The death toll in a Miami building collapse rose to four on Friday morning a day after a 12-storey condominium slumped into rubble on the south Florida Atlantic coast.
Joe Biden granted an emergency declaration for the area late on Thursday, unleashing federal-crisis funding to help with the catastrophe.
The White House said the move authorized the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.
“It’s the unimaginable,” Daniella Levine Cava, the Miami-Dade mayor, said. “A massive search and rescue mission is under way. We are going to do everything we can possibly [do] to identify and rescue those who have been trapped in the rubble.”
Rescuers were hampered in the night by heavy rain and thunder and lightning, working in 15-minute stints with heavy equipment to move wreckage.
Authorities and witnesses had spoken about hearing banging and cries from inside the collapsed structure.
Much of the Champlain Towers South building on the beach side of the Miami residential structure has sheared off, for unknown reasons, pancaking into a pile of concrete and metal more than 30ft high.
Cava added on Friday morning that three more bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight, bringing the official death toll so far to four.
She said she had hope that rescuers would be able to save more lives. More than 150 people were still unaccounted for early on Friday.
Eleven injuries so far have been reported, with four people treated at hospitals.
“These are very difficult times, and things are going to get more difficult as we move forward,” the Miami-Dade police director, Freddy Ramirez, said.
Fire rescue personnel and others worked through the night in hopes of finding survivors.
State senator Jason Pizzo of Miami Beach told the Miami Herald he watched as tactical teams of six worked early Friday to pull bodies from the rubble. Many people remained at the reunification center set up near the collapse site early on Friday morning, awaiting results of DNA swabs that could help identify victims.
Officials said no cause for the collapse has been determined.
Video of the collapse showed the center of the building appearing to tumble down first and a section nearest to the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later, as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighborhood.
About half the building’s roughly 130 units were affected, and rescuers pulled at least 35 people from the wreckage in the first hours after the collapse.
Raide Jadallah, an assistant Miami-Dade County fire chief, said that while listening devices placed on and in the wreckage had picked up no voices, they had detected possible banging noises, giving rescuers hope some are alive. Rescuers were tunneling into the wreckage from below, going through the building’s underground parking garage.
Meanwhile, canine teams are on the scene.
“They brought dogs who can sniff for survivors in the rubble,” Eliana Salzhauer, a Surfside commissioner, told the Miami Herald. “They aren’t turning up very much. No one is celebrating anyone being pulled out.”
Salzhauer confirmed earlier reports that recent construction work on the roof had taken place and said residents told her a building inspector had visited the property on Wednesday. But she said it was too soon to speculate on the likely cause.
Jimmy Patronis, a Florida cabinet member and the state’s fire marshal, told reporters that crews had heard noises as they sifted through the wreckage. “The rescuers are hearing sounds from the rubble. It’s kind of hit or miss. You get into the zone where you are so passionate and so focused and so determined to make sure you are doing everything possible to save a life in an event like this,” he said.
Personal belongings were evidence of shattered lives amid the wreckage of the Champlain, which was built in 1981 in Surfside, a small suburb north-west of Miami. A children’s bunk bed perched precariously on a top floor, bent but intact and apparently inches from falling into the rubble. A comforter lay on the edge of a lower floor. Televisions. Computers. Chairs.