These are very difficult times, and things are going to get more difficult as we move forward, Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said.
Fire fighters and others worked through the night in hopes of finding survivors. Officials said no cause for the collapse has been determined.
Video of the collapse showed the centre of the building appearing to tumble down first and a section nearest to the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later, as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighbourhood.
About half the buildings roughly 130 units were affected, and rescuers pulled at least 35 people from the wreckage in the first hours after the collapse.
Raide Jadallah, an assistant Miami-Dade County fire chief, said that while listening devices placed on and in the wreckage had picked up no voices, they had detected possible banging noises, giving rescuers hope some are alive. Rescuers were tunnelling into the wreckage from below, going through the buildings underground parking garage.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told reporters he was as stunned as anyone.
Its less likely than a lightning strike, he said. It just doesnt happen. You dont see buildings falling down in America.
Several engineering experts, speaking from experience and reviewing chilling surveillance footage that showed the north-east, beachfront portion of the building collapsing around 1.20 am on Thursday, suggested a number of factors could have played a role, including saltwater corroding the concrete and potentially weakening beams that hold up the structure.
But while a critical, compulsory assessment designed to catch any serious structural damage was underway at the Champlain Towers South, it was not yet complete. The 12-storey, 136-unit building was erected in 1981 and was still early in its recertification process, which is required for most non-single-family structures county wide once they turn 40 years old.
The bottom line is thats not an old building, and 40-year inspection or not, that kind of thing should not be happening, said Burkett, the mayor.
Its not clear what stage the review process had reached and whether anything had been flagged at Champlain towers, which consist of three adjacent buildings near 88th Street and Collins Avenue.
Some have speculated that the problems could have started in the ground, but the author of a paper showing that the Champlain Tower building sunk at a slightly faster rate than its neighbouring buildings, a process known as subsidence, cautioned that his research was a mere snapshot in time.
In the April 2020 research paper, Florida International University professor Shimon Wdowinski and his co-author found Champlain Tower sunk into the ground at a rate of about two millimetres a year from 1993 to 1999.
Wdowinski said land subsidence alone would not cause a building to collapse.
A rescue worker walks through the rubble of the 12-storey beachfront condo building.Credit:AP Photo
Federal authorities said there was no evidence of terrorism at the site.
Personal belongings were evidence of shattered lives amid the wreckage of the Champlain, which was built in 1981 in Surfside, a small suburb north-west of Miami. A childrens bunk bed perched precariously on a top floor, bent but intact and apparently inches from falling into the rubble.
Argentines Dr Andres Galfrascoli, his husband, Fabian Nunez and their 6-year-old daughter, Sofia, had spent Wednesday night there at an apartment belonging to a friend, Nicolas Fernandez.
Galfrascoli, a Buenos Aires plastic surgeon, and Nunez, a theatre producer and accountant, had come to Florida to get away from a COVID-19 resurgence in Argentina and its strict lockdowns. They had worked hard to adopt Sofia, Fernandez said.
Of all days, they chose the worst to stay there, Fernandez said. I hope its not the case, but if they die like this, that would be so unfair.
They werent the only South Americans missing. Foreign ministries and consulates of four countries said 22 nationals were missing in the collapse: nine from Argentina, six from Paraguay, four from Venezuela and three from Uruguay.
The Paraguayans included Sophia López Moreira the sister of first lady Silvana Abdo and sister-in-law of President Mario Abdo Benítez and her family.
Israeli media said the countrys consul general in Miami, Maor Elbaz, believes that 20 citizens of that country are missing.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is aware of reports that Australians could have been in the building, saying the embassy in Washington was making urgent inquiries.
AP with staff writers
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