Miami building collapse: Witness describes wreckage, strong rumbling, widespread smoke and screaming

A portion of the 12-story condo tower crumbled to the ground during a partially collapse of the building on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)

A college student from Massachusetts was among those who witnessed the devastating collapse of a residential building in Miami this week that has left multiple people dead and more than 150 residents missing.

Earthquake-like shaking, widespread smoke in the streets and screaming is what Harvard University student Anastasia Mechan experienced following the Thursday morning implosion of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex in Surfside, Florida, WBZ reported.

Mechan is staying with her family for a few weeks and lives only blocks away from where the building collapsed. At the time of the wreckage early Thursday, she and her family were asleep. However, the strong rumbling woke them all up.

Her mother said it was impossible for the shaking to be an earthquake, so they went outside the home and saw “smoke all the way through the streets,” Mechan told WBZ. The smoke was so widespread, Mechan noted, she thought it was a large fire at first.

“We did hear people screaming in the morning, screaming like really, really loud, like ‘no!’ ” Mechan said, according to WBZ.

At a press conference Friday morning, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava reported 120 residents were identified and declared safe, while 159 remain unaccounted for, though some may not have been in the building at the time of the collapse. Four bodies have been pulled from the rubble of the building collapse.

“As the sun sets on the most tragic day this community can remember, we stand in solidarity once against to tell you we’re working around the clock to search and rescue people in this rubble,” the mayor said at another press conference a night earlier. “I can assure you that these fire-rescue personnel, the best in the world, the ones that are called upon to come out in crises everywhere, are working as hard as could possibly be. They are so motivated to bring people out safely and restore them to their loved ones.”

WBZ reported Mechan and her neighbors are giving food and water to first responders as they search for the nearly 160 people potentially missing in the rubble.

On Friday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Florida and ordered that federal assistance be sent to Miami-Dade for the state and local response efforts.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are now coordinating all disaster relief efforts to alleviate the hardship and suffering caused by the collapse, to save lives and to lessen or avert the threat of the catastrophe.

“This is a tragedy without precedent in the United States of America,” U.S. Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz of Florida said at the press conference. “To see one building come down like this inexplicably, having a chance to talk to the families, whose hearts are breaking, who need and want answer and who need to have hope that their loved ones will be somewhere under that rubble.”

When Mechan learned the building collapsed Thursday morning, she walked down the beach to see what happened. There, the Harvard student saw sofas, balconies and clothes hanging, according to WBZ.

“It’s really disturbing,” she told the news outlet. “It’s a situation that you cannot even describe in words.”

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