‘I have no hope’: Loved ones await news, survivors flee after condo building partially collapses near Miami

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Families waited to hear news about missing loved ones Thursday morning as rescue efforts continued after a 12-story oceanside condo collapsed into a heap of rubble, leaving residents trapped and at least one person dead.

About 70 people crammed into a room with chairs and blue gym mats on the floor at a reunification site set up by the American Red Cross. Family members and building residents listened to police give updates in anxious silence. Young children slept in blankets. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett confirmed at least one person had died.

Pablo Rodriguez, a 40-year-old Miami native, said his 64-year-old mother and 88-year-old grandmother lived in the wing that collapsed.

Rodriguez told USA TODAY that he last spoke to his mom Wednesday to discuss the family weekend plans – the grandmother and great-grandmother were going to pick up Rodriguez’s 6-year-old son and spend the weekend together. Next month would have been his grandmother’s 89th birthday. Rodriguez had plans to surprise her with brunch at a nice restaurant.

“I came to the center, but I have no hope,” Rodriguez said in tears at the family reunification center. 

‘Literally pancaked’: Condo building partially collapses near Miami; 35 people pulled from rubble; at least 1 dead

Nicolas Fernandez was also waiting for news about close family friends who lived in the collapsed section of the building.

“Since it happened, I’ve been calling them nonstop, just trying to ring their cellphones as much as we can to help the rescue to see if they can hear the cellphones,” Fernandez said.

Authorities described a desperate scene with rescuers trying to save a child trapped in a garage and discovered by a rescue dog, the Miami Herald reported. Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management, told the newspaper rescuers saved a mother and her child, but the mother’s leg had to be amputated.

The American Red Cross set up a reunification site for family and friends near the site of the partial building collapse of a 12-story condominium early Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla. (Photo: Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, Romina Ruiz-Goiriena-USA TODAY)

Witnesses described alarms blaring and survivors screaming and running from the building. Survivors recounted hearing signs of the collapse and attempting to escape the building early Thursday morning.

Surfside is a few miles north of Miami Beach. 

One survivor, former Surfside Vice Mayor Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were sleeping when he heard what he thought was a crack of lightning. When the couple opened their door, the found “a pile of rubble and dust and smoke billowing around.”

A man reacts as he waits for information after a partial building collapse, Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee, AP)

“I couldn’t walk out past my doorway,” Cohen said. “A gaping hole of rubble.”

Cohen and his wife left for the basement, where they found rising water, before returning upstairs to yell for help. Firefighters arriving at their window with a cherry picker bucket brought them to safety.

Crowds of law enforcement officers gathered around the mound of rubble that was left of the building, and a rescue team of Orthodox Jews, called Hatzalah, were on the scene in the area, which has a large Jewish population. Members of a local synagogue arrived on site with bottled water, cookies, fruit and chips for staff and survivors. The city has also long been an enclave of the Argentine-American community.

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