Rescuers helped a boy from the debris field, a witness said, and video from the scene showed responders helping others leave the standing portions of the building, sometimes using a bucket atop a fire truck’s ladder.
One person has died, and at least 10 others were treated on the scene, Surfside Mayor Charles W. Burkett said.
“This is a horrific catastrophe. In the United States, buildings just don’t fall down,” Burkett said.
Rescue teams scrambled to the scene — 8777 Collins Avenue — a few miles north of Miami Beach. More than 80 rescue units responded, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said.
Kimberly Morales told CNN she lives in the building across the street from the collapse and was awakened by alarms going off and pounding on her door.
“I woke everyone up in the room because when I looked out the window, I saw everyone outside,” she told CNN. “I told everyone to hurry up and leave the building.”
Morales said she didn’t hear the collapse but when she went outside, she saw a significant portion of the building was missing. She’s now in a community center with other evacuees, she said.
The building was undergoing roof work, but it’s unknown whether this was a factor in the collapse, the mayor said.
Witness Nicholas Balboa told CNN he saw a boy’s wriggling fingers sticking out of the debris shortly after the collapse — a discovery that led to the child’s rescue.
Balboa, who lives nearby, said he was walking his dog around 1:30 or 1:40 a.m. when he felt the ground shake and saw plumes of dust and debris. He and another man went to the back of the building. Just as he was doubting anyone could survive the collapse, he heard someone screaming, he said.
“Finally, I got close enough to hear him, and (the trapped boy) said, ‘Can you see my hand?'” Balboa told CNN’s “New Day.”
“He was sticking his hand up … through the debris. And I could see his hand and his fingers wiggling.”
Balboa and the other man got a police officer to come over, and other rescuers eventually arrived, Balboa said.
The boy, who was under a mattress and bed frame when he was found, was pulled out, he said.
Video captured by ReliableNewsMedia shows rescuers helping a survivor out of the rubble — it was not immediately clear if this was the boy that Balboa described.
A rescuer reached an arm under what looked like a collapsed wall, its reinforcing metal bars now pointing skyward, to help the survivor, who was wearing a dark shirt and pajama pants.
The survivor slowly leaned over, laying their body over a rescuer’s right shoulder and draping their legs over the bigger person’s chest, the ReliableNewsMedia video shows. Then, the survivor was lowered onto a white stretcher and helped the rescue team secure orange straps. The team carried the person away.
Shortly after that, at least six stories up, a trio of survivors and what looked like a dog climbed from a balcony into the bucket atop a fire truck’s elevated ladder. The bucket then slowly descended.
Shmuel Balkany was on a walk with his brothers and dog when “we hear a really big rumble,” he told ReliableNewsMedia.
“And we think that it was a motorcycle — like, classic, early in the morning — and we turn around and we just see a cloud of dust coming our way. And we’re just like, what is going on? So we, like, we start rushing towards there. We pull our shirts over our face so we don’t get any, like, dust, in our eyes and everything.”
“What we saw from the beginning was a huge cloud of smoke and a lot of noise,” added Mich Balkany, who was also on the walk, ReliableNewsMedia reported.
“We saw this happen. It was by far the most horrific thing that I’ve seen. I was alive for 9/11. I didn’t see that happen in real life. I saw something like this happen and it’s the closest thing that I can relate to 9/11,” Mich Balkany said. “This is something that is absolutely insane … insane, insane, insane, insane.”
Added Shmuel Balkany: “We have friends who have family that live in the building. We don’t even know if they’re OK. Some of them are OK. We don’t know if the rest are OK.”
“It’s very shocking. We’re shook. We’re pretty shook. It’s not, like, processing in our minds yet,” Shmuel Balkany said.