Residents of a Miami-area skyscraper loaded clothing and valuables into suitcases and laundry baskets and wheeled them to waiting cars after they were forced to evacuate the building when it was found to be unsafe in a review triggered by a deadly landslide just a few miles away.
An audit triggered by the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside found that the 156-unit Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, about five miles away, were deemed structurally and electrically unsafe in January, the city said in a news release. The evacuation was ordered on Friday.
Among the rubble of Champlain Towers South, the death toll rose to 22. The seven-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter was found dead. Two bodies were recovered overnight Thursday, including the girl, and two more were found on Friday.
In North Miami Beach on Friday afternoon, authorities went door-to-door at the apartment building and told residents they had to leave the 49-year-old structure.
Harold Dauphin was on his way home when he noticed a helicopter buzzing around his apartment and an increased police presence. He wondered if there had been a shooting, but found that his building was being evacuated.
“They said the building is not safe to live in and it is an immediate evacuation,” Dauphin said. He said he had not heard anything about the issues the city mentioned in its press release. He grabbed what he could and left.
“It is unfortunate, but I understand it. Knowing what happened at Surfside, you know, it’s understandable, ”he said.
It is the first building to be evacuated since officials in South Florida and across the state began scrutinizing older skyscrapers to make sure substantial structural problems are not overlooked.
At Surfside, although four more bodies were found, there was also relief. A closer inspection of the missing persons list reduced the number from 145 to 126 after duplicates were removed and some reported persons disappeared safely.
“So this is very, very good news,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, adding that the numbers were expected to keep changing as detectives continually review the list and verify the reports.
Discovering the girl’s remains was especially difficult, Levine Cava said.
“It was really different and more difficult for our first responders. These men and women are paying a huge human cost every day, and I ask that you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers, ”he said.
The mayor said she signed an emergency order to demolish the remaining part of the building. He said the order is signed now, but it will likely be weeks before the demolition is scheduled, authorities said.
No one has been rescued since the first hours after the June 24 collapse. Authorities are preparing in case Hurricane Elsa, now in the eastern Caribbean, brings strong winds. Search efforts have been halted multiple times due to inclement weather.
“We will try to go as much as we can, but you can see it in different periods of inclement weather that we have had, we have stopped,” said Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky.
On Thursday, Joe Biden hailed the “resistance” from authorities and search engines, “their absolute commitment and willingness to do whatever it takes to find the answer.”
“Families are realistic,” said the president. “They know that the possibilities, as the days go by, diminish slightly, but at the very least they want to recover the bodies.
“Those who survived the collapse are going through hell, as well as those who miss their loved ones. The really difficult thing is not knowing if they are surviving or not, having no idea. “
Authorities did not immediately release details about the structural problems that led to the evacuation in North Miami Beach, but Crestview Towers reported millions of dollars in damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017.
A letter posted less than two weeks ago on the community’s website said that the repairs were either underway or expected to begin shortly after the delays. Plans included a new roof, a generator replacement, and a lighting change.
“Last year has been a different year due to the pandemic and many things have been postponed for myriad reasons, but this year we have started to work hard,” the letter said.
The condo association could not be reached for comment.
Darwin Reyes said he lived in the building during Hurricane Irma and a portion of the balcony above his fell onto his during the storm. He listed other complaints, including elevators that often didn’t work and pipes that didn’t drain well. He said he had been planning to move.
On Friday, Reyes woke up from a nap. He checked his Instagram account and saw a notice saying his building was being evacuated. He looked down the hall and saw people with bags and suitcases. He and his wife packed what they could.
“Right now I am officially homeless,” he said.