One month after Florida building collapse: rubble cleared, questions remain

Southeast

FILE – In this Tuesday, July 6, 2021, file photo, a memorial for the Guara family is posted on a fence near the Champlain Towers South, in Surfside, Fla. Recovery crews at the Florida condominium collapse are cataloging all personal possessions found in the rubble in hopes of returning them to families of the dead or survivors. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP, File)

(NewsNation Now) — One month after the deadly and puzzling collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, workers have recovered 97 victims and removed 22 million pounds of debris. But they are no closer to answering the questions many have had since the building came down in the early hours of June 24.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava called the tragedy a “staggering, heartbreaking loss of life,” in a recent tweet. She said one victim may still need to be identified, which could bring the total to 98 victims recovered.

The victims identified by Miami-Dade County police range in age from 1-89 years old. Many of them were asleep when the building gave way. Thursday, local officials said the search for victims was officially over, though the process of identifying remains continues.

Florida state Sen. Jason Pizzo tweeted a gallery of the site this week, and most of the building is gone.

The rubble is still a key piece of answering why the building fell. The Associated Press reports it’s being stored in a Miami-area warehouse, with the rest in nearby vacant lots. All of that will be preserved as possible evidence for lawsuits and for other experts to review.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading a federal probe into the collapse, according to a receiver handling the finances on behalf of the condominium board.

“It may take years for their report to become public,” attorney Michael Goldberg told the AP.

The building was just undergoing its 40-year recertification process when it collapsed. That came three years after an engineer warned of serious structural issues needing immediate attention. Most of the concrete repair and other work had yet to be started.

The collapse has sparked a renewed concern for other buildings in the area. The Miami Herald reports Miami-Dade County’s Unsafe Structures Board will now require an engineer’s report declaring a building structurally safe before an extension can be granted when recertifications are overdue.

The newspaper reported the board faces a backlog of 1,000 unsafe structure cases.

“We are here every month. Every month,” board member Lynn Matos said at a meeting this week. “I don’t understand how we can have over 1,000-something cases sitting out there, and we don’t know why.”

Their loved ones are navigating the legal system as they grieve. A judge ruled there would be a fund of at least $150 million for the victims’ families. There are other lawsuits pending.

This April 17, 2021 photo provided by Liz Segel shows Estelle Hedaya at The Deck at Island Gardens in Miami. (Liz Segel via AP)

“The court’s concern has always been the victims here,” the Florida judge said, adding that the group includes visitors and renters, not just condo owners. “Their rights will be protected.”

Some families have been waiting almost four weeks for closure. Anastasiya Gromova’s remains were identified this week, and she was publicly identified Wednesday.

“We are still waiting,” her mother, Larysa Gromova, said through tears Monday. “It’s too much, it’s taking too long.”

There are likely still victims who will remain unaccounted for. Estelle Hedaya, 54, is feared dead, but there’s been no closure for her brother, Ikey.

“I can’t believe Estelle is in there somewhere, and I didn’t want to think about it,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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