Surfside, United States:

A high-rise oceanfront apartment block near Miami Beach partially collapsed early Thursday morning, killing at least one person and leaving 99 missing, fearing the death toll would rise much higher as rescuers they comb the debris.

An unknown number of residents are feared asleep in the 12-story building in the town of Surfside when the collapse overnight reduced much of it to rubble, exposing the interiors of the destroyed apartments.

“One side of the building completely fell off. It no longer exists,” said Nicolás Fernández, 29, an Argentine resident of Miami who had yet to hear from friends who were spending the night at his family’s unit in the building.

“I don’t know about them. I don’t know if they are alive,” he told AFP.

Police said they had not yet heard from 99 people who may have been inside the apartment block at the time it collapsed.

“That could be for different reasons, we are still in the early stages,” said Freddy Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, at a news conference. He said another 53 had been safely accounted for.

At least 18 Latin American citizens are known to be among the missing, according to the country’s consulates. There are three Uruguayans, nine Argentines and six Paraguayans, including the sister of the country’s first lady.

Surfside also has a large Jewish population and several rabbis were on site to help with rescue operations.

About 55 apartments were affected by the collapse, according to Miami-Dade Deputy Chief Fire Department Ray Jadallah, who told a news conference that emergency services arrived at the scene around 1:30 a.m. and 35 people were evacuated from the building.

The building was occupied by a combination of full-time and seasonal residents and tenants, and officials have emphasized that it is unclear how many people were actually inside at the time.

“It’s hard to count on that,” Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman told CNN. “You don’t know between vacations or anything else,” he said. “Hope is still there, but it is dwindling.”

‘Preparing for bad news’

Some residents were able to descend the stairs to safety, while others had to be rescued from their balconies.

One death was confirmed by Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, and Heyman said about 14 survivors had been recovered from the rubble.

“It’s a really, really tragic situation, so we’re hoping for the best in terms of additional recoveries, but we’re bracing for some bad news just given the destruction we’re seeing,” Governor Rob DeSantis said at a news conference.

As hopes of finding more survivors waned, attention turned to recovering potential victims from the rubble, in a massive drone- and dog-assisted operation involving dozens of police and firefighting units.

“Apparently when the building collapsed, it collapsed, so there aren’t many voids that you find or see from the outside,” Burkett said on NBC’s Today show.

Surfside City Manager Andrew Hyatt told the news conference that search operations could last a week.

After speaking with Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, President Joe Biden told reporters that his administration was ready to send emergency resources to Florida “immediately” if requested.

“I tell the people of Florida, whatever help you want, that the federal government can give, just ask us, we’ll be there,” he said.

‘Like a bomb exploded’

The mayor of Surfside said the reasons for the collapse were not yet clear.

“It looks like a bomb went off, but we’re pretty sure it didn’t go off, so it’s something else,” Burkett said.

Fernández, the Argentine resident of Miami, said that when his mother called him in the early morning to tell him the building had collapsed, he thought it was a joke and hung up.

“He calls me back and says, ‘Nico, you know I would never joke about this. I need you to go there. ‘ We came running. “

A witness, 25-year-old Julian Targowski, described the sound of the collapse.

“It was like a very low sound, like boom boom, boom boom, that sort of thing,” he told local WFOR television.

“Like, a ton of bass in a subwoofer, basically just two of them,” he said. “So my friend texted me saying that a building had exploded.”

Local media said records showed the block was built in 1981 and had more than 130 units inside.

Heyman told CNN that the building had been undergoing work on its roof, although he also emphasized that the reasons for the collapse were unclear.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)