Survivors recalled the devastation that unfolded when a condo partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida.
Search and rescue workers were combing through the rubble in the hopes of finding any of the 99 people that remain unaccounted for after the “unprecedented” Thursday morning catastrophe.
“I thought to myself, the roof is caving,” Bruno Treptow, 62, told the Miami Herald.
“I turned to my wife and she wakes up startled. And she says no it can’t be,” Treptow said. “So I hug her. I give her a hug and say, ‘Listen, this is it. We’re gonna die.’”
One person has been confirmed dead, but the seaside carnage is expected to sharply rise, officials said at an evening press conference.
“We did identify and declare safe 102 people, and 99 we still cannot account for, some of whom may not have been in the building” Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levin Cava said around 8:30 p.m.
“Our firefighters, men and women, are working around the clock, a huge task force of people… they are proceeding with all of their might.”
“They are so motivated to bring people out safely and restore them to their loved ones,” the mayor said.
Thirty-five people were rescued, and two were pulled from the rubble, officials confirmed.
As crews worked through the night, some residents of the Champlain Towers South Condo recounted their harrowing ordeal.
Alfredo and Marian Lopez were sleeping in their sixth-floor apartment in the northwest corner of the doomed structure, when they heard their building starting to collapse at 1:30 a.m., The Miami Herald reports.
“I woke up and thought we’re just having a bad thunderstorm,” Alfredo, 61, told the newspaper, until he realized the view from his window was blocked by a thick cloud of dust.
Treptow was sleeping in his home on the eighth floor, reportedly had the same thought.
“Did lightning just hit the building?” Treptow wondered, before thinking heavy construction equipment on the roof caused the building the collapse, according to the paper.
When the Lopezes entered the building’s hallway, their neighbor’s door had vanished, leaving billowing dust, and a dark beach, the paper said.
“That complete side of the building was not there,” Marian reportedly said. “The apartments were gone.”
As Treptow stepped out of his unit, he saw only his neighbor’s door frame; the door had fallen into the abyss with the apartment, according to the article.
“Three families that I know well,” he emotionally recounted to the paper, adding he’s not hopeful they will survive.
The residents fled down an emergency stairwell into the flooded garage, where they escaped through a crumbled wall, according to the report.
“I could hear people crying and screaming for help,” Alfredo Lopez reportedly said, as he carried a woman who was in shock to safety, as a cherry picker lowered down other surviving residents.
Pablo Rodriguez, whose mother and grandmother are among the missing, said his mother called him complaining of “creaking noises” she heard a day before the collapse, CNN reports.
“It was like a comment that she made off-hand, like that’s why she woke up and she wasn’t able to go back to sleep afterwards,” Rodriguez reportedly said. “Now, in hindsight, you always wonder.”
“We are not exactly hopeful,” he told the outlet. “You always hold out hope, until you definitively know but after seeing the video of the collapse, it’s increasingly difficult, because they were in that section that was pancaked in.”
“This is a tragedy without precedent in the United States of America. The devastation that I witnessed today is the likes of which I’ve never seen,” an emotional Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said as officials updated the press one last time Thursday evening.
Authorities have not announced what caused the building to collapse.
With AP wires