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A 31-year-old Cambridge woman visiting family in South Florida on Thursday recounted the noise, chaos, and devastation wrought by the predawn collapse of a wing of a 12-story condo building near Miami Beach that killed at least one person and left nearly 100 others unaccounted for by early evening.

“I don’t even know how to describe it,” said Anastasia Mechan, a Harvard graduate student who was staying at her mother’s apartment two blocks from the scene of the collapse in Surfside, a community just north of the beach. “It was like a scene from a World War II movie.”

Mechan said she first heard what sounded like the constant din of thunder or even “a tsunami,” starting around 1:30 a.m., and that the noise lasted until about 3 a.m.


People outside were screaming, “No, no!,” Mechan said, and her sister later frantically told her the condo building had collapsed.

Mechan said she eventually walked to the scene and saw civilians, including homeless people, trying to search for survivors in the rubble.

She also filmed video footage of the catastrophe, which she shared with the Globe.

In one clip, she’s filming a side view of the cratered building as strong winds whip through the area.

“So part of this building, it was like an entire apartment unit,” she says in the clip. “Fifty percent of the building collapsed. As you guys can see, the other 50 is about to collapse again.”

The collapse of the wing, she notes in the clip, happened “while people were asleep.”

In another clip, Mechan pans with her phone to the crush of first responders who had flooded the area.

“All the streets are closed,” she says in the video. “Wow, this — this is so disturbing, like I can’t believe something like this happened.”

And, she said via phone, her family and others are worried the same thing could happen to their residential units, as many people in the neighborhood live in apartment complexes.


Mechan said the community, nestled in a Miami Beach area normally bustling with people, was utterly stunned Thursday.

“Miami Beach isn’t Miami Beach today,” Mechan said.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett warned earlier Thursday that the death toll was likely to rise, saying the building manager told him the tower was quite full at the time of the collapse around 1:30 a.m., but the exact number of people present was unclear.

“The building is literally pancaked,” Burkett said. “That is heartbreaking because it doesn’t mean, to me, that we are going to be as successful as we wanted to be in finding people alive.”

Hours after the collapse, searchers were trying to reach a trapped child whose parents were believed to be dead. In another case, rescuers saved a mother and child, but the woman’s leg had to be amputated to remove her from the rubble, Frank Rollason, director of Miami-Dade Emergency Management, told the Miami Herald.

Rescue crews were expected to search into the night.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.