Recordings of emergency calls after an oceanfront Florida apartment building collapsed in the middle of the night have revealed disbelief, panic and confusion as people tried to comprehend the disaster.
“Oh my God! The whole building collapsed!” one caller said to a dispatcher at the Miami-Dade Police Department, which released the recordings on Wednesday from the June 24 collapse of Champlain Towers South. The names of the callers were not released.
“We’ve got to get out. Hurry up, hurry up. There’s a big explosion,” a second caller said. “There’s a lot of smoke. I can’t see anything. We’ve got to go. I can’t see nothing but smoke.”
At least 97 people died in the collapse, and a handful of others are still missing. A cause has not yet been pinpointed, although there were several previous warnings of major structural damage at the 40-year-old building in Surfside.
One 911 caller, a woman, 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,” the caller said. “I looked outside and I saw the patio area sinking down. The pool area started sinking down.
“There are many parts of the building that went down. The building just went into a sinkhole. There will be many, many people dead.”
Yet another female caller said she was stuck near the building parking garage and needed help. Part of the condo remained standing after the collapse but was taken down later by a demolition crew.
“Can somebody help me get out, please? If the building comes down, it will come down on my head,” the caller said.
Release of the calls 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 up to 110 million dollars (£79.38 million) according to court records.
The court-appointed receiver handling finances related to the building, attorney Michael Goldberg, said the judge wanted the sale to move quickly.
Mr 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.
Mr 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 authorised Mr Goldberg to begin disbursing Champlain Towers insurance money to the victims and families.