The cloud of dust was dissolved by the sea wind and the rain that fell in the last hours deepened the scene of horror that is now being experienced in this corner of Miami, which used to be sunny, but today it is definitely in mourning. Night falls and the atmosphere is dense and intense at the same time because a swarm of rescuers moves frantically among beams, furniture and rubble to try to find signs of life between what was once a 136-apartment building and that partially collapsed at dawn on Thursday in Surfside, a neighborhood with an Argentine stamp .
On the beach, a few meters from that destroyed mass, Gabriela Lucart, a Venezuelan, a neighbor who lives about 10 blocks away, looks at the ruins and says she is impacted by a bunk bed that appears barely unscathed on the top floors of what she has been doing. Little was an elegant building. Who would sleep there? What will have become of those owners?
“I saw it on television, but live like this it’s creepy. It is very shocking and sad. You feel in Syria, ”Gabriela told Clarion standing in the sand, where a vigil had been improvised overlooking the rubble.
As of press time, there was officially one dead, but there were 99 missing, including 9 Argentines, and an unspecified number of wounded. More than 80 fire crews work tirelessly on 88th Street and Collins Avenue, the waterfront artery that runs through the city and is a symbol of Miami. 53 people had been rescued, including an Argentine.
55 apartments out of 136 collapsed. Those who remained in the unscathed part were evacuated first. And then the search in the rubble began. Among the disappeared there are also Uruguayans, Paraguayans and Chileans, and visitors from other countries because it was a residents’ building, but it also housed tourists. The sister of the first lady of Paraguay, Sophia Lopez, her husband, three children and the maid were also there and there are no traces of them for now.
What can be seen is a chaos of ironsBut there are still remnants of the splendor of the Champlain Towers complex, a luxurious condominium consisting of three 12-story towers above the beach, yellowish, built in the 80s and that had a small park before the sand with grass and grills.
There is a strong security cordon that prevents the passage, but among the curious who try to overcome the fences that surround the collapsed building the dramatic story of what happened is repeated: it was around 1 in the morning, local time (2 in Argentina), when the mole seemed to crack and in a few moments the part that faces the beach collapsed and raised a cloud of dust to the sky, which some neighbors compared with the one seen in the fall of the Twin Towers.
“I was not there on 9/11, but the feeling of that cloud of dust is the same”, says Cuban Carlos López, who lives a few minutes from the place and who was now looking for news near the Champlain. “I was sleeping and I felt a tremendous noise, I went out to the balcony and after a while the sirens began to be heard. I live 6 blocks away and there was a cloud that reached up to here ”.
Surfside is a neighborhood with a strong presence of the Jewish community and heavily traveled by Argentines, since it is attached to the so-called “Little Argentina”, about 15 blocks further south, and boundary to the north with Bal Harbor. That is why the building housed many compatriots, many of them who had come to this city to get vaccinated or to escape the coronavirus pandemic.
It is the case of the surgeon Andres Galfrascoli, 45 years old and Fabian Nuñez, 55, a couple who were with their 6-year-old daughter Sofia in an apartment in the Champlain Towers borrowed just for one night. Nicolás Patoka, the owner of the apartment, he told Clarion that their father had dined and been with them there until 9 o’clock the night before (see separate).
The Argentine Foreign Ministry confirmed that They are looking for those three people and six more Argentines whose data did not transcend. At one point, there were ten Argentines wanted, but one of them, Manuel Lafont, of legal age, was found alive.
Those who still cannot get out of the shock are the actors Nicolás Vázquez and Gimena Accardi, who they managed to save themselves by a miracle. They were arriving at the building and when they got on the elevator they felt a tremor. Running and screaming they managed to get out of the building while behind them the mass was collapsing.
The causes of the tragedy are not yet known. “One does not imagine that a building can collapse as it happened“said Michael Góngora, deputy mayor of Miami Beach. However, he explained that due to its age the building should be in the normal renovation tasks that a complex of these characteristics must carry out.
“What we know is that the building is 40 years old. Here in South Florida there is a code that states that at 40 years old the buildings they have to be certified again, like the structure, the roof, the electricity. I imagine that the building was in that process, “added Góngora.
The Patoka family, who own two apartments, suggested that the collapse was due to “structural failures” of the building, that there was a flood in the garage and that the roof and the air conditioning pipes were being repaired.
Rescue work continued at night. “We are doing a massive operation to find those who are still there. We are with our firefighters who are doing their job in an excellent way, with their experience of many years in this type of emergency. We must let them do their job, because every minute counts. We are all praying and doing what we can because of our rescuers, ”said Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade.
On the beach there is a group of women belonging to the Calvary Chapel Church who join hands and look up to the sky to pray for the victims. María Teresa, tells Clarín that “at this time that our community has been affected by this disaster we have been invited by the Miami Beach police to put up a tent and we are praying for the lord to bring mercy to the people who are trapped in the rubble. “
A storm comes in and rays are seen in the sea that cast a ghostly light on the ruins.