Residents Who Survived the Surfside Collapse Describe Being Inside

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U.S.|‘Like it had been hit by a missile’: Residents who survived the collapse describe being inside.

Emergency personnel worked at the site of the collapse Thursday morning.
Credit...Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, via Reuters

Raysa Rodriguez, 59, was asleep in her apartment at Champlain Towers South when the building began to shake in the early hours of Thursday morning — as if there had been an earthquake. On the balcony, she saw a plume of white smoke. Ms. Rodriguez rushed to her front door. “When I opened the door, I’m like, ‘There’s no more building,’” she said.

Her unit, 907, is on the west side of the building, which stayed intact. But a few doors down, from unit 904 and onward on the building’s north side, everything was flattened, she said. She ran inside to put on shorts and shoes and to grab her purse.

Along with some neighbors, including an older neighbor with a walker and a child, Ms. Rodriguez used the emergency stairwell, which was dark and littered with debris, to get to the second floor. A neighbor on that floor had left her apartment door open, and Ms. Rodriguez and the others ran in and onto the balcony, where rescuers were able to reach them with a ladder.

“I lost a lot of friends,” Ms. Rodriguez, who has owned a unit in the building for nearly 20 years, said. “They are not going to be able to find those people.”

Another resident, Barry Cohen, a 63-year-old lawyer, said that he and his wife were asleep when he heard something that sounded like a loud thunderclap. “But it never stopped — it lasted for almost a minute,” he said. They went out onto the balcony of their third-floor apartment and saw rubble and plumes of smoke. When they tried to exit through their balcony, the staircase was blocked by rubble.

“Everything was just decimated,” said Mr. Cohen, a former Surfside vice mayor. “It looked like it had been hit by a missile.” They went down to the garage, but were again blocked from leaving. Pipes had broken and there was so much water that it went up to his shins. They raced back to their apartment and yelled to rescuers, “Get us out of here!” he said. “We were just freaking out.”

He and his wife were eventually rescued by fire fighters using a ladder to reach them.

He said that there had been constant construction around the building since he moved there in 2018. “Everyone was constantly being shaken,” he said.

Residents said that a mix of people lived there, including retirees and affluent professionals with young families. The building is three blocks down from the Four Seasons. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are leasing a condominium a few buildings away, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

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