because of the same risk.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie and Miami-Dade Fire Chief Cominsky have requested that FEMA deploy an additional Urban Search and Rescue Task Force team, anticipating that emergency response to the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season may otherwise have an adverse impact on the number of rescue and recovery personnel available for deployment at Surfside.
Rescue operations: 30 June 2021
An additional six bodies were found on Wednesday, including the wife and two children of a man whose body was found on 26 June 2021. This brought the death toll to 18 and reduced the number of missing to 145. In the afternoon, the rescuers discovered void spaces, including one described as "a big tunnel", in the rubble.
Rescue operations: 1 July 2021
Search and rescue efforts were halted at the site at approximately 2h00am due to concerns that the western portion of the structure, which had not yet collapsed, was increasingly likely to do so, creating unsafe conditions for workers. President Biden visited the site after meeting with Governor DeSantis, Mayor Levine Cava, other elected leaders and uniformed first responders in a conference room at the nearby St Regis Bal Harbour resort. Biden suggested that the Federal Government could possibly cover the full cost of the rescue and recovery. Concern also mounted that Tropical Storm Elsa could make landfall in south Florida, further destabilising the standing portion of the structure and the debris field and interfering with rescue operations. The search resumed in the early evening after a 15-hour delay and authorities announced the identity of an additional fatality, leaving one victim publicly unidentified.
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which sent scientists and engineers to the site on 25 June 2021 under the authority of the National Construction Safety Team Act, announced that it would launch a full investigation into the collapse, with an eye to determining best practices to prevent similar disasters in the future. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the US Representative from Florida's 23rd Congressional district that includes Surfside, tweeted, "There are millions of high-rise condo units like those in Champlain Towers all across Florida... The NIST investigation is a major announcement and will be key to learning not only the cause of the tragedy in Surfside but the potential danger posed to other structures across Florida."
Long-term degradation of reinforced concrete support structures in the underground garage, due to water penetration and corrosion of the reinforcing steel, is being considered as a potential factor and possible underlying cause of the collapse. The issues had been reported in 2018 and noted as "much worse" in April 2021. A $15 million programme of remedial works had been approved at the time of collapse.