9 Dead, 156 Unaccounted for in Florida Building Collapse as Families Search for Their Loved Ones

Rescue crews are “doing everything they can to save lives. That is ongoing, and they’re not going to rest,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

Update: As of Sunday, the number of dead has risen to nine, and the number unaccounted for has decreased to 156, reports CNN. Per The Guardian, four out of the nine victims have been identified: Stacie Dawn Fang, 54; Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; Manuel LaFont, 54.

At least four people are dead and 159 remain unaccounted for as search and rescue teams desperately search for survivors following Thursday’s deadly partial building collapse at a high-rise beachfront condo in Surfside, Florida, north of Miami Beach, CBS Miami reported

President Biden issued an emergency declaration overnight to authorize federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and on Friday is expected to address the building collapse, according to an administration official, CNN reported

Firefighters and rescue crews had search dogs sifting through the rubble, twisted metal, and concrete in hopes of finding signs of life. During the overnight search, multiple downpours and fires that were reignited, complicated the search efforts as heavy equipment was being used, including saws and jackhammers.

The rescue and search mission is so tedious, crews are working in 15-minute shifts in what has been described as extremely dangerous conditions, given the building’s unstable structure, CNN reported. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who toured the scene, said television did not capture the scale of what happened, according to reports.

Rescue crews are “doing everything they can to save lives. That is ongoing, and they’re not going to rest,” he said.

Microphones were also being used, hoping to alert rescuers to any sounds from beneath the wreckage. Assistant Miami-Dade Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said listening devices were placed on the wreckage and although no voices had been picked up, possible banging sounds were heard, giving rescuers a sign of hope amid the devastation, the AP reported.

“Every time we hear a sound, we concentrate on those areas,” Jadallah said.

Some of those survivors trapped beneath the rubble included a child whose parents were believed to be dead, a woman, whose leg had to be amputated in order to be freed from the wreckage, and her child, Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade emergency management, told the Miami Herald.

The boy that had been rescued with his mother was later identified as 12-year-old Jonah Handler who plays for his school’s junior varsity baseball team.

Deven Marie Gonzales, another survivor, said she was in the building as it was crumbling and jumped four stories. Hours later, she posted a photo of herself in the hospital.

As the hours go by, family and relatives of the missing continue to pray. Some are going on live television, while others are posting on social media trying to get any information they can find.

Rachel Spiegel told CNN that the last time she had spoken to her mother Judy Spiegel was on Wednesday, hours before the collapse. She said her mother had found a princess dress for her four-year-old daughter.

“I just want my mom,” she teared up. “I want to go back a day and change everything.”

The missing woman’s husband, Kevin Spiegel, is also waiting and praying for news that his wife of 39 years is alive.

“She was probably sleeping when this thing occurred,” he said. “This is probably the most horrific thing our family has even heard of.”

He continued, “We’re praying every minute of every day that she’ll be with us soon," he said describing his wife as a "fighter." 

“She was the best, our best friend. I can’t live without her,” Judy's son, Josh Spiegel, told CBS

A woman looking for her nephew, Ilan Naibryf, a University of Chicago student, went on Facebook asking for any information about Naibryf and his girlfriend, Deborah Berezdivan, who as of Friday, were still among the missing. 

PJ Rodriguez was trying to locate his grandmother who is among the missing.  While another relative has been desperately searching for his uncle and two cousins who are still unaccounted for. 

The Surfside area has a large Jewish community and ties to families from South America. Many Jewish and South American residents were reported to be among the missing, The New York Times reported.

Among some of those unaccounted for are the family members of the First Lady of Paraguay, Silvana López Moreira, who were reported to have lived on the 10th floor, CNN reported. 

Many of the South American consulates have been in contact. The Argentina consulate reported nine Argentinian nationals missing. The Venezuelan Consulate reported four nationals missing, CNN reported.

The 12-story structure had 136 units and was built 41 years ago on reclaimed wetlands. According to officials, 55 units on the northside of the residential building were affected by the collapse, CBS Miami reported.

Teams were trying to enter the building’s underground parking garage beneath the structure, according to reports. 

As of Friday morning, 120 people have been accounted for, CNN reported.

“The problem is the building has literally pancaked,”  Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis told CNN. “There is just feet in between stories where there was 10 feet. That is heartbreaking because it doesn't mean to me that we are going to be as successful in finding people alive.”

Ken Direktor, the lawyer for the building’s condo association, told CBS Miami that the high-rise building was undergoing a required 40-year recertification but "nothing appeared either to the engineers or to any of the residents that suggests anything like this was imminent. Nothing.”

The cause of the collapse is still being investigated, authorities said.

A therapy dog is providing some solace to the families and a family reunification center was set up nearby for those unaccounted for, officials said. The number of the hotline is 305-614-1819.

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