By Ted Scouten

SURFSIDE (CBSMiami) – It’s an agonizing wait for some families and friends waiting to learn if their loved ones survived a partial collapse of a Surfside condo.

It happened at the 12-story Champlain Towers South, located at 8777 Collins Avenue, which has 136 units. Officials said 55 units on the northeast side were involved in the collapse.

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Firefighters used truck-mounted ladders to reach people trapped on balconies. Thirty-five were pulled out of the building. A 12-year-old boy was pulled from the rubble.

Miami-Dade police said 99 people unaccounted for at this time. Some of the units are owned by vacationers and may not have been in the building at the time of the collapse. Fifty three people have been accounted for.

Nurse Wendy Jean Louis said she’s been desperately trying to find out what happened to the people she cares for in the collapsed tower.

“I have an entire family in there that, one of them I take care of, and the entire rest of the family is in there. I can see there is no more there,” she said as she waited nearby.

Nicolas Fernandez has visiting friends staying in the building.

“They were in one of our units, the unit is no longer there, it’s gone. It’s a piece of Earth,” he said.

Fernandez said he’s trying to hold out hope.

“I think they’re gone. I don’t want to be pessimistic, we’ve been calling them non-stop. No reply. We don’t have information right now,” he said.

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There are also stories of some heartwarming rescues.

“I could feel the ground shake. At first, I thought it could be thunder,” said Nicholas Balboa.

He said he felt the ground rumble beneath him and he ran a block to the scene. When he got there, he found part of the building in a heap of rubble. In that pile, he saw a sign of life – a trapped young boy.

“I could hear somebody yelling in the debris,” said Balboa. “What he was actually saying was, can you see my hand, can you see my hand. And I could see a little hand sticking up waving, moving his fingers trying to get our attention.”

As he tried to get the attention of a rescuer, he and another person began climbing on the debris to get to the child.

“We were there, we were letting him know we were there. He said please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me. We wouldn’t leave him,” said Balboa.

Rescuers were able to reach him and save the little boy. There’s no word on what happened to his mother.
Balboa said the child appeared to be okay when he was pulled from the rubble.

“He looked fairly alright, like very lucky. He had a guardian angel for sure,” he said.

For those looking for family members who were staying in the building, a reunification center has been set up at 9301 Collins Avenue. People can also call (305) 614-1819.

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Anyone who lives in the building is encouraged to complete a Wellness Check Form as part of efforts to ensure all tenants of the building are located.

Ted Scouten