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Families grieve loss of relatives in Miami tower collapse as death toll rises to 86

Families grieve loss of relatives in Miami tower collapse as death toll rises to 86

The number of people confirmed to have been killed in the collapse of a Miami-area condominium tower last month has reached 86, Miami-Dade county mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on Saturday.

No survivors have been pulled alive from the ruins since the first few hours after the tower partially caved in on itself early on 24 June.

Investigators have not yet determined what caused the 40-year-old complex to collapse, while the authorities are launching a grand jury investigation amid reports of warnings and rows over repairs. At least six lawsuits have been filed by families.

Not far from the crews painstakingly searching in the wreckage of the Champlain Towers South residential building in Surfside, near Miami, grieving families gather daily at the Seaview hotel during the agonizing wait for news of relatives buried in the rubble.

The hotel has become a shared space of hope and sorrow in the last two weeks, as a rescue mission turned into a task of recovering and identifying bodies, work that goes on around the clock.

Twice a day, every day, for more than two weeks, relatives of the those who have perished and the several dozen people still unaccounted for have huddled in a space that is normally a ballroom, a new daily routine thrust upon them by an unfathomable disaster.

Many members of this tiny community forged in tragedy have started arriving to the meetings early and staying late. They linger in small groups, talking. They hug each other, bring each other water and tissues. On days when information is scarce, rescue and recovery crews, including those who came from other countries to help, circulate through the room, offering more detailed tidbits of knowledge.

Officials announced on Wednesday that they were switching their mission from rescue to recovery, evoking sobbing among many exhausted and tense family members of the victims.

But there was no plan to stop the private briefings for the families, said Maggie Castro, a Miami-Dade firefighter and paramedic who keeps relatives updated and has forged her own connections with them.

“Obviously, this is a huge tragedy, but if I can find some kind of bright spot in this whole thing, it’s to be with these families, watching their emotions come and go … watching them evolve through their stages and then also watching them bond,” Castro said.

Soriya Cohen’s husband, Brad Cohen, is still missing. Her brother-in-law Gary Cohen was found dead on Thursday, and her two children are begging rescuers to search a similar grid line to find their father.

“The community outpours so much love,” she said, recalling how volunteers wrapped her in a blanket, brought her food and coffee in the initial days after the collapse and “surrounded me with so much emotional support”.

She still has the blanket, she said on Friday.

Meanwhile, a mother and daughter whom paramedics said “should not be alive” after the collapse are on the long road to recovery, a relative told NBC.

But the husband and father who lived with them is among the missing.

Angela and Edgar Gonzalez were on the ninth floor with their daughter Deven, 16, when the catastrophe happened. Another daughter was not home at the time.

“In the middle of the night, my daughter woke up because she heard a strange noise … the building was shaking,” said Kathleen Gonzalez, Angela’s mother.

“She started screaming for them to get up and get out, and she just ran with her daughter, pulled her daughter by her arm, when they got out the front door, they didn’t even go five feet, and it fell down to one floor below,” she said.

Angela and Deven were separated, and as Deven screamed for her mother, Angela Gonzalez “crawled over and put her body on top of my granddaughter and they fell again all the way down to the third floor,” Kathleen Gonzalez said.

Angela and Deven are in hospital with multiple crush injuries and face a long struggle to recover, even as the excruciating wait goes on for Edgar Gonzalez to be found, NBC reported.

On Saturday, officials said the Miami-Dade county courthouse will begin undergoing repairs immediately because of safety concerns found during a review prompted by the Surfside tragedy.

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