Recognition…Marco Bello / Reuters
Under the gray skies of Surfside, Florida, choppy storm winds blew through the remains of Champlain Towers South when officials first opened the site of a shocking condo collapse to a limited view of the public.
The condo ruins looked huge, a towering pile of floor tiles, broken walls, cluttered air conditioners, and jagged metal bars sticking out like claws – at least two stories high in total, too disheartening for anyone to make sense of.
But the wreck also looked very small compared to the 13-story building, which once stood in handsome brown and beige and whose balconies jutted out over Collins Avenue on one side and a sandy Atlantic beach on the other. How could 135 units – 135 houses – and an as yet unknown number of human lives be reduced to a damp and dusty heap of concrete and metal on which a community once thrived?
With 36 confirmed deaths and 109 people still missing, workers toiled in the rear of the site through the approaching tropical storm Elsa, which was due to hit land on the Gulf coast of Florida on Wednesday morning. The Miami Beach area was spared the worst storm, but more than 200 workers endured stifling heat and rolling thunderstorms and lighting that forced them to temporarily pause their search.
Much of the search took place behind the rubble wall, invisible from where the reporters were in the street.
Authorities allowed reporters Tuesday evening to get a little closer to the remains of the partially collapsed residential complex on June 24; the rest was demolished on Sunday for security reasons. The new vantage point offered a sobering view of the rescue center across the street, where, not so long ago, a visitor might have walked past the entrance sign and up the stairs into the building’s lobby. Heavy machines ransacked the rear of the site and dug through the rubble in a search and rescue operation that gave no sign of life every day.
Standing near the wreckage it wasn’t hard to see why.
What had once been part of the roof of the 8777 Collins Avenue residential tower was almost at street level, a dark splinter plate, recognizable by a ventilation or extraction device that was still in one piece and protruding over the pile like a cylinder. Debris jutted out at every possible angle. Twisted metal knotted like branches. Even the planters on the sidewalk cracked, and a few surviving palm trees withered.
Almost everything was the same shade of brownish gray.
Closer to the front, rescue workers in bright hard hats and neon vests watched from the balconies of the two neighboring buildings, one in the north and one in the south. Two rescuers walked in the street and returned with a bite to eat. A small and fluffy Rapid Reaction Dog stood nearby with its guide, apparently waiting to comfort the workers if necessary.
Engines rumbled from fire trucks, excavators and generators, the sound of a desperate search that has now been going on for nearly two weeks.
In the place of the tennis courts, on which residents once played, there were now construction workers’ tents.
There was a sign on the corner inviting the neighbors to a relic from another time, the weekly farmers market in Surfside.
Recognition…Stephen M. Dowell / Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press
Search and rescue teams will continue to search for people in the rubble of Champlain Towers South after avoiding worst-case tropical storm Elsa, which is expected to hit land on Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday morning.
Last week’s forecasts suggested the storm could hit the Atlantic coast, prompting officials to quickly demolish the remaining section of the building in Surfside, north of Miami. But as the storm approached Florida, it became clearer that it was more likely to strike north of Tampa.
The storm can dump as much as nine inches of rain in some parts of the state before traveling north, bringing stormy conditions to Georgia and the Carolinas.
The search was hampered by the storm on Tuesday as crews were forced to halt their efforts after lightning strikes nearby. In the Miami area, downpours and winds of up to 29 miles per hour can be felt, said the National Weather Service.
But the storm is now far northwest of the region, where rescue efforts are nearing the two-week mark. The death toll is officially 36, and more than 100 people are still missing.
- Stacie Dawn Fang
- Gladys and Antonio Lozano
- Luis Andres Bermudez and Anna Ortiz
- Manuel LaFont
- Hilda Noriega–
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Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, was the first victim identified in the condominium collapse. She was the mother of Jonah Handler, a 15-year-old boy who was pulled alive from the rubble in a dramatic rescue when he pleaded with rescuers, “Please don’t leave me.”
Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, were confirmed dead by Mr. Lozano’s nephew, Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist on WSVN Channel 7 in Miami. Mr Ferro wrote on Instagram: “They were such beautiful people. May they rest in peace. “
Luis Andres Bermudez, 26, lived with his mother Ana Ortiz, 46, and stepfather, Frank Kleiman, 55. Mr. Bermudez’s father confirmed his son’s death on social media and wrote in Spanish, “My Luiyo. You gave me everything … I will miss you all my life. We’ll see each other soon. I will never leave you alone. “
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a businessman who worked with Latin American companies. His former wife Adriana LaFont called him “the best father”. Mr. LaFont’s son, 10, and daughter, 13, were with Ms. LaFont when the building collapsed.
Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21, was in South Florida visiting Mr. LaFont, a close friend of his father’s. He studied economics at Vanderbilt University and had been a decathlon athlete in high school. A picture of him is on a mural outside the school’s sports facility.
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Cristina Beatriz Elvira, 74, were from Venezuela and had recently moved to Surfside, according to Chabadinfo.com, which said they are active in the Orthodox Jewish community in the greater Chicago area, where one of their daughters lives.
Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, lived with his wife, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and her two daughters, Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4th. Mr. Guara was remembered as a kind and generous man, godfather to twins, and a fan of hard rock music.
Hilda Noriega, 92, was a longtime resident of Champlain Towers South who loved to travel and whose family described her “unconditional love”. Hours before the breakdown, she attended a celebration with relatives.
Michael David Altmann, 50, came to the US from Costa Rica as a child and was an avid racquetball player as a teenager. “He was a warm man. He has overcome many obstacles in his life and has always been one step ahead, ”his son Nicholas told The Miami Herald.
Also killed in the collapse Ingrid Ainsworth, 66, and Tzvi Ainsworth, 68; Claudio Bonnefoy, 85, and Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69; Graciela Cattarossi, 48; Magaly Elena Delgado, 80; Bonnie Epstein, 56, and David Epstein, 58; Nancy Kress Levin, 76, and Jay Kleiman, 52; Francis Fernandez Plasencia, 67; Gonzalo Torre, 81; and the 7 year old daughter a firefighter from Miami, whose name the authorities refused to give.