President Joe Biden has declared an emergency in the state of Florida after a residential building partially collapsed, killing at least one person and leaving 99 unaccounted for.
Fears grew that the death toll at the site, just north of Miami, could escalate as rescue crews searched and removed debris for the night. Dozens of people were pulled out of the rubble.
Biden ordered federal assistance to complement state and local response efforts. The emergency action authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate “all disaster relief efforts,” a White House statement said Friday.
“Whatever help you want to give the federal government, we’re waiting for it, just ask us, we’ll be here, we’ll be here,” Biden said.
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, late Thursday declared a state of emergency in Miami-Dade County, which paved the way for FEMA to come to the site and provide assistance to rescue crews and sliced families.
“We still have at least 99 who are unknown,” Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, told a news conference. He added that 102 people were counted, which he described as “very encouraging”.
Rescue authorities responded to a call in the early hours of Thursday morning and rushed to the beachfront town of Surfside to find that the northeast section of the 12-story Champlain Towers South had collapsed.
Officials said rescuers had pulled 35 occupants out of the building and two from the debris. Ray Jadallah, head of operations at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said that for about 6 hours, rescue crews shifted their attention from the inside of the building under the rubble.
Jadallah described the efforts as slow and dangerous and said sonar, cameras and rescue dogs were being used to look for anyone trapped under the rubble.
“We get sounds. Not necessarily people talking, but sounds; what sounds like people beating,” Jadallah said at a news briefing. “Short of that we don’t hear any voice coming from the pile.”
Officials said it was too early to know what caused the collapse of the tower, which was built in the early 1980s. Alfredo Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade County police department , said its detectives, as well as state and federal authorities, would begin an investigation into the possible causes once the search and rescue operations were completed.
“I was awakened by what seemed like noise,” resident Barry Cohen told the BBC. “It looked like a bomb had exploded: dirt and dust and smoke all over the place. The whole building was just shaken by a huge explosion. “