The deadliest building collapses in U.S. history

Some 159 people remained unaccounted for on Friday after the collapse of a residential building near Miami left families clinging to hope as search-and-rescue teams combed through a mountain of debris looking for any signs of life. The official death toll from Thursday’s disaster stood at four and was certain to rise as rescuers battled smoke, fires and the precarious state of the rubble while working in the south Florida heat. What caused the 40-year-old building to collapse early on Thursday morning remains unclear.

Although the outlook appeared grim, with one floor of the high-rise stacked on another like pancakes, rescuers continued to search the debris in the hopes that pockets had formed, leaving any possible survivors air to breathe. “We have hope because that’s what our search-and-rescue team tells us, that they have hope,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference. But the number of people unaccounted for remained constant throughout the day, meaning rescuers had not found any bodies or survivors. Aided by dogs, cameras and sonar, the teams worked the site on a rotation, with a limited number allowed at any one time to prevent further collapse, Levine Cava said. Teams from Mexico and Israel arrived to help relieve the locally based crews, many of whom have also traveled to disaster sites around the world. Atop the pile, some wielded hammers and picks looking for signs of life. Heavy equipment scraped away the top layer.

Below ground, rescuers who entered through the parking garage risked their own lives searching for survivors, occasionally being hit by falling debris, officials said. A number of Latin American migrants have been reported missing by their consulates. The disaster occurred early on Thursday morning, when many people would have been asleep, as a large section of the 40-year-old high-rise crumbled to the ground. The block in the town of Surfside was built in 1980.