An Indian-American couple and their one-year-old child are among more than 150 people who are still missing after the collapse of part of a 12-story residential building in the US state of Florida on Thursday, according to media reports on Monday. Search and rescue teams have been feverishly scouring the site since shortly after 55 of the building's 136 units fell. Nine people have been confirmed killed, officials have said.
Vishal Patel, 42, his wife Bhavna Patel, 38, and their 1-year-old daughter Aishani Patel are believed to be among the missing, their niece Sarina Patel told CNN, adding that Bhavna Patel is four months pregnant. Sarina said she last spoke to her family on Father's Day.
"I had actually called them to tell them I had just booked a flight to come visit because they've been asking me to come to see their home and to meet their daughter. I haven't met her due to the pandemic," she said on Friday. They were home at the time the collapse took place, she said. "We have tried calling them countless times and there's just been no answers, text messages, nothing. They haven't contacted anybody," she said.
Bhavna is a British and US citizen, the British media reported. Umma Kannayan, a family friend of the Patels, told the BBC that they were a "very loving" family who were closely involved in their religious community.
"Aishani was like the little baby of the temple," she said. "It feels like you've lost a part of yourself." She said she was waiting with the Patel family's relatives for news, but that "not much information has been shared" about the victims. "I think all of us, the family included, and the folks that are very closely associated with them [at temple] would want to know the list of survivors currently present," she said. "Perhaps from there some hope either might be given or might be shattered, but some names out there would be very helpful for all." Meanwhile, the painstaking search for survivors is continuing as families waiting for news are increasingly fearing the worst. Some prayed for a miracle. Others have already begun to speak about their loved ones in the past tense.
As of Sunday, at least nine have been confirmed dead and more than 150 people are still unaccounted for, authorities said, the USA Today reported. On 24 June, a building at the Champion Towers South Condo, around seven miles away from Miami beach, partially collapsed leaving at least five dead and 156 missing. Emergency officials are asking people to contact them if they have relatives unaccounted for.
A state of emergency has been declared by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The number of people unaccounted for is 159, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters Friday — up from the figure of 99 that officials gave Thursday afternoon, CNN reported.
Those 159 people "have been identified as possibly being on the site. So those are people that maybe live there, but we don't know whether they were there at the time," the mayor said at a news conference on Friday afternoon in Surfside. Numerous search and rescue personnel have been scouring the rubble, including from the surface, with search dogs, sonar and cameras.
Structural engineers also have been shoring up other places — such as areas near a parking garage underneath the rubble — to allow crews to tunnel underneath with light machinery. The building's residents reflected South Florida's international and cultural mix, with affluent families from Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia and a tight-knit Jewish community.
President Joe Biden on Friday approved an emergency declaration for the state, making federal aid available to Florida. The cause of the partial collapse of the building is not known.