Rescue officials still searching for survivors from condo building collapse in Surfside in Florida, with 130 firefighters working at the site where at least four people are confirmed dead.

Authorities are looking for survivors after the Miami Beach building collapse but time is running out with each passing minute.
Authorities are looking for survivors after the Miami Beach building collapse but time is running out with each passing minute. (AP)

Rescue teams are combing through the rubble of an oceanfront apartment block near Miami Beach that partially collapsed, killing at least four people and leaving another 159 unaccounted for amid fears of a much higher death toll.

The Champlain Towers South drew people from around the globe to enjoy life on South Florida's Atlantic Coast, some for a night, some to live. A couple from Argentina and their young daughter. A beloved retired Miami-area teacher and his wife. Orthodox Jews from Russia. Israelis. The sister of Paraguay's first lady. Others from South America.

They were among the nearly 160 people who remained missing Friday morning, a day after the 12-storey building collapsed into rubble early on Thursday.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava noted on Friday that rescue officials were still searching for survivors from the condo building collapse in Surfside, saying that a search and rescue mission was ongoing.

Raide Jadallah, an assistant Miami-Dade County fire chief, said rescue operations continued throughout the night. He said that 130 firefighters are working at the site.

Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said they are working with the medical examiner’s office to identify the four victims.

Three bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight, bringing the death toll to four, Cava said on “Good Morning America” Friday.

Officials feared that number could skyrocket. Eleven injuries were reported, with four people treated at hospitals.

Buried under concrete and metal

Much of the Champlain's beachside sheared off for unknown reasons, pancaking into a pile of concrete and metal more than 10 metres (30 feet) high.

"One side of the building just fell completely. It doesn't exist anymore," said Nicolas Fernandez, 29, an Argentinian resident of Miami who had yet to hear from friends who were staying overnight in his family's unit in the building.

"I don't know about them. I don't know if they are alive," he said.

Authorities said they were still without news of 99 people who may have been inside the building when part of it came crashing down.

So far 102 others have been accounted for, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

State of emergency, FEMA activated

During Friday's early hours, President Joe Biden declared an emergency, ordering federal assistance for the local relief effort.

"The President's action authorises the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts," the White House said in a statement.

At a Surfside community centre, relatives of the missing cried as they waited for news. Tenants of the ruined building who were lucky enough to have been away when disaster struck pondered sudden homelessness.

Around 55 apartments were affected by the collapse, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah, who told a news conference that emergency services arrived at the scene at around 1:30 am, evacuating 35 people from the building.

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

"It's hard to get a count on it," Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman told CNN.

"You don't know between vacations or anything else," she said. "The hope is still there, but it's waning."

'Bracing for bad news' 

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

As hope receded of finding more survivors, the focus was on the recovery of possible victims amid the rubble, in a massive operation assisted by drones and dogs and involving dozens of police and firefighter units.

"Apparently when the building came down it pancaked, so there's just not a lot of voids that they're finding or seeing from the outside," Burkett said on NBC's "Today" show.

'Like a bomb went off'

Surfside's mayor said the reasons for the collapse were still unclear.

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

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

"It was like a very bass-y, like boom boom, boom boom, that kind of thing," he told local television WFOR.

"Like, a ton of bass on a subwoofer, basically, like just two of them," he said. "Then my friend texted me 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 the building had been undergoing construction work on its roof, although she also stressed the reasons for the collapse were not clear.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies