MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Survivors of the partial condo collapse in Surfside early Thursday morning say they frantically searched for a way out from the rubble. Their harrowing escape attempt wound up actually leading them back to their apartment where first responders saved them.

Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife have lived at Champlain Towers South, at 8777 Collins Avenue, since July 2018. Cohen was asleep when he heard a horrific noise.

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“I was in a deep sleep and I heard what I thought was a crash of lightning. But the crashing noise didn’t stop. It just kept going and going and going for I’d say 20 to 30 seconds. My wife and I went out of our room to see what was going on. We looked out on our balcony and there was dust just pluming out,” said Cohen.

He said they went back inside and tried to escape the building.

“We went down a stairwell and when we got to the bottom of the stairwell, we couldn’t open the door of the escape of the fire escape. So we went down another floor to the garage. When we got there, there was dust everywhere, smoke everywhere, and water pouring down from the pipes which had broken in the garage,” he said.

Cohen said the water came up to his shins.

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“I said to my wife, we got to get out of here. We can drown here. Let’s go back up to the apartment,” he said.

Cohen said they made it back to their unit and went out onto the balcony where they were rescued by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

Ladder trucks were used to rescue people trapped on balconies. Firefighters also went floor to floor evacuating the building. At one point they were pulled out because of concerns over the building’s structural integrity and falling debris.

At least one person was killed in the partial collapse. Nine people were injured, two were taken to area hospitals.

Southbound traffic is being diverted west on 96th Street and northbound traffic is being diverted at 85th Street and Collins Avenue.

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A family reunification center has been set up for anyone looking for unaccounted or missing relatives at 9301 Collins Avenue. People can also call (305) 614-1819.