| 26 February 2024, Monday |

Miami building collapse: ‘It felt like an earthquake’

As rescue operations continue in Surfside, Florida, residents have been describing their experiences of a building collapse that has left at least one person dead.

The partial collapse of a 12-storey residential complex called Champlain Towers happened at around 02:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Thursday.

It is unclear how many people were in the building at the time, and dozens of emergency services workers were quickly called to the scene.

Officials say 35 people have so far been pulled from the rubble. Ten of them were assessed and treated, and two have been sent to hospital.

‘It was just a pile of dust’

Barry Cohen, who has lived in the building for three years, was in his apartment when the collapse happened. He told CNN that he and his wife gathered some belongings and rushed out of their front door, but when they looked down the hallway “nothing was there”.

“It was just a pile of dust and rubble and paint falling from the ceilings,” he said.

After trying in vain to find a way out, he went with his wife and another resident to a balcony in his apartment. By that time, police and firefighters had arrived at the scene and they were later rescued by a crane.

“It must have been 20 minutes, it felt like a lifetime that we were stuck,” he said.

“I thought the whole building was going to collapse,” added Mr Cohen. “Once we were in the [emergency escape crane] a feeling of relief just came over me. [It] was incredible that I survived this tragedy.”

‘I saw his hand sticking through the rubble’

Nicholas Balboa says he was in the area when the building collapsed “into a plume of dust”.

He told broadcaster CBS that he walked over and saw people nearby calling the emergency services for help.

Mr Balboa climbed through the rubble to assist with rescue efforts and heard a boy “yelling” from the debris.

“As I got closer, I was able to see his hand sticking through the rubble waving,” Mr Balboa said. “I used the light on my phone to signal firefighters to come over. A police officer came over and he radioed for fire rescue.”

Firefighters were able to free the boy, who was reportedly trapped with his mother. Mr Balboa said he did not see the mother.

‘It felt like an earthquake’

Santo Mejil, 50, was roused out of bed by a call from his wife. She had been working as an overnight caretaker in one of the three buildings that make up the tower complex.

“She said she heard a big explosion. It felt like an earthquake,” Mr Mejil told the Miami Herald.

He quickly rushed over to the apartments from their home near Miami airport, waiting for news of her safety.

As Mr Mejil spoke to the newspaper, he got another call from his wife.

“They’re bringing you down?” he said, tears welling up in his eyes. “Thank God.”

  • Reuters