(Reuters) – Rescue workers near Miami began the daunting task of searching for lots of debris for victims and anyone who may have survived the collapse of part of a residential area by the sea early on Thursday, with at least one person already found dead  Sally Heyman, a commissioner in Miami-Dade, said officials have not been able to contact 51 people who "probably" live in the building, home to a mix of people including families and part-time "snowbirds" who spend the winter months in the state of Florida.
Officials said the building, built in 1981, underwent a recertification process that required repairs and that another building was newly built next to it, although the cause of the collapse remained unclear.
"We have 51
Jenny Urgelles woke up to the news that her parents' building had collapsed. She called them, but both of their phones went straight to the voicemail, she told WSVN 7 News.
"I'm hoping. I'm very desperate to know what's going on," she told the local Fox subsidiary.
A firefighter said 35 people were rescued from the Surfside building, a seagull with 5,700 inhabitants on a barrier island across Biscayne Bay from the city of Miami, including two pulled from the rubble when response teams used trained dogs and drones in a search for survivors .
Film from WPLG Local 10, a television station in Miami, showed a rescue team pulling a boy from piles of debris and rebar, and firefighters using ladder trucks to rescue residents trapped on balconies.
The search and rescue effort was slowed by at least one fire that burned on the spot when firefighters extinguished the debris with water, local media reported.
Rescue workers and officials were still looking for people who may be in the rubble, as well as tried ident ify residents not home at 1:30 (Eastern time), when an entire side of the building withdrew and fell to the ground below.
"We all woke up early in the morning to a tragic scene," said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who toured the scene on Thursday afternoon. "We still hope to identify additional survivors."
At least six Paraguayans were among those who did not know, Paraguay's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, including the sister of Paraguay's first lady, sister's husband Luis Pettengill and their three. children.
Subject to various inspections
Champlain Towers South had more than 130 units, of which about 80 were occupied. It had been the subject of various inspections recently due to the recertification process and the adjacent construction of a building called 88 Park, Surfside Commissioner Charles Kesl told Local 10.
"There were underground garage issues related to it, to ensure that it was done properly, said Commissioner Kesl. "And to my understanding, there were some cracks from that project – smaller cracks – that were just patched up. Nothing, based on my understanding, to the extent that would indicate that there was a structural problem that could result in something so catastrophic. "
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said construction work was being done on the roof of Champlain Towers South but there was no indication that it caused the collapse.
" It is difficult to imagine how this could have happened, "Mayor Burkett said. for reporters. "Buildings just do not fall down."
Mayor Burkett said that part of the building with balconies facing the beach "pancake" where one floor seems to have fallen on top of another, cascade down.
"The back of building, probably a third or more, is completely pancake, "he said.
Resident Barry Cohen and his wife were rescued from the building.
" At first it sounded like lightning or lightning, "Mr. Cohen, a former Deputy Mayor of Surfside and resident of the building, told reporters at the scene. "But then it just kept going – steadily for at least 15 to 30 seconds – it just kept going and going and going."
Mr Cohen also said that it had been built for more than a month on the roof of the building.
Miami-Dade police have taken control of the investigation. More than 80 fire and rescue services responded, the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department wrote in a Twitter message early Thursday.
Eyewitness video obtained by Reuters showed neighbors gathering across the street from the rubble.
"This whole building here is completely gone," one person can be heard saying.