SURFSIDE, Fla. – The search and recovery operation continues Wednesday at the site of the former 12-story Champlain Towers South in Miami-Dade County’s town of Surfside.
With the official death toll rising to nearly 100, the Miami-Dade Police Department released some of the 911 calls related to the tragedy about 1:30 a.m., June 24, at 8777 Collins Ave. Officers didn’t identify the callers
“Oh my God! The whole building collapsed!”
“Can somebody help me get out, please? If the building comes down, it will come down on my head.”
“We think the roof collapsed in the building. A bunch of us are in the garage, but we can’t get out, and we are going back up to our apartments, but some of the hallways are blocked, and there is water coming in through the bottom, through the garage.”
“We have got to get out. Hurry up! Hurry up! There is a big explosion! There is a lot of smoke. I can’t see anything. We’ve got to go! I can’t see nothing but smoke.”
“I woke up because I was hearing some noise. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I looked outside and I saw the patio area sinking down. The pool area started sinking down. There are many parts of the building that went down. The building just went into a sinkhole. There will be many, many people dead.”
The 136-unit Champlain Towers South was built in 1981. After engineers reported in 2018 that the building had “major structural damage,” the building association reported Rosendo “Ross” Prieto, the former town’s chief building official, had reviewed the report and determined it was in “very good shape.”
About two months before the collapse, the president of the association informed residents the damage reported in 2018 had worsened and the cost of repairing it had ballooned and there was a proposal for a $15 million special assessment.
“A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by,” Jean Wodnicki, the condo association president, wrote.
On the morning of the tragedy, a 911 caller said there was a group who thought the roof had collapsed when they ran out of their apartments and got trapped in the parking garage. They didn’t know the residents of the northern section were trapped in a compact mountain of pancaked concrete.
“We are going back up to our apartments but some of the hallways are blocked and there is water coming in through to the bottom, through the garage,” the 911 caller said.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel evacuated survivors from the balconies of what was left standing of the building. The search-and-rescue operation went on day and night despite intermittent storms and spontaneous fires. Families waited in anguish. They found bodies and human remains.
Witnesses at the epicenter of sorrow saw a Miami veteran firefighter held his little girl after Florida Task Force 2 Miami pulled her body out of the rubble. Seven-year-old Stella Cattarossi died with her mother, aunt, and maternal grandparents. Many other families mourned more than one relative.
On the Fourth of July, while other areas of Miami-Dade had fireworks displays, engineers monitored the demolition of the Champlain Towers South ruins. This sped up the search-and-recovery mission that followed after thunderstorms that stemmed from Tropical Storm Elsa.
There were more than 14,000 tons of concrete and metal removed from the site. Maggie Castro, a firefighter and paramedic, is a spokeswoman for MDFR. On Wednesday, she said the rain continues to slow down the recovery operation.
“The rubble that’s being removed now is from the building we purposely collapsed days after the event,” Castro said. “Right now, the biggest issue is the weather. We have a lot of water accumulation so we’re attempting to de-water the area.”
This is a developing story.
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