Friends and relatives of the missing await the worst, as tributes are paid to those who died
Officials have confirmed the deaths of 18 people in the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida.
A further 145 remain unaccounted for amid the rubble of the 13-story beachfront condo, which collapsed in the middle of the night on 24 June without warning. A search and rescue effort was initiated after 55 of the buildings 136 units fell to the ground.
Out of the 18 people confirmed to have died, 16 have been identified.
The identified victims are: Michael David Altman, 50, Luis Bermudez, 26, Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74, Stacie Fang, 54, Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21, Emma Guara, 4, Lucia Guara, 10, Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, Frankie Kleiman, 55, Manuel LaFont, 54, Antonio Lozano, 82, Gladys Lozano, 80, Hilda Noriega, 92, Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, Anna Ortiz, 46, and Anaely Rodriguez, 42.
A 58-year-old attorney who relocated from New York to Florida following an infection from Covid last year, Linda March allegedly traded the city for views of the ocean before Friday’s incident.
Rochelle Laufer, her best friend, told the Associated Press that Linda had bought a bright pink bicycle to cruise around Miami on, when she was not working from her apartment.
Linda was looking for another apartment in Surfside, added Rochelle, amid complaints of noise from a construction site close to Champlain Towers South. She had broken her lease before the collapse. She remains missing.
Another friend, Dawn Falco, said she had been talking on the phone with Linda until just two hours before the building fell at about 1.30am on Thursday, and that her heart was “breaking” from images of Linda’s crumbled home, penthouse 4.
Linda, despite losing her father, sister and mother, was described as somebody who always smiled. She was also divorced, and without children.
“She would say to me, ‘I’m all alone. I don’t have family,’ said Rochelle, who would say to her best friend: ‘You’re my sister, you don’t have to be born sisters. And I said you always have me”.
Bhavna Patel lived with her husband, Vishal Patel, and their one-year-old daughter at Champlain Towers South. She was also four months pregnant.
The 38-year-old is a citizen of both the UK and US, and had lived at the condo for about two years ago, according to her niece, Sarina Patel. The family are among the 145 missing.
“We’re starting to prepare for the negative possibility, especially as the hours pass, but at the end of the day our family is very hopeful,” said Sarina to KABC TV. “I just keep praying they have found a pocket somewhere where they were able to seek shelter and just waiting to be found.”
Leon Oliwkowicz and Christina Beatriz Elvira
The couple lived in an apartment on the 7th floor of the tower when it collapsed, their daughter told WPLG.
On Saturday, rescuers located the body of 80-year-old Leon Oliwkowicz and identified him on Sunday, when the body of his wife, aged 74, was located and identified by officials.
A doting grandmother who her daughter, Rachel Spiegel, said was incredibly thoughtful, a terrible cook and “the matriarch of our family”.
Judy Spiegel treasured hosting her friends and family at her home in Champlain Towers South and recently had gone to great lengths to find a Disney princess dress for her granddaughter after it sold out in stores in Surfside, Florida.
“She’s very thoughtful, she cared about the details,” Rachel Spiegal, who was tearful, told the Associated Press. “She was certainly the matriarch of our family.”
“My mom is an incredible person. She has the best heart and we need to find her,” she said of her 66-year-old mother.
Her favourite treat was said to be chocolate Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and she was also an advocate for Holocaust awareness.
A baton twirler, jazz player and former flight attendant who was described as being incredibly kind and “the ultimate hostess, on the airplane, everywhere” by her friends.
The 70-year-old lived in a penthouse on the 12th floor of the building and is among those missing.
Her friend, Shelly Angle, told the Miami Herald: “The main thing people know about Elaine is, she’s always there to give you a hand in everything you’re doing”.
Douglas Berdeaux, her brother-in-law, told The Washington Post that she “was worried that the ceiling was going to collapse on top of her bed,” because of construction work on the roof of Champlain Towers South.
Elaine was said to have excelled at belly dancing and playing jazz, after a career flying with US Airways and JetBlue.
Claudio and Maria Obias Bonnefoy
The couple lived on the 10th floor of Champlain Towers South and according to family, spent little time inside of the apartment before Covid. They are among the missing.
Bonnefoy, an 85-year-old lawyer, is the second cousin of former Chilean President and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
Both Claudio and his Filipino-American wife, Maria Obias, worked for international organisations, said his daughters, Anne Marie and Pascale Bonnefoy.
The 77-year-old’s daughter, Deborah Hill, was due to collect her father from Chicago airport on Friday, when he was caught in the collapse of Champlain Towers South.
She told Chicago ABC7 that she watched video footage showing his upper-floor apartment falling and disappear into a cloud of dust.
“That was pretty scary to watch,” said Deborah. “Immediately I tried to call him and his phone went straight to voicemail.”
