The frantic three-minute call was among 20 that Miami-Dade County authorities released Wednesday, nearly three weeks after the condominium collapse that left at least 97 dead in Surfside, Fla. The recordings — some panicked, some confused, some cut short — offered a glimpse into the moments before and immediately after the June 24 fall of Champlain Towers South.
The callers struggled to make sense of what was happening at the building, with one woman telling a dispatcher, “Something’s going on here, you got to get us out of here!” The scale of the disaster — one of the worst building failures in the nation’s history — would become clear in the hours to come.
The first of the calls came at 1:16 a.m. A woman said there had been “a big explosion” or perhaps an earthquake.
“I’m sorry, what?” asked the dispatcher.
At about the same time, an alarm company representative reported a fire alarm had gone off at the building. His tone was cordial and calm.
From there, the calls became more panicked. In one from 1:17 a.m., a person could be heard saying, “Come, come, come!” They did not respond to the dispatcher’s repeated, “Hello?” The line was dead on a different call seconds later.
Among those who dialed 911 were neighbors who heard an explosion from blocks away, people who saw the horror unfold through the windows of their hotel, residents who escaped and relatives of those stranded on their balconies.
“A very large building collapsed,” said a man staying at Solara Surfside, a resort steps from Champlain Towers South. “Like, the building next to us is gone.”
There were multiple calls from trapped people pleading for help. In one, a woman breathed hard as she said she had managed to escape to the parking area. “Please, half the building has collapsed. I am alone outside,” she said. “Can somebody help me get out please?”
She worried that “if the building comes down, it will come down on my head.”
In another, a fifth-floor resident who identified himself as Louis Tinoco said he and his family could not find a way out. The stairways were “stuck”; a group of eight or nine people was headed for the garage.
The dispatcher said she wanted to make sure they were safe, so she stayed on the line for a chaotic 13 minutes as Tinoco went to the garage and found it was flooded. He said his group was knocking on doors of units, hoping to escape off a balcony.
“If there’s a safe way to get out of a first-floor balcony and you know for certain nobody’s in there, break through the door if you can,” the dispatcher said.
They went back to the flooded area, with the operator telling them, “Please be careful.” Ticono said everyone was talking and it was hard to know who to follow. There were cries of “Help” in the background of the call.
“There’s people in the rubble yelling, by the way,” he said, and the operator responded, “We have several, several units that are already on scene.”
Moments later, Ticono said they had found a way out. They trekked through two feet of water and then walked “on top of the rubble,” he said.
“You made it out?” asked the operator. “Your whole family?”
“Yes,” Ticono said. To his family, he said, “Come on, you can do it!” and “Go, go, go, go!” They were crossing rubble to the beach, he said. Soon he told the operator, “We’re already safe.”
Nir and his family also narrowly escaped. The call captured his mother and sister knocking on doors of Surfside homes, panicked and desperate for water after running through the smoke. His mother, Sara, could be heard calling out, “We need help!”
“We’re here, we’re here, we’re safe, Mom,” he said.
In another call, a breathless woman described waking up “because I was hearing some noise — I couldn’t understand what was happening.” She said the patio and pool area “started sinking down.”
The operator told her police and paramedics were on their way.
“Yeah, but there are many, many parts of the building that went down,” responded the woman, who said she was outside on the ground. “The building just went in a sinkhole, so there will be many, many people dead.”
She cried as she recalled seeing “the whole building just going — many stories going under the ground.”
“The building is full of tenants,” a woman said in another recording. “It went up in smoke.”