SURFSIDE, Fla. — As crews worked through the night searching for nearly 100 people unaccounted for after the collapse of a 12-story condo building in Florida, their loved ones clung to hope.
“Hopefully, they are in hospital, and they don’t have a way of communicating with me and they are alive — that’s all I wish,” said Nicholas Fernandez, who has not heard from close friends from Argentina since the condominium building in the beachfront community collapsed around 1:30 a.m.
The doctor, singer and their daughter, who Fernandez called exceptional people, were in Florida to escape the Covid-19 pandemic in Argentina.
“It’s not fair,” he said. “It’s just unfair.”
The slow and methodical search for survivors involves rescue teams searching from below — using a parking garage — as well as from the top of the destruction, the county mayor said.
Officials vowed not to give up rescue efforts.
As the day ended, Director of the Miami-Dade Police Department Alfredo Ramirez said he would reflect on the “unforeseen and tragic incident,” but added that there would be no pause on the search.
First responders would “relentlessly work throughout the night as they continue their search and rescue mission,” he said on Twitter.
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky also said Thursday evening that there was “hope.”
“Heads up, and we keep going,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, video footage showed a boy being rescued from the rubble and carried over the shoulder of a firefighter.
Only one person has been confirmed dead, so far, but officials fear that number could skyrocket with at least 99 people identified who are unaccounted for.
Some of those people may not have been in the building, said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who called Thursday “the most tragic day this community can remember.”
“We are working around the clock to search and rescue people in this rubble,” the mayor said.
Rolando Moreno was among those waiting to hear about his best friend.
Moreno got a call from another friend around 6 a.m. Thursday, asking if he had heard about the collapse. Moreno realized it was his friend’s building, but it wasn’t until he called his friend’s sister that he learned he was missing.
“I’m holding out hope, I’m praying,” Moreno said. “… If you’re out there, just keep fighting.”
Family members of the first lady of Paraguay, Silvana López Moreira, were among the missing, including her sister, the brother-in-law, the couple’s three children and a worker accompanying the family, Paraguay’s Foreign Minister Euclides Acevedo said.
Jenny Urgelles told NBC Miami that she had been trying to reach her parents since 5:30 a.m. She said she couldn’t understand how such a thing could happen in the United States, and in what she called one of the most beautiful and nicest cities in South Florida.
“I can’t believe this has actually happened,” she told the station. “… You see the photos, and they’re so awful.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, which allows federal assistance to the area and those affected.
President Joe Biden earlier Thursday pledged any federal aid requested and he said the government was ready to move resources to help immediately.
Pablo Rodriguez said his mother and grandmother lived in the building that collapsed and are among those unaccounted for.
“They were in the tower that first collapsed,” he said. “We saw it when we saw the video. It’s the very first tower that comes down, that was their unit.”
“Hope just disintegrated at that point,” he said.
Rodriguez said the building was going through recertification, which involves inspection. His mother had complained the night before that she heard creaking. Rodriguez now wonders if that was connected, and he wants answers.
“Buildings don’t collapse,” he said. “I’m angry at the situation. I’m angry that somebody, or groups of somebody, weren’t doing their job.”
Adela Suliman contributed.