Richard, who wanted to retire from the freight industry in the autumn, had visited his son in California and was about to see Debbie, his daughter, for the weekend in Chicago.
He and a roommate are thought to be missing,
Juan and Ana Mora were hosting their son, Juan Mora Jr, when Champlain Towers Collapsed on Friday.
A friend of Ana’s, Jeanne Ugarte, said the duo were immigrants from Cuba and devout Catholics, and took their son and family on missionary trips to build churches and bridges on Caribbean islands.
Juan Mora Jr., who works for Morton Salt in Chicago, often hosted his parents at his home in Illinois, and would introduce friends and family to Cuban coffee and food.
“They were the kind of people that even if someone says ‘I’m not hungry,’ they would just continue to order food to make sure you had a full belly,” said a friend of Juan Jr, Matthew Kade.
Kaade, who graduated with Mora from Loyala University Chicago in 2011, said he texted this month saying he was planning to return to Chicago in early August.
“I was super excited to get him to come back,” said Kaade. He described Juan Jr., an avid Chicago Cubs fan, as genuine and someone his friends could always rely on “to be real and straight” with them.
His friends are travelling to Florida to await news.
Stacie Dawn Fang
The 54-year-old and her teenage son, Jonah Handler, were on the 10th floor of the building when it collapsed.
Rescuers pulled him out from a pile of cement, after a dog hurried to the site of Champlain Towers South, where Jonah’s hand was waving from below the wreckage. He is recovering in hospital.
Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, his mother, is among the eight confirmed to have died in the tragedy.
“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” members of her family said in a statement. “Many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time.”
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a proud father, a baseball fan and a business consultant who lived on the building’s eighth floor. He had a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter with his ex-wife Adriana LaFont, the Miami Herald reported.
His body was pulled from the wreckage on Friday, and was identified on Saturday.
LaFont, a Houston native, coached his son’s baseball team, the Astros, at North Shore Park, just a mile away from the Champlain. He was also a parishioner at S. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach.
Antonio and Gladys Lozano
Antonio and Gladys Lozano lived on the ninth floor of Champlain Towers South, and on Saturday were confirmed among the vicitms.
The duo, aged 83 and 79, were due to celebrate the 59th wedding anniversary on 21 July and according their sons, were said to have jocked that neither wanted to die before the other, because neither wanted to live without the other.
Sergio Lozano, who lives in a tower across from his parents, said he had dinner with them hours before the collapse.
Anna Ortiz, Luis Bermudez, and Frankie Kleiman
The bodies of Anna Ortiz, aged 46, and her 26-year-old son, Luis Bermudez, were recovered on Saturday from the wreckage of the collapsed tower.
Relatives told ABC News that their bodies were located together, and that it was agonising not knowing if the mother and suffered before they were pulled out. Their identities were confirmed by Miami-Dade officials on Sunday.
Mr Kleiman, 55, identified as Ms Ortiz’s partner, also died in the collapse, according to authorities. His brother Jay and their mother remain missing.
Ilan Naibryf and Deborah Berezdivin
Ilan Naibryf, 21, and his girlfriend, Deborah Berezdivin, were staying at a condo owned by her family at the time of the collapse, according to Mr Naibryf’s parents, Ronit Felszer and Carlos Naibryf.
They told CNN on Monday afternoon that they haven’t lost all hope of seeing their son again.
“We want to believe in a miracle, because we still don’t have the physical presence, in part or in whole, of our son,” Felszer told the outlet.
“A miracle can come, yes, but we have to be very realistic,” Naibryf added.
The father said his son was a physics major at the University of Chicago and that he “was a 21-year-old young adult. Bright. Everywhere he went, he made an impact”.
Marcus, Lucia, and Emma Guara, and Anaely Rodriguez
Lucia and Emma Guara were among the youngest victims identfied as of 1 July, at 10 and four years old respectively. The body of their father, 52-year-old Marcus Guara, was identified on 26 June. His wife Anaely Rodriguez, 42, also died in the collapse.
Mr Guara’s employer, Kassatex New York, confirmed their identities.
The CEO and founder Ernesto Khoudari told CNN in a statement: “The Kassatex family is deeply saddened over the loss of Marcus Guara and his beautiful family. From the moment he started working with us, his creativity, vivacity for the business, charming smile, and never give up attitude fueled his passion for our company, and his relationships he made along the way. He was an amazing asset to the team and will be missed immensely.”
Nick Altman told CNN that his 50-year-old father “wasn’t just my dad, he was my best friend, and I would tell him about everything.”
“Every success I had I would grab my phone or drive by to see him, every troubling situation, I spoke to him right away,” Nick said. The son knew something was wrong the morning after the collapse when he didn’t get one of his regular twice-daily check-in texts from his dad.
