Neighbors’ grim and panicked 911 calls on the night of the Surfside tragedy are released 


Nearly two dozen grim 911 calls from the night of condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida have been released showing the panic felt in the chaotic aftermath on June 24 by those who witnessed it.

Police and fire rescue dispatchers across Miami received heavy 911 call volume with desperate pleas to respond to 8777 Collins Ave. where the Champlain Towers South building collapsed, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

The Miami-Dade Police Department said on Wednesday that they identified another victim, marking at least 97 people who have been confirmed to have died while eight people remain unaccounted for, according to WPLG

Early 911 callers reported feeling what they thought was a large explosion or earthquake while others thought there had been a fire or that the roof had fallen in.

The Miami Herald has interviewed experts who said that the words ‘explosion’ and ‘earthquake’ could mean ‘a possible trigger’ could have caused the pool deck slab to collapse causing the rest of the building to fall. 

Nearly two dozen grim 911 calls from the night of condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida have been released

Louis Tinoco, who lived in Unit 505 and survived the disaster with his family, detailed his harrowing escape in a nearly 14-minute call with dispatchers

Louis Tinoco, who lived in Unit 505 and survived the disaster with his family, detailed his harrowing escape in a nearly 14-minute call with dispatchers

Dawn Lehman, a professor of structural engineering at the University of Washington, said: ‘If there was an explosion — and I don’t know what could have caused it — but that could have caused that slab to fall.’

‘That could have started the progression [of the building collapse] as we know it.’

The Miami-Dade Police Department declined to comment if there has been any evidence that there was an explosion before the collapse, the Miami Herald reported.

Frank Rollason, director of the Miami-Dade Office of Emergency Management, admitted that there has ‘been no discussion’ if there had been an explosion.

He told the Miami Herald that his office has received ‘no information and no intel, and there’s been no discussion that there’s been an explosion of some type that caused that building to come down.’

The town of Surfside has hired structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer to investigate the collapse, who told the Miami Herald that an explosion is ‘on my list of possibilities.’

He told the outlet that the only way to know other than from eyewitness accounts would be by testing debris or ‘something contaminous’ consistent with an explosion. 

The engineer is also ‘exploring what could potentially make a fuel tank like the one stored in the Champlain Towers garage explode,’ the outlet reported. 

However, not all engineers are convinced that there could have been an explosion. 

Greg Batista, an engineer specializing in concrete repair projects, said the ‘explosion’ heard by 911 callers could just have been concrete falling into the garage.

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

He also said an electrical explosion is unlikely to have triggered the collapse, unless it occurred near a gas tank and set off a chain reaction.

Dispatchers received the first call for help at 1:16 a.m. with first responders arriving to the Champlain Towers South building within minutes, outlets reported.

‘Yeah so I’m at Champlain Towers and something is going on here. You’ve got to get us out of here,’ one woman said.

When asked by the dispatcher if the woman was in her apartment, she said: ‘Yes! Half the building is gone!’

In another call, a woman explained that several of the building’s residents were trapped inside the garage.

‘The roof collapsed in the building. A bunch of us are in the garage but we can’t get out and we’re 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,’ she said.

In another call, the 911 caller is simply heard saying ‘come, come, come’ while the dispatcher repeats ‘Hello. Ma’am? Hello?’ before the line went dead.

People could be heard screaming in the background while another 911 caller reported a collapse in the parking garage and described only being able to see smoke around 1:21 a.m.

During that call, a scared woman appeared to ask him where they were going while he told dispatchers: ‘We can’t see a thing. It’s all smoke here.’

The 911 caller then tried to comfort his panting mother, telling her to ‘relax.’

‘Take a deep breath. We’re here. We’re here. We’re safe, mom,’ he said.

The mother then shouts: ‘Earthquake! It’s an earthquake outside!’

Crews work in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building on Tuesday

Crews work in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building on Tuesday

A worker waits to load his truck with debris from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the collapsed condo building on Wednesday

A worker waits to load his truck with debris from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the collapsed condo building on Wednesday

Crews have continued to sift through and remove rubble weeks after the condo building collapsed

Crews have continued to sift through and remove rubble weeks after the condo building collapsed

One female caller reported being trapped near the parking garage as she pleaded for somebody to get her out.

‘If the building comes down, it will come down on my head,’ she said.

Louis Tinoco, who lived in Unit 505 and survived the disaster with his family, detailed his harrowing escape in a nearly 14-minute call with dispatchers.

Tinoco said he was calling from the second floor and that they were trying to find a way out of the building.

‘We just heard from people that are downstairs — they got out. We are going to try the garage now,’ he said as a dispatcher tells him they would stay on the phone until he made it out of the building. 

‘The entire garage is flooding,’ Tinoco said.

A member of a search and rescue team watches as heavy equipment is used to remove crushed vehicles on Monday

A member of a search and rescue team watches as heavy equipment is used to remove crushed vehicles on Monday

Search and Rescue teams remove crushed vehicles as they continue look for bodies in the rubble at the site of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo

Search and Rescue teams remove crushed vehicles as they continue look for bodies in the rubble at the site of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo

Damaged vehicles are transported from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues on Tuesday

Damaged vehicles are transported from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues on Tuesday

Search and Rescue teams remove crushed vehicles as they continue look for bodies in the rubble at the site of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo

Search and Rescue teams remove crushed vehicles as they continue look for bodies in the rubble at the site of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo

Tinoco and his family could be heard desperately searching for an exit while someone in the background screams: ‘I need to get out!’ 

