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At Least 1 Dead After A 12-Story Building Partially Collapses Near Miami

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Rubble hangs from a partially collapsed building in Surfside north of Miami Beach on Thursday. The multi-story apartment block in Florida partially collapsed early in the morning, sparking a major emergency response.
Chandan Khanna , AFP via Getty Images

Rubble hangs from a partially collapsed building in Surfside north of Miami Beach on Thursday. The multi-story apartment block in Florida partially collapsed early in the morning, sparking a major emergency response.

Updated June 24, 2021 at 1:27 PM ET

A massive and painstaking search-and-rescue operation was underway just north of Miami Beach on Thursday morning, after a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in the middle of the night.

The collapse brought scores of first responders racing to the beachfront property in the city of Surfside. Police in Miami-Dade County have confirmed that at least one person has died, with many more lives feared in danger.

Fire and rescue officials said approximately 55 apartment units were destroyed by the collapse inside the Champlain Towers South complex, a 40-year-old building that houses more than 136 units in total.

Emergency officials have not publicly stated a number of people who are unaccounted for, but Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman told NPR that as of 10 a.m., rescue workers have told her 51 presumed occupants of the building remained unaccounted for. That does not mean they are trapped in the building, Heyman cautioned, explaining that some may have been away from home for any number of variables, like work or travel.

Rescuers have so far helped evacuate 35 people who were trapped inside the building, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Ray Jadallah told reporters. Most of the rescued were pulled from the building structure and part of the collapse, Jadallah said. Two people were saved from the rubble.

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Jadallah told reporters that 10 people were treated on site, while two others were transported to local hospitals.

The collapse occurred sometime around 1:30 a.m. Video obtained by the local news station WSVN showed the building caving in on itself over a span of just 15 seconds, leaving behind tons of rubble and a massive plume of dust and debris.

"It looks like a bomb went off," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told NBC's Today show.

Burkett said rescue workers have brought in dogs to help assist with the search for survivors, but "tragically, there haven't been hits for the dogs and that's a great disappointment."

"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," the mayor said.

Video and images showed a scene reminiscent of a war zone, with the entire east side section of the complex nearly entirely obliterated. Empty beds and mangled air conditioner units dangled from the wreckage, as rescuers combed through rubble below for survivors.

"People in the intact part of the building are being evacuated now ... they have been evacuated," Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, told NPR.

"What a terrible tragedy," she said.

Cava said it was too early for investigators to know what caused the building to collapse, but said investigators were on the scene alongside engineers and other emergency responders.

Burkett said work had been ongoing on the roof of the building, "but you would never expect that to be the issue." The foundation, he said, "somehow was undermined, and the whole thing came down."

Freddy Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said his department is serving as the lead investigatory agency into the collapse and is working with the city of Surfside. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is leading the emergency management of the site, and has set up a family reunification center roughly half a mile from the building.

Burkett told NBC that 15 families had already gathered at the city's community center and would soon be relocated to hotels.

This is a developing story. Some details reported by the media may later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene, and we will update as the situation develops.

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