99 People Remain Missing After Fla. Condo Collapse That 'Felt Like an Earthquake': 'It's Bad'
At least one person died after a partial collapse at Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida
Barry Cohen, the former vice mayor of Surfside, Florida, was sleeping in his third-floor condo at Champlain Towers when he awoke to what he called "a bang that just kept on going" on Thursday morning.
Cohen told the Miami Herald that he and his wife Ofi tried to escape what turned out to be a building collapse, but the doorways to the stairs were blocked by warped metal. Eventually, they and two neighbors were rescued from their balcony by fire rescue teams who used a cherry picker bucket.
Cohen's tale of survival comes amid a tragedy in Surfside in which a 12-story, 136-unit apartment complex partially collapsed around 1:30 a.m., Ray Jadallah, assistant fire chief of operations for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said at a press conference.
Ninety-nine people are still unaccounted for, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez confirms to PEOPLE. Another 53 people have been accounted for.
Of the 136 units, about 55 collapsed, and search and rescue teams were able to pull out 35 occupants trapped in the building. An additional 10 people were assessed and treated, and two of those people were hospitalized, Jadallah said. CNN reported that one of those two people later died of their injuries.
Footage captured from the scene showed heroic rescues of people trapped inside, and Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management, told the Herald that teams were working on bringing a child to safety.
"It's bad," Rollason told the outlet. "We got some people out. They had to cut away railings… Everyone who is alive is out the building."
Rollason said the child had been discovered by a rescue dog in the building's garage — and that searchers believe the child's mother may have been killed in the rubble.
"They brought dogs who can sniff for survivors in the rubble," Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told the Herald. "They aren't turning up very much. No one is celebrating anyone being pulled out."
Rollason added that earlier, crews were able to save a mother and her child, though the mother's leg had to be amputated to get her out of the rubble.
Also emerging safely from the disaster was the wife of Santo Mejil, 50, who told the Herald that she was rescued after hearing "a big explosion" that "felt like an earthquake" while in a unit on the ninth floor.
"The whole building shook like an earthquake," a woman also on the ninth floor told ABC affiliate WPLG. "I opened my sliding glass and I saw a plume of dust and then I opened the door and I saw that the building had pancaked in the back."
Salzhauer told the Herald that the roof of the building, which was completed in 1981, was in the process of being redone.
The cause of the collapse remains unknown, and the Miami-Dade Police Department is leading an investigation. Officials said that search and rescue efforts are ongoing.