A year on, Surfside remembers 98 victims of condo collapse

Building_Collapse_Miami_32601 First lady Jill Biden speaks during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_67478 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a sign dedicated to the 98 people who lost their lives during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_36002 Two attendees gather around a phone before the start of a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_64002 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks alongside first lady Jill Biden, second from right, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, right, during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_16735 First lady Jill Biden, center, leads a round of applause for first responders during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_38323 Lazaro Carnero mourns for his best friend Edgar Gonzalez, during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_64856 An attendee at a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, takes a moment as he looks out at the area where the building once stood, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_30752 Dalia Gutman, cousin of Ilan Naibryf, writes a message in her cousin's memory during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_34452 FILE - Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of people remain missing after it partially collapsed the week before June 30, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Friday, June 24, 2022, marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_94085 FILE - Artificial flowers are shown on a fence on June 21, 2022, surrounding the site where the Champlain Towers South collapsed killing 98 people last year in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_33483 FILE - Well-wishers visit a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Champlain Towers South condo building collapse, as they gather for a multi-faith vigil near the site where the building once stood on July 15, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_63730 FILE - Neil Handler speaks about how his son Jonah was trapped inside a pocket of fallen concrete after the Surfside, Fla., condo collapse, as he speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Bal Harbour, Fla. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
Building_Collapse_Miami_66554 FILE - Ronit Naibryf, right, shows Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levina Cava, the name of her son Ilan Naibryf on May 12, 2022, in Surfside, Fla., on a large banner with the names of the 98 people killed in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.
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SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — A year ago in the middle of the night, a 12-story oceanfront condo building in Surfside, Florida, came down with a thunderous roar, leaving a giant pile of rubble and claiming 98 lives — one of the deadliest structure collapses in U.S. history.

The names of each victim were read aloud during a ceremony Friday to mark the somber anniversary, attended by political figures, first responders and family members of those who died at Champlain Towers South on June 24, 2021.

The ceremony came a day after a state judge approved one of the largest class action settlements of its kind: more than $1 billion to compensate victims’ families and survivors.

“Exactly 365 days ago, my house imploded, my home collapsed with everything and everyone inside but me. I am alive, and I have the chance to rediscover something that motivates me to smile again, to fight, to be a whole person,” said Raquel Oliveira, whose husband and 5-year-old son died in the collapse while she was visiting her mother.

“Let’s not give up on justice, love, gratitude, forgiveness. Let’s not give up life. We have not come this far just to come this far,” she added.

The disaster, the largest non-hurricane emergency response in Florida history, drew rescue crews from across the U.S. and as far away as Israel to help local teams search for victims. They were honored Friday for their difficult work.

Before the public ceremony organized by the town of Surfside, there was a private torch-lighting at the time — about 1:25 a.m. — when the 136-unit condominium building fell a year ago.

First Lady Jill Biden was among speakers at the public event that also included Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We stand by you today and always,” Biden said during comments briefly interrupted by a standing ovation when she mentioned the firefighters “who spent weeks working to recover your loved ones.”

“If there is something strong enough to help us carry this burden of grief forward, something to break its gravitational pull, it’s love,” Biden said.

DeSantis, a Republican, recalled how he was awakened at 3 a.m. the day the building fell and increasingly realized the immense scope of the disaster as he traveled to Surfside. He thanked first responders and noted that the state budget he recently signed contains $1 million for a memorial to the 98 people lost.

“We are not going to forget what they meant to this community,” the governor said.

There was an effort by many victims and family members to install a memorial at the site where the building once stood, but the land is being sold for $120 million to a Dubai developer and a memorial will likely be created nearby.

Only two teenagers and a woman survived the collapse, while others escaped from the portion of the building that initially remained standing. Images of one survivor’s rescue traveled widely, offering a glimmer of hope right after the collapse, but the long, grueling search produced mostly devastating results as families waited only to learn about the remains of their lovedones.

Those lost in the collapse included two sisters, 4 and 11, who were so tiny that they were buried in the same casket.

Lyla Thurber, 12, attended the ceremony with her family, who wore white T-shirts with photos of the young sisters with their parents. She was close friends in school with the older sister, Lucia.

“She was happy, always smiling and playing,” she said. “I wanted to come here and talk to people so they could learn more about her.”

Luis Bermudez, who lost his 26-year-old son, also named Luis, wept often as he spoke in celebration of his son, who he said taught people, himself included, to live without fear and without limits.

“God needed a special angel to help him and you were chosen,” Bermudez said, and at the end held up large photographs of his son in each hand.

The cause of the collapse remains under investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, with the probe entering a new phase this month to cut and drill into concrete and steel. Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance problems, and shoddy construction techniques were used in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include sea level rise caused by climate change and damage caused by saltwater intrusion.

Pablo Langesfeld, the father of a 26-year-old lawyer who had married and moved to the building a few months before the collapse, said that for him closure will not come until that investigation is completed.

“This is a nightmare that never ends,” Langesfeld said.

Although the investigation is expected to take years, a judge has been given credit for finalizing the compensation settlement, in less than a year.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman praised the dozens of lawyers involved, and a woman who lost her daughter called the judge and attorneys heroes in black robes and business suits.

Hanzman said the compensation deal was extraordinary in its scope and speed. Checks for victims could begin going out in September.

“This settlement is the best we can do. It’s a remarkable result,” he said.

Still, the wounds are still fresh for the hundreds of people who lost loved ones a year ago.

“Our family lost everything,” said Kevin Spiegel, whose wife Judy died while he was traveling on business. “One year later, time has not healed my broken heart.”

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Anderson reported from St. Petersburg.

___

The spelling of Raquel Oliveira’s name has been corrected in this story.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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