Miami is known for its electric nightlife. But by early morning, the city is usually winding down, slumbering for the start of the next day of sun and fun, and the following night of abandon. The South Florida city’s idyll was shattered this morning, when a wing of a 12-story condominium collapsed along the beach. At least one person is dead, and over 50 are unaccounted for and feared dead. Here’s what we know.

UPDATED 6/28/21

Thursday Morning Collapse

Miami condo collapsed

Around 1:30 AM on Thursday morning, a rumble and a roar precipitated horror as a wing of a condominium building suddenly crumpled into dust. The entire condominium is comprised of about 130 apartments, and approximately half were affected by the collapse. The Surfside, Miami, mayor Charles Burkett has warned that the building was likely quite full at the time, although an exact number is hard to pinpoint. Per CNBC, “‘The building is literally pancaked,” Burkett said. ‘That is heartbreaking because it doesn’t mean to me that we are going to be as successful as we wanted to be in finding people alive.’

… Sally Heyman, of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, told CNN that 51 people were unaccounted for — but that some may not have been in the building at the time of the disaster. The tower has a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, and while the building keeps a log of guests staying, it does not keep track of when owners are in residence, Burkett, the mayor, said.”

The Wall Street Journal adds, “Officials said it was too soon to determine the cause of the collapse. The building predates Florida’s most recent hurricane-building codes but was built to withstand major storms and other threats, said former Miami-Dade Fire Chief David Downey, in an interview with CNN. Mr. Downey, who leads the Urban Search and Rescue Committee of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said that with 40 years of experience in the field, he hasn’t seen a building collapse like this, with no clear precipitating event.

The condo tower, built in 1981, was undergoing a 40-year recertification, and work was being done on its roof, said Surfside city commissioner Eliana Salzhauer. Building inspectors had visited the tower recently, she said.”

1 Dead, More Missing – But Some Survived

Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers about survivors at the moment. Approximately 15 families were able to walk from the rubble on their own. 11 people were treated for injuries, and the one death has been recorded so far. But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned that there is likely not good news coming; the building’s utter destruction does not bode well for other survivors.

This would not, however, be the first time that people have survived building collapses against unimaginable odds. When the World Trade Center towers collapsed after a terrorist attack, for instance, people often survived in pockets among the debris where they were cushioned by parts of the collapsed building. 

CNBC shares, “Jennifer Carr was asleep in a neighboring building when she was awakened by a loud boom and her room shook. She thought it was a thunderstorm but checked the weather app on her phone and saw none. The building’s fire alarms went off, and she and her family went outside and saw the collapse.

‘It was devastation,’ Carr said. ‘People were running and screaming.’

Nicolas Fernandez was waiting early Thursday for word on 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 hep the rescue to see if they can hear the cellphones.’”

A video from a nearby surveillance camera shows the moment when the building collapses. It’s sudden, seemingly out of nowhere. One minute, the building stands normally. The next, it begins collapsing into dust. It’s an unimaginable scene in a modern American city; the kind of infrastructure failure you expect in developing countries with poor building codes, but not the richest nation in the world.

Why Did the Collapse Occur? 

Miami condo collapsed

Since the collapse is only hours old, it’s still to early to know the why behind the collapse. However, on the ground rumors suggest that there may have been sinkhole activity at the heart of the collapse. Almost the entire state of Florida sits on the Florida Aquifer, a layer of underground water pocketed among limestone. In some places, the Aquifer is closer to the surface and the weight of surface structures can cause sinkholes to form, when the moisture from below softens the limestone above enough to cause a pocket collapse into the ground.

In some cases, buildings slide down into these pockets and people survive from the cushion of the hole itself. If that was indeed the case, and they can dig under the rubble quickly enough, there may be survivors under the ground beneath the collapsed condo. However, that’s a lot of ifs. Because the building structure failed so utterly, search and rescue efforts are basically shoveling through dust, interspersed with unimaginably heavy chunks of concrete or steel support beams. And because there is so much mystery around why the building collapsed, search and rescue efforts will be slowed by caution as they try to avoid more collapses. 

UPDATE 6/28/21:

Sifting Through the Rubble

Miami condo collapsed

It’s been 4 days since the beachside condominium near Miami collapsed, and the news is grim. As of 6/28/21, 10 people are confirmed dead – including one person who was pulled from the rubble alive but succumbed to injuries at the hospital. 151 people are still missing or unaccounted for. 

Rescuers are working every safe angle to try to get to people before the clock runs out; if survivors are not grievously injured and have adequate oxygen, they may still be alive. Sniffer dogs and ground-penetrating radar is being used to look for survivors or pockets where people may be trapped. Some rescuers are using the flooded basement below which is still somewhat intact to try to enter the debris from the side. Things moved quickly this morning when a machine was able to lift a slab of concrete that was impeding progress. 

Weather in the area has been problematic; showers slow the progress of rescuers because it pushes the silt-like dirt farther down and makes the site slippery and dangerous. Per NOLA, “Andy Alvarez, a deputy incident commander with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, told ABC’s Good Morning America that rescuers have been able to find some voids inside the wreckage, mostly in the basement and the parking garage.

‘We have over 80 rescuers at a time that are breaching the walls that collapsed, in a frantic effort to try to rescue those that are still viable and to get to those voids that we typically know exist in these buildings,’ Alvarez said.

Miami condo collapsed

‘We have been able to tunnel through the building,’ Alvarez added. ‘This is a frantic search to seek that hope, that miracle, to see who we can bring out of this building alive.'”

As the days pass and the rescue efforts continue at a frantic pace, people want answers. In 2018, a structural inspection recommended nearly $9 million in repairs to the condominium association. Engineers warned of potential “exponential damage.” Per MSN, “A letter to the condominium association’s treasurer on Oct. 8, 2018, included pages of recommended repairs. One warned of failed waterproofing causing ‘major structural damage’ on a concrete slab over a garage and said ‘Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete damage to expand exponentially.’

The author warned that the design was faulty, replacement would be complicated, and that it was a ‘systemic issue.'”

A $5 million lawsuit has already been filed against the condo, from those affected and their family members. Friends and family have been gathered at nearby hotels and spend hours every day at the site, calling in the hope that their loved ones will answers. Six to eight teams crawl over the debris in rotating shifts throughout the day; everyone feeling the press of time as the days tick by.