Everything We Know So Far About the Surfside Building Collapse

A portion of the 12-story condo tower crumbled to the ground during a partial collapse of the building.
A portion of the 12-story condo tower crumbled to the ground during a partial collapse of the building. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty
This is a breaking news story that will be updated.

Early Thursday morning, around 1:30 a.m., residents in Surfside were jerked awake by a boom so loud it sounded like a bomb had gone off. The sound of ambulance sirens and the flashing of emergency lights grew nearer as first responders secured the scene at Champlain Towers, a 12-story beachfront condo building at 88th Street and Collins Avenue.

As families slept inside, half of the building collapsed into rubble.

"I just had a chance to view the site up close and the humanity that you see, the daily lives. The evidence of just people living their daily lives and everything, everything evaporated in an instant," U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said at a press conference. "It's just — it's enormously devastating."

Here's everything we know so far about the Surfside building collapse.

How did this happen?

The biggest question surrounding the tragedy is one that can't be answered yet. Officials say it would be premature to speculate on why the building collapsed.

Property records show the condo was built in 1981. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told multiple media outlets that the building's roof had been under repair before the collapse.

"I think that this is a catastrophic failure of that building, and we need to try to understand what happened," he said Thursday morning on the Today show. "And we just — you know, it's very early right now. So it's very difficult for us to imagine what could have happened. But obviously the foundation somehow was undermined and the whole thing came down. I mean it looks like a bomb went off, but we're pretty sure a bomb didn't go off. So it's something else."

About 55 units out of 130 were affected.

Surfside commissioner Charles Kesl told Local 10 that Champlain Towers was undergoing its 40-year recertification, a local requirement that says condo buildings older than 40 years must be inspected for safety by a professional engineer or architect. As part of the recertification, the building was being surveyed by inspectors as recently as Wednesday, and the owners were planning a concrete restoration project that never got underway, the TV station reported.

Residents had previously complained about a neighboring construction project with alleged structural issues, although Kesl said that to his understanding, the cracks from the construction were not significant enough to cause any issues of this magnitude.

How many are dead?

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Friday that 127 people have been accounted for but 159 are still missing. Four people are confirmed dead.

"I want to be very clear about the numbers — they are very fluid. We will continue to update you as we have them," she said at a press conference.

Cava said rescue teams will continue to search the rubble for any signs of life.

"We will continue search and rescue because we still have hope that we will find people alive," she said. "That is why we're using our dogs and our sonar and our cameras, everything possible, to seek places where there may still be people to be found."

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue assistant chief Ray Jadallah said Thursday afternoon that firefighters had heard sounds amid the rubble that may have been someone banging for help. "Short of that, we haven't heard any voices coming from the pile," he said.

Firefighters are accessing the wreckage from an underground parking garage beneath the building, but Jadallah said it's a dangerous mission because of the shifting rubble. At one point Thursday afternoon, the shifting debris caused a small fire that took 20 minutes to extinguish, he said.

Has anyone been rescued?

First responders were able to rescue a handful of people, including a young boy:
Rollason, the county's emergency-management director, told the Herald that rescuers also saved a mother and her child, though the mother's leg had to be amputated.

Jadallah, Miami-Dade's assistant fire chief, said Thursday afternoon that a total of 37 survivors were pulled out of the uncollapsed portions of the building.

At last count, 11 people were reported injured, and at least four had been hospitalized.

Mayor Burkett commended the work of first responders.

"It's just like the Trade Center thing. They ran right into it, and they've been looking for people," he told Today.

The Red Cross is assisting survivors, according to spokesperson Debbie Koch. A reunification center has been set up at the Surfside Community Center. 

What happens next?

Surfside Town Manager Andrew Hyatt told reporters at a press conference Thursday morning that it could take a week for crews to finish searching the rubble for bodies.

"This is not something that is going to be brief," he said.

Ramirez, the Miami-Dade Police Department director, said he expects to deliver more bad news as the search and recovery mission continues.

"These are very difficult times, and things are gonna get more difficult as we move forward. As we move forward, it's gonna get harder, and those families are gonna suffer," he said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

Once Miami-Dade Fire Rescue clears the scene, the Miami-Dade Police Department will investigate what caused the collapse, with assistance from Surfside police.

Atorod Azizinamini, chair of Florida International University's engineering college, said the investigation could take months.

"Once we have all the information, we can simulate exactly different scenarios and we can pinpoint how the collapse took place," he said in a video produced by the university. "Unfortunately, that is not going to be happening in a matter of days, weeks — it's going to take some time."

Sen. Marco Rubio's office is working to obtain visas for family members of the deceased who are living abroad. 
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos
Jessica Lipscomb is news editor of Miami New Times and an enthusiastic Florida Woman. Born and raised in Orlando, she has been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.
Contact: Jessica Lipscomb