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U.S.|Witnesses watched the 12-story building fall in a matter of seconds.
Several witnesses described the scene of the collapse on Thursday.
Nicholas Balboa, 31, said he was outside at about 1:30 a.m. when he heard a rumble. He thought it was thunder at first — and then felt the ground shake.
“I went up the street and saw the dust cloud going through the corridor of buildings,” said Mr. Balboa, who lives in Phoenix but was visiting his father in Surfside. He raced toward the sound and saw the partially collapsed building.
Emergency crews had started to arrive. Mr. Balboa walked toward the site to get a better look. That’s when he heard a boy call out for help.
“We could see his arms sticking out and his fingers wiggling,” Mr. Balboa said. “He was just saying, ‘Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.’” Mr. Balboa and another bystander climbed through the rubble and tried getting closer.
The boy said his mother had been with him, but Mr. Balboa heard no other voices. Using the flashlight on his cellphone, Mr. Balboa flagged a police officer, who rushed toward them with a rescue crew.
The crew dug through debris and used a saw to get the boy out, Mr. Balboa said. “It was surreal. I can’t believe that a building that’s made out of concrete and supposed to stand up to hurricanes and weather just one night decided to collapse,” he said. “To be completely honest, the comparison, the stark image that I had in my mind, was 9/11, just seeing all that debris and rubble.”
Fiorella Terenzi, an associate professor at Florida International University who lives in a neighboring building, Champlain Towers East, said she was woken up by a loud noise.
The sound “was like a big thump all of a sudden,” she said. At first she thought it was thunder but then started to hear sirens. When she left the building, dust was everywhere.
“I could see that half of the building of the Champlain Towers South was collapsed like a sandwich,” said Ms. Terenzi, 59, who has lived in the east tower since 2000. “It really was a shocking view.” Ms. Terenzi said she had seen heavy equipment on the roof of the south tower for the past two weeks.
Lizie Brito, 41, said she was on her balcony at a nearby building when she saw a swirling white cloud of dust come toward her. At first, she said, she thought it was a tornado. Then she heard an explosion and screams as people ran from the next-door hotel. She couldn’t sleep after that.
“Imagine thinking about the people that were struggling, dying there, and then thinking that maybe this could happen to us in our building,” Ms. Brito said.
Allen Rosenbach, 62, one of Ms. Brito’s neighbors, came to the beach Thursday to see the rubble. He received a text from his wife with names of people who were still missing, some of whom they knew. One of his son’s classmates, he said, lived on the side of the building that collapsed.