“Playing racquetball with my dad is one of my favourite memories,” Nick Altman said. “He taught me and my brother Jeffery how to play racquetball and playing games of 21 trying to beat him… we never beat him once.”
“I’ve never met someone as lovable as him,” the son added.
Michael Noriega told The Miami Herald that his grandmother, 92-year-old Hilda Noriega was “the sweetest, the most loving and most generous person I knew”.
“She was 92. But she was going on 62. Her energy was boundless,” he added.
She was the 12th person confirmed to have died. Authorities identified her on Wednesday.
“I feel sadness and confusion, and to watch my father, he is just so broken to see his last living parent gone. It’s been very, very difficult. But our faith is in God, because he’s here with us,” the grandson said.
Ms Hedeya remains missing. A woman who loves to dance, she calls herself Cha Cha Cha on social media, according to CNN.
From Brooklyn, her friends in Miami describes her as a free-spirited person who loves to travel.
“She’s so vibrant, so social,” said friend Luc Davidson. “She loved spas, dancing and working out. She was so adventurous. She tried a new restaurant every Sunday.”
“A lot of people love her,” he added. “She’s so full of good energy. We are worried about her. We’re hoping for a miracle.”
Sophia López Moreira, Luis Pettengill with relatives
Ms Moreira and her husband Mr Pettengill are the sister and brother-in-law of the first lady of Paraguay Silvan López Moreira. The couple were staying in the building with their three children.
Paraguay’s ministry of external relations told CNN en Español that they haven’t been able to locate the family.
Paraguay’s foreign minister said the family was in the US to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The Paraguayan President’s office said the first lady arrived in the US after the collapse along with her parents and the parents of her brother-in-law.
The ministry tweeted that six Paraguayans remain missing.
Andrés Galfrascoli, Fabián Nuñez, and Sofía Galfrascoli Núñes
Andrés Galfrascoli, 45, and his 55-year-old partner Fabián Nuñez remain missing along with their 6-year-old daughter Sofía, a friend has said.
They were on vacation in Florida, staying at the condo of a friend, Nicolás Fernández.
“We don’t know anything, we don’t have any closure and that’s what hurts,” Mr Fernández told CNN.
The Argentinian consulate in Miami said on Twitter that nine persons from the country remain missing following the collapse.
Ms Stratton is the wife of Michael Stratton, a senior policy advisor at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, whose spokesperson Lara Day told CNN that Ms Stratton is thought to be among the many still missing.
Mike Stratton wrote in a statement to Local 10: “Thank you to everyone who has reached out and is keeping Cassie in their thoughts and prayers, but most of all to the brave men and women working around the clock in unimaginable conditions to bring her and others home.
“Our family is forever grateful. Cassie is a wife, mother and true friend to so many. She brings a vivacious love of life to everything she does—whether as an actress, model or Pilates instructor. Thank you again for your continued prayers.”
Garciella Cattarossi with relatives
Ms Cattarossi, her parents, and her daughter remain missing.
Friend Mariela Porras told CNN that Ms Cattarossi is a photographer trying to get her real estate license and “is just a wonderful person trying to always do the right thing”.
Julio Cesar, Angela Maria, and Theresa Velasquez
The three members of the Velasquez family are thought to be among the missing. David Velasquez wrote on Facebook that his 67-year-old father and 60-year-old mother lives in the building and that his 36-year-old sister was visiting them at the time of the collapse.
Gil and Betty Guerra
The Guerras lived on the ninth floor of the building. Mr Guerra’s daughter Michelle Guerra told CNN that she hasn’t heard from them since the collapse.
“We’re doing our best to stay hopeful,” she said on Saturday. “That’s what they would want.”
“This is all so horrific and bizarre. They are both such caring, hardworking people,” Ms Guerra added. “They only got married late 2017 and have been living it up like two teenagers in love travelling the world and eating all they can together.”
The 80-year-old lived on the ninth floor for over a decade. Her daughter Magaly Ramsey told CNN that “she loved the building, she loved the community”.
She said he found out about the collapse on the news.
“Never in a thousand years did I think that was her building or that her building is just not there anymore,” she added. “But that’s how we found out, so we quickly packed up and headed down.”
“The worst thing is not to know,” Ms Ramsey said. “Knowing, whatever the outcome may be, you hope that they didn’t suffer if something did occur. But knowing is a little bit healing in itself.”
Ruslan and Nicole Manashirov
The couple is among those missing, according to Ruslan’s sister-in-law who spoke to News 12 Connecticut. Ruslan grew up in New York City and Nicole in Pittsburgh, KDKA reported.
Leah Caliguire told KDKA that she stayed at their condo last month.
“It was a beautiful building, you would never think anything like this could possibly happen,” she said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press