Many feared dead after Florida beachfront condo collapses

A 12-story beachfront condo, after a partial collapse, in Surfside, Florida, Thursday, June 24, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 24 June 2021
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Many feared dead after Florida beachfront condo collapses

  • Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett warned that the death toll was likely to rise, saying the the tower was quite full at the time of the collapse
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis said rescue crews are ‘doing everything they can to save lives — that is ongoing, and they’re not going to rest’

SURFSIDE, Florida: A wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed with a roar in a town outside Miami early Thursday, killing at least one person and trapping residents in rubble and twisted metal. Rescuers pulled out dozens of survivors and continued to look for more.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett warned 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.
Video showed fire crews removing a boy from the wreckage, but it was not clear whether he was the same person mentioned by Rollason.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who toured the scene, said television did not capture the scale of what happened.
Rescue crews are “doing everything they can to save lives. That is ongoing, and they’re not going to rest,” he said.
Authorities did not say what may have caused the collapse. On video footage captured from nearby, the center of the building appeared to fall first, with a section nearest the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighborhood.
Work was being done on the building’s roof, but Burkett said he did not see how that could have been the cause.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she got a call from President Joe Biden, who offered federal aid. Hotels opened to some of the displaced residents, she said, and deliveries of food, medicine and more were being hastily arranged. Rescue officials tried to determine how many people might be missing and asked residents to check in with them.
About half of the building’s roughly 130 units were affected, the mayor told a news conference. Rescuers pulled at least 35 people from the wreckage by mid-morning, and heavy equipment was being brought in to help stabilize the structure to give them more access, Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue said.
Fifty-one people who were thought to be in the building at the time of the collapse were unaccounted for by mid-morning — but there was a possibility that some weren’t at home, said Sally Heyman, of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners.
The tower has a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, and while the building keeps a log of guests, it does not keep track of when owners are in residence, Burkett said.
Earlier, Burkett said two people were brought to the hospital, one of whom died. He added that 15 families walked out of the building on their own.
The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore away walls and left a number of homes in the still-standing part of the building exposed in what looked like a giant dollhouse. Television footage showed bunk beds, tables and chairs inside. Air conditioners hung from some parts of the building, where wires now dangled.
Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area, and cars up to two blocks away were coated with with a light layer of dust from the debris.
Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were asleep in the building when he first heard what he thought was a crack of thunder. The couple went onto their balcony, then opened the door to the building’s hallway to find “a pile of rubble and dust and smoke billowing around.”
“I couldn’t walk out past my doorway,” said Cohen, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”
He and his wife made it to the basement and found rising water there. They returned upstairs, screamed for help and were eventually brought to safety by firefighters using a cherry-picker.
Cohen said he raised concerns years ago about whether nearby construction might be causing damage to the building after seeing cracked pavers on the pool deck.
Surfside City Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told Miami television station WPLG that the building’s county-mandated 40-year recertification process was ongoing. Salzhauer said the process was believed to be proceeding without difficulty. A building inspector was on-site Wednesday.
“I want to know why this happened,” Salzhauer said. “That’s really the only question. ... And can it happen again? Are any other of our buildings in town in jeopardy?”
At an evacuation site set up in a nearby community center, people who live in buildings neighboring the collapse gathered after being told to flee. Some wept. Some were still dressed in pajamas. Some children tried to sleep on mats spread on the floor.
Jennifer Carr was asleep in a neighboring building when she was awakened by a loud boom and her room shook. She thought it was a thunderstorm but checked the weather app on her phone and saw none. The building’s fire alarms went off, and she and her family went outside and saw the collapse.
“It was devastation,” Carr said. “People were running and screaming.”
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said in a tweet that more than 80 units were at the scene with help from municipal fire departments. Teams of firefighters walked through the rubble, picking up survivors and carrying them from the wreckage.
Nicolas Fernandez waited early Thursday for word on close family friends who lived in the collapsed section of the building.
“Since it happened, I’ve been calling them nonstop, just trying to ring their cellphones as much as we can to hep the rescue to see if they can hear the cellphones,” she said.
The seaside condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside. It had a few two-bedroom units currently on the market, with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000 in an area with a neighborhood feel that provides a stark contrast to the glitz and bustle of nearby South Beach.
The area has a mix of new and old apartments, houses, condominiums and hotels, with restaurants and stores serving an international combination of residents and tourists. The main oceanside drag is lined with glass-sided, luxury condominium buildings, but more modest houses are on the inland side. Among the neighborhood’s residents are snowbirds, Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jewish families.
Patricia Avilez considered spending the night in her brother-in-law’s vacant condo on Wednesday but didn’t, only to awake to news of the collapse.
“And then I came here, and it’s gone,” she said. “Everything is disaster.”


Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

Updated 5 sec ago
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Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

  • More than 100 people killed, thousands injured in clashes between police and students
  • Police on ‘highest alert’ as curfew remains in place after hearing

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Sunday scrapped most of the quotas on government jobs that have sparked student-led protests in which at least 114 people have been killed in the South Asian country, local media reported.
The court’s Appellate Division dismissed a lower court order that had reinstated the quotas, directing that 93 percent of government jobs will be open to candidates on merit, without quotas, the reports said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had scrapped the quota system in 2018, but the lower court reinstated it last month, sparking the protests and an ensuring government crackdown.


Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

Updated 21 July 2024
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Turkiye ready to build Cyprus naval base ‘if necessary’: Erdogan

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that his country was ready to build a Cyprus naval base “if necessary,” 50 years after Turkish forces invaded the now-divided island.
“If necessary, we can construct a base and naval structures in the north” of the divided island, the official Anadolu news agency reported him as saying.
“We also have the sea,” Erdogan said he flew back to Turkiye after visiting northern Cyprus on Saturday to mark 50 years since Turkiye’s invasion.
He also accused rival Greece of wanting to establish a naval base of its own on Cyprus, on whose future both sides remain as divided as ever.
In 1983, Turkiye installed what it calls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which no other country has recognized four decades after it was proclaimed by Turkish Cypriot leaders.
As Greek Cypriots mourned those killed and still missing since the 1974 convulsion of violence, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said Saturday that reunification was the only option.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 still divided after Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected a UN plan to end their differences with Turkish Cypriots.
But on the other side of the UN-patrolled buffer zone that separates the two communities, Erdogan on Saturday rejected the federal model championed by the United Nations, saying he saw no point in relaunching talks on such a plan.
“Frankly, we do not think it is possible to start a new negotiation process without establishing an equation whereby both parties sit down as equals and leave the table as equals,” Erdogan said.
The last round of UN-backed talks to reunify the island collapsed in 2017.
“We are constructing on the island the building of the presidency of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the parliament building. They are constructing a military base, we are building a political base,” Erdogan added.
He also hailed the “precious” presence during Saturday’s visit of the leader of Turkiye’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, saying it demonstrated the “unity” of Turkiye’s population with regards to Cyprus.


Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers

Updated 21 July 2024
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Taliban ban on girls’ education takes mental, financial toll on Afghan teachers

  • Scores of teachers lost their jobs after Taliban suspended secondary schools for girls
  • While female teachers cannot teach boys, women are also restricted from many workplaces

KABUL: Najiba’s life as an educator came to a halt after the Taliban imposed a ban on girls’ education almost three years ago, a controversial policy that also forced many Afghan teachers out of the classroom.

When secondary schools for girls were suspended in September 2021 — a month after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan — it resulted in about 1.1 million girls being denied access to formal education and scores of female teachers losing their jobs, as the new policies only allowed them to teach in girls’ primary schools.

“We had this fear but didn’t know it would happen so soon. It was the hardest thing to know that I wouldn’t be able to teach anymore,” Najiba, an English teacher in Kabul, told Arab News.

“The change happened so suddenly and so quickly that it was difficult for me to cope with it. I developed very serious levels of stress and depression as a result of losing my job and my profession.”

For the 37-year-old who used to teach at a local high school, the consequences on her mental health were “irreversible” not just for her, but also for her family, as she was forced to stay at home most of the time.

“I feel I am becoming illiterate because I don’t study. I miss my students and colleagues every day and every moment. I feel lonely most of the time at home,” she said.  

When the policy went into force, all female teachers from secondary and high schools were reassigned to elementary schools “where there was a shortage of teachers,” an official from the Afghan Ministry of Education told Arab News, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

“In addition, some of them were assigned to mixed schools, where boys and girls study in different shifts, to teach in the girls’ shift. The rest are staying at home,” the official said.

