Photo Credit: Miami Dade Fire Rescue via Twitter
Collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building at 8777 Collins Avenue, Surfside, FL

At least two people died, dozens of others were injured and 99 people are still missing after a massive condo hi-rise collapse at 1 am on 8777 Collins Avenue, next to 88th Street in Miami-Dade County.

A 10-year-old boy was pulled from the rubble alive after first responders saw his hand weakly moving just above the pile. Another 52 people are now accounted for as well.

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Miami-Dade Police Department Chief Freddy Ramirez said Thursday afternoon that 99 people were still unaccounted for, but 53 people had been located.

Many Jews are missing, according to Yosef Dahan, a Hatzalah representative who was assisting with search and rescue efforts on site. “Some of the names are known to me,” Dahan said. “Many Jews live in the building itself,” he said.

Weather was starting to become an issue for search and rescue crews as rain began to move in over the area. Heavier rain and lightning offshore are also in the forecast.

The Chabad-Lubavitch COLLive website said at least one couple that is missing are members of the Chasidic movement. “Please say Tehillim for Tzvi Daniel ben Yehudis and Itta bas Miriam, who were in the building in Surfside that collapsed early in this morning and no one can reach them,” their family member, Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus, requested.

Among the missing are at least 20 Jews, according to Jewish sources. Israel’s public broadcaster Kan News reported Thursday night (Israel time) that 20 missing Jews are Israeli citizens.

However, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Havat told JewishPress.com that he could not confirm the report, and that it is not clear whether these 20 are Israelis.

“There are about 20 Jews among the missing people. We don’t know if they have an Israeli citizenship,” Havat said.

There is, however, a strong Israeli community in that area of the city.

A hotel next door was evacuated due to fears the disaster may have destabilized that building as well.

Officials said it did not appear likely that the collapse was due to criminality or terrorism. USA reported that the condo hi-rise had been built on reclaimed wetlands, and was sinking at a rate of about two millimeters per year during the 1990s, according to a study carried out in 2020 at Florida International University.

Professor Shimon Wdowinsky, a professor in the university’s Department of Earth and Environment who conducted the study, said he immediately knew which building was involved when he heard the news. However, he said, his research does not suggest any certainty about the cause of the tragic collapse.

The area, just north of Miami Beach, is known as one of Miami-Dade’s most Jewish neighborhoods.

Earlier in the day, 35 were pulled from the wreckage alive by firefighters and rescue workers.

Psalms are being requested (chapters 20 and 119) for the following unaccounted people: Chaim ben Sara, Malka bas Sara Rochel, Yisroel Tzvi Yosef ben Toba, Tzvi Daniel ben Yehudis, Itta bas Miriam and Esther bat Linda, Moshe ben Toba, Moshe ben Shoshana, Leib ben Shoshana, Ariel Leib ben Ita, Ilan ben Kalman, Chaim ben Sara, Sara bat Ida, Nancy bas Sofia, Franky ben Nancy, Jay ben Nancy, Deborah bat Haia, Yehuda Arye ben Frieda Rivka, Rut bat Sara, Nicole bat Andrea, Mikael ben Hans, Garbriela bat Sara, Linda bas Clara, Deborah bat Clara, Ilan ben Ronit, and Ya’akov Reuvein HaCohen ben Devorah.

More than 80 fire and rescue units responded to the scene. Florida Power & Light said the company cut electricity to some 400 customers in the area.

The building was built in 1981 and was due for a 40-year recertification, according to the Miami Herald. The roof of the building was undergoing renovation but it is not clear whether that had anything to do with the collapse.

The hi-rise is situated across the street from Harding Avenue, where numerous kosher restaurants and grocery stores are located. A Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue, called “The Shul” — founded by Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries — is located just down the street.

A hotel located next door to the building was evacuated due to fears of a secondary collapse.

“We all want to know why it collapsed,” Peter Dyga, president and CEO of the Associate Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast chapter told Local 10 News.

“Everyone here in South Florida knows there are literally thousands of buildings this height or higher, probably millions in the world — and this type of event does not just happen. Buildings, regardless of how old they are, are not built or designed to collapse — unless you intend them to — due to old age or whatnot.

“This is really a catastrophic event,” he added.

A part of the Champlain Towers South Condo, the oceanfront building was completed in 1981. The portion that collapsed had more than 130 units, according to Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management.

Rollason said the emergency workers believe they have cleared all survivors from the tower. More than 70 of the units have been destroyed or damaged, he said.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett confirmed that 10 people were treated for injuries on site.

Of those, “multiple injured” were evacuated to Jackson Memorial Medical Center and other nearby hospitals, according Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman of District 4, who spoke with the Miami Herald.

Officials say there may be further fatalities as the search continues.

“I lost a lot of friends,” said one surviving resident of the building who spoke with NBC Miami’s Sam Brock. “Part of the building was pancaked.”

Mayor Burkett said that 15 family units have escaped the disaster unscathed. Search and rescue teams, including sniffer dogs, continue to search for survivors.

“Apparently when the building came down it pancaked, so there’s just not a lot of voids that they’re finding or seeing from the outside,” he told NBC’s “Today” news anchors. “It looks like a bomb went off, but we’re pretty sure a bomb didn’t go off, so it’s something else.”

At least 2,500 Orthodox Jews lived in the neighborhood in 2018, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has set up a family reunification center at 9301 Collins Avenue.

For those seeking information about family members looking for information, Chevra Hatzalah said a hotline has been set up the number to call is 847-322-1422.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.