Surfside condo collapse: 911 calls reveal panic, confusion

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Recordings of 911 calls in the moments after a South Florida condominium partially collapsed last month reveal panic, confusion and disbelief.

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The Miami-Dade Police Department released some of the 911 calls it received from the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, which were logged by dispatchers shortly after the 12-story building collapsed at about 1:30 a.m. EDT on June 24.

The total number of deaths at the condominium is now 97, with 90 persons identified and 88 next-of-kin notified, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference.

The first call came at 1:16 a.m. EDT, according to the Sun-Sentinel. First responders arrived at 8777 Collins Ave. within moments of the building’s collapse, the newspaper reported.

The early 911 calls revealed that callers believed they were experiencing an earthquake or an explosion, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

In the early calls, witnesses described what they thought was a large explosion or earthquake.

“It seemed like here it was an earthquake,” one caller said at 1:17 a.m., according to the Miami Herald. “The garage, everything -- seemed like something underground -- everything exploded down.”

“Oh my God! The whole building collapsed!” one caller said, according to The Associated Press.

“We’ve gotta get out. Hurry up, hurry up. There’s a big explosion,” a second caller said, according to the AP. “There’s a lot of smoke. I can’t see anything. We gotta go. I can’t see nothing but smoke.”

Experts interviewed by the Herald said that “explosion” and “earthquake” imply a possible trigger that could have caused the pool deck slab at the condo to collapse.

“If there was an explosion -- and I don’t know what could have caused it -- but that could have caused that slab to fall,” Dawn Lehman, professor of structural engineering at the University of Washington, told the newspaper. “That could have started the progression [of the building collapse] as we know it.”

Other experts said the loud noise could have been something different. Greg Batista, an engineer from Davie who specializes in concrete repair projects, told the Herald that the “explosion” could have simply been the sound of a concrete slab falling into the parking garage.

“It’s more likely than not that when the slab falls, of course it’s gonna create a loud boom,” Batista told the newspaper. “You’ve got tons of concrete falling down at the same time.”

Whatever caused the building’s collapse, the 911 calls to Miami-Dade police were harrowing.

In one call, the dispatcher repeatedly said, “Hello. Ma’am? Hello?” The only answer before the line went dead was: “Come, come, come,” the Sun-Sentinel reported. In another, according to WPLG, a caller pleads, “Can somebody help me get out, please? If the building comes down, it will come down on my head.”

“We think the roof collapsed in the building. A bunch of us are in the garage, but we can’t get out, and we are going back up to our apartments, but some of the hallways are blocked, and there is water coming in through the bottom, through the garage,” WPLG reported another caller as saying

At 1:21 a.m., one caller reported a collapse in the building’s parking garage, the Sun-Sentinel reported. He tried to describe what happened but said he could not see anything but smoke. People screamed in the background, the newspaper reported.

Shortly before 1:30 a.m., people inside the part of the condo that remained standing began calling 911, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“I’m at Champlain Towers. Something is going on here. You’ve got to get us out of here,” one caller said as she stood on a balcony. “Half the building is gone.”

In a 14-minute call, one man described his and his family’s escape, the newspaper reported. For those inside the building, the calls reveal the chaos and confusion as people tried to find a way out.

“We can’t find the exit. We’re in the stairs, but we don’t know which stairs we can get out,” one caller told a dispatcher, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

It is unclear whether federal investigators looking into the collapse have reviewed the 911 calls, the Herald reported. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology told the newspaper that the agency has not finalized its team for the Surfside disaster.

The release of the calls came on the same day a judge approved the sale of the oceanfront property, the AP reported. Proceeds are expected to benefit the victims of the collapse.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman ordered that the process to sell the site of Champlain Towers South should begin. According to court records, proceeds from the sale could exceed $100 million, according to the AP.