“The ministry’s plan is that only female teachers will teach in girls’ schools and male teachers will be transferred to boys’ schools. This has been successfully implemented in Kabul and other provinces.”

A year after their takeover, the Taliban had eliminated 14,000 government jobs held by women, the majority of which were teaching positions, according to a report published by the US government’s oversight authority on Afghanistan’s reconstruction known as SIGAR.  

Yet despite the increasing uncertainty over the future of education for girls in Afghanistan, Najiba is still holding out hope.

“I really hope and pray something good happens and girls’ schools reopen so we can go back to where we belong, in the classroom and school. Nothing else will make us happy and help us get back to our normal condition,” she said.

For Khaperai, who used to teach at a secondary school in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern Nangarhar province, the Taliban’s policies were taking a toll on her mental health and financial situation.

The 42-year-old has tried to no avail to get transferred to a primary school as there are no vacancies in her area.  

“And I couldn’t leave my family. The change in my condition has not only impacted me psychologically but has posed economic challenges as well,” she told Arab News, adding that her husband has also lost his job due to the ongoing economic crisis.

“I was supporting my children’s education with my salary but since the last few months, our salaries have decreased. We only receive 5,000 afghanis ($70) in our accounts now. It’s not sufficient to support myself and my children. I don’t know what I will do.”

With women also restricted from many workplaces under the Taliban, Khaperai found herself with no other alternative.

“I can’t do any other job. Women have very few work opportunities under the Taliban, making it almost impossible for female heads of the family to support their families,” she said.

“I can only hope for a positive change. I can’t do anything else. No one seems to listen to us or care about us. We are left to the mercy of God.”


Bangladesh extends curfew ahead of court hearing on controversial job quotas

Updated 21 July 2024
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Bangladesh extends curfew ahead of court hearing on controversial job quotas

  • Violent student protests in Bangladesh have killed at least 114 people as per news reports
  • Nationwide protests are biggest challenge to Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh government 

DHAKA: Bangladesh extended a curfew on Sunday to control violent student-led protests that have killed at least 114 people, as authorities braced for a Supreme Court hearing later in the day on government job quotas that sparked the anger.

Soldiers have been on patrol on the streets of capital Dhaka, the center of the demonstrations that spiralled into clashes between protesters and security forces.

Internet and text message services in Bangladesh have been suspended since Thursday, cutting the nation off as police cracked down on protesters who defied a ban on public gatherings.

A curfew ordered late on Friday has been extended to 3 p.m. (0900 GMT) on Sunday, until after the Supreme Court hearing, and will continue for an “uncertain time” following a two-hour break for people to gather supplies, local media reported.

Universities and colleges have also been closed since Wednesday.

Nationwide unrest broke out following student anger against quotas for government jobs that included reserving 30 percent for the families of those who fought for independence from Pakistan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had scrapped the quota system in 2018, but a court reinstated it last month.

The Supreme Court suspended the decision after a government appeal and will hear the case on Sunday after agreeing to bring forward a hearing scheduled for Aug. 7.

The demonstrations — the biggest since Hasina was re-elected for a fourth successive term this year — have also been fueled by high unemployment among young people, who make up nearly a fifth of the population.

The US State Department on Saturday raised its travel advisory for Bangladesh to level four, urging American citizens to not travel to the South Asian country.


EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

Updated 21 July 2024
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EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

  • The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The top UN court’s ruling that Israel’s 57-year occupation of Palestinian land was “illegal” is “largely consistent with EU positions,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Saturday.
The sweeping opinion on Friday by The Hague-based International Court of Justice — which called for the occupation to end as soon as possible — was immediately slammed as a “decision of lies” by Israel.
But the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that the bloc had taken “good note” of the court’s ruling and urged further backing for the court’s opinion.
“In a world of constant and increasing violations of international law, it is our moral duty to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all ICJ decisions in a consistent manner, irrespective of the subject in question,” Josep Borrell said.
He added in a statement that the opinion “will need to be analyzed more thoroughly, including in view of its implications for EU policy.”
The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas sparked by the group’s brutal October 7 attacks, as well as increased tensions in the West Bank.
Its intervention is likely to increase diplomatic pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza, as will the EU’s backing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ruling.
“The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land — not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank), he said in a statement.
In June 1967, Israel seized the then-Jordan-annexed West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in a crushing six-day war against its Arab neighbors.
It then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.
The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained the Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.