Tips on how to survive, escape a collapsing building in wake of Florida condo disaster – Miami Herald

A bunk bed is seen in the rubble at Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, located at 8777 Collins Avenue, a part of which collapsed in the early morning in Surfside, Florida, Thursday, June 24, 2021.
A bunk bed is seen in the rubble at Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, located at 8777 Collins Avenue, a part of which collapsed in the early morning in Surfside, Florida, Thursday, June 24, 2021. David Santiago

Is there anything you could do to boost your chances of surviving a building collapse like the one near Miami, Florida?

A 12-story oceanfront condo in Surfside, Florida, northeast of Miami, partly collapsed at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, killing at least one person and leaving as many as 99 missing, the Miami Herald reported.

“Everyone who is alive is out of the building,” Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management, told the publication just after 8 a.m.

But the Florida tragedy is just one of several building collapses across the United States in the past 50 years.

Here are some tips on how to survive and escape a building collapse.

How to prepare for a building collapse

Everyone should have a family emergency survival kit ready for any kind of disaster, including a building collapse, Survivorpedia advises.

You’ll want to pack enough food, water, medicine and other supplies to survive at least 72 hours without help. Radios, flashlights, whistles, candles, light sticks and emergency blankets are just a few of the other things you’ll want to include.

If you could be caught in a building collapse, you’ll also want to prepare a dig-out kit, Survivorpedia suggests.

Your kit should include heavy work gloves, safety goggles, a crowbar, a small sledgehammer, a bolt cutter, an ax, screwdrivers and a headlamp.

Warning signs of an imminent collapse

First of all, you may not have much warning, StoragePrepper says.

“It’s likely that one moment things will seem fine, and the next everything falls apart,” according to the site.

But some potential signs of an imminent collapse include windows breaking and doors opening or closing as the building “flexes,” OffGridWeb warns.

Walls may separate from each other or ceilings, and cracks may appear. “Cracks wider than your thumb indicate that things are getting desperate,” according to the website.

Falling dust and creaking or groaning are other possible signs of an impending collapse.

How to survive a building collapse

Once the building starts to collapse, what do you do?

Don’t try to escape by elevator — it’s “one of the most dangerous things you can do” in a collapse, warns StoragePrepper.

“Not only is there the danger of something happening to the cable, causing the elevator to crash to the elevator pit, there’s also the danger that the electricity will go out and you’ll be stuck inside while the elevator shaft crumbles around you,” the site says.

But do anything you can to get out, OffGridWeb says. Head toward the light — below three stories, windows may be a viable escape route.

If you can’t do that, head for a stairwell. They often are specially reinforced, Survivorpedia says. Some World Trade Center survivors were found in stairwells.

“Otherwise, at least try to get into a hallway where there will be less debris to crush you,” OffGridWeb says. The center of a room may also work.

If all else fails, find a sturdy piece of furniture and curl up beside it, but not underneath it, StoragePrepper suggests.

“Being beside the furniture allows it to deflect some of the falling debris (and) eliminates the chances of you getting pinned beneath the furniture if it crumbles beneath a wall,” the site says.

What to do if you are trapped in rubble

People have survived for days and even weeks while trapped in rubble after a building collapse. A man in Haiti survived 14 days after the 2010 earthquake.

If you are about to be buried in debris, try to keep your hands and arms in front of your face to create a pocket of breathable air, just like in an avalanche, according to OffGridWeb.

Stay low to the ground. If a fire breaks out, smoke inhalation will be a serious threat, according to Survivorpedia. Other hazards can include jagged metal, poor air quality, live electrical wires, water leaks and broken sewer pipes.

If you are trapped under debris, try to signal rescuers with a flashlight or phone light, StoragePrepper suggests.

You could try banging on pipes, but avoid loud noises, which could trigger further collapses. Avoid unnecessary movement for the same reason, Survivorpedia says.

Stay calm to conserve as much of your energy as possible, StoragePrepper says.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.