He and his family returned to the second floor. People started to gather near someone’s door and planned to break it down to escape using their balcony, Tinoco told the dispatcher. He said he could hear people screaming in the rubble.

‘There are people in the rubble yelling, by the way,’ he said.

‘There’s people yelling, saying they’re stuck on the part of the building that collapsed. They keep yelling. Is it safe for us to stay here?’ 

The dispatcher responded: ‘We have several, several units that are already on the scene.’

Tinoco then told the dispatcher that he believed he found an exit.

‘OK, we found an exit, I think,’ he said, adding moments later: ‘We’re outside.’

The dispatcher told Tinoco and his family to keep walking as they scaled the the top of the rubble. 

Molly MacDonald, with Mercy Chefs, hangs a sign on behalf of Princeton Church at a makeshift memorial remembering the victims of the nearby collapsed Champlain Towers South building on Wednesday

Molly MacDonald, with Mercy Chefs, hangs a sign on behalf of Princeton Church at a makeshift memorial remembering the victims of the nearby collapsed Champlain Towers South building on Wednesday

People hugged as they waited for news about relatives at the community center in Surfside after the condo building collapsed

People hugged as they waited for news about relatives at the community center in Surfside after the condo building collapsed

A couple embraced as they look at the debris of a partially collapsed building in Surfside while 159 people remain had still been unaccounted for on June 25

A couple embraced as they look at the debris of a partially collapsed building in Surfside while 159 people remain had still been unaccounted for on June 25

Two women comforted each other at the Surfside community center where friends and family waited for new developments in the search for their loved ones

Two women comforted each other at the Surfside community center where friends and family waited for new developments in the search for their loved ones

Miami-Dade Police Officer Barbara Jenkins, right, comforts a woman who is trying to get closer to the site of the Champlain Towers South Condo after the building collapsed

Miami-Dade Police Officer Barbara Jenkins, right, comforts a woman who is trying to get closer to the site of the Champlain Towers South Condo after the building collapsed

Tinoco is heard shouting to his family: ‘Go, go, go! We’re going to go to the beach.’

After a few more moments passed, Tinoco tells the dispatcher that he stopped to help a woman. The dispatcher told him not to look for anyone else.

‘Go stay with your family,’ the dispatcher said.

Tinoco’s friend Gus Giraldo has since started a GoFundMe to help the family recover from the tragedy.

‘Luis Tinoco and his family were lucky to make it out alive, but lost everything they had in the collapse of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Miami,’ the fundraiser reads.

‘I’m hoping to give them a head start on rebuilding their lives, and will be appealing to all our friends.’

One 911 caller, a woman, said she was awakened by strange noises and watched the pool area collapse first – then the rest of the building.

She said she saw what appeared to be a large depression near the swimming pool, which had concrete problems that investigators are looking into as they try to identify a cause.

‘I woke up because I was hearing some noise. I couldn´t understand what was happening. I looked outside and I saw the patio area sinking down. The pool area started sinking down,’ the caller said, sounding as if she was crying.

‘There are many parts of the building that went down. The building just went into a sinkhole. There will be many, many people dead.’

Release of the calls Wednesday came as a judge approved the sale of the oceanfront property, with proceeds intended to benefit victims of the deadly disaster.

At a hearing, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman ordered that the process begin to sell the site of Champlain Towers South, which could fetch $100 million to $110 million according to court records.

The court-appointed receiver handling finances related to the condo, attorney Michael Goldberg, said the judge wants the sale to move quickly.

‘He wants us to start exploring a potential sale,’ Goldberg said of the judge in an email. ‘He did say he wants the land to be sold and the proceeds to go directly to the victims as soon as possible.’

Goldberg said the decision did not necessarily preclude a buyer from turning at least a portion of the site into a memorial, as some people have advocated. Other survivors want the structure rebuilt so they can move back in.

Hanzman’s ruling came as part of a series of lawsuits filed in the wake of collapse. The judge put the lawsuits on a fast track and authorized Goldberg to begin disbursing Champlain Towers insurance money to the victims and families.

The judge also approved returning $2.4 million in deposits that some Champlain condo owners had already made toward an assessment to pay for $15 million in planned major repairs.

In nearby Miami Beach, residents of an 82-year-old, two-story apartment building were ordered to evacuate because of concrete deterioration. The city ordered the evacuation of Devon Apartments on Monday and is giving residents until next Monday to leave the building, city spokeswoman Melissa Berthier said in an email Wednesday.

The apartment building is about 2 miles from Champlain Towers South.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, pictured, has ordered an audit of all buildings over 40 years old

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, pictured, has ordered an audit of all buildings over 40 years old

After the collapse, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava ordered an audit of all buildings over 40 years old. A condominium in nearby North Miami Beach also was ordered evacuated over safety concerns shortly after that audit started.

The collapse left officials around the county grappling with concerns about older residential buildings.

Manny J. Vadillo, an attorney who represents the owners of the Devon Apartments, told WTVJ that they have worked ‘diligently’ with the city since deciding in May to demolish the building by December.

He said they have started to ‘vacate the building in an orderly fashion,’ adding that 14 people remained inside. He said the owners are helping residents move.

‘My clients are extremely sensitive to safety and, in fact, visited the property several times since last week to speak with tenants when communications started with the city to ensure tenants were not caught by surprise,’ Vadillo said. ‘Some tenants have been there many years.’

Resident Esmart Romero told WSVN that he was not surprised the city deemed the building unsafe.

‘If you look at the condition of this apartment, it´s not good,’ Romero said. ‘You get what you pay for.’



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