SURFSIDE — Fast asleep
and unaware of what was about to happen, the residents of
Champlain Towers South had no reason to question their
safety the night of June 24, 2021.
After all, they were living in paradise — right on the
Atlantic Ocean in the relatively quiet town of Surfside,
just north of Miami Beach.
But in the middle of
the night, their sense of safety along the shore violently
evaporated as the building's pool deck suddenly collapsed.
Half of the 12-story structure would follow minutes later.
Floor after fractured floor crashed down into a massive pile
of crumbled concrete and twisted steel as the building's
support systems failed.
When it was all over, 98 people were dead, and it would be
weeks before emergency workers were able reach the final
victims and identify them.
One year later, as we remember those who
lost their lives, comfort their grieving families and
support the men and women who responded to the tragedy,
painful lessons learned in Surfside have shaped public
Still, questions about Florida condo
'I didn't know what was going on'
Surfside isn't South Beach. It's a relatively quiet
community where nightlife often takes place in front of the
TV rather than out on the town. So, when a 12-story condo
building collapsed at 1:22 a.m., there weren't many people
walking around to witness it.
The response, however, was impossible to miss.
“I was at home. I heard a bunch of sirens. From Collins Ave.
going north," Shlomo Danziger, the city's current mayor,
said. "I have an 18-year-old daughter who was out to a
movie. She was on her way home and gave me a call ... She
was frantic. She said, 'Dad, a building just came down.'"
First responders instantly realized the magnitude of the
disaster and triggered a massive, multi-agency response.
The search for survivors began right away, with neighbors
desperate to help in any way they could.
98 lives lost
Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends — each of
the 98 people who died left an indelible mark on all those
who knew and loved them.
A year after the condo collapse, however, the tribute to
their memories remains temporary.
The youngest victim was just one year old, according to
Miami news station WSVN. Aishani Gia Pat's body was found
with her parents'. Their names and ages were later printed
on alongside all the others on a black tarp, wrapped around
the chain-link fence that surrounds the now-demolished
"This is a never-ending nightmare." Pablo Langesfeld said of
losing his 26-year-old daughter, Nicky, in the collapse. "I
don't think it will ever stop to be a horror movie."
But, family members remain determined to honor their loved
ones with a permanent memorial.
Through rubble and rebar
With every passing second making the possibility of survival
more remote, the men and women digging through the mountain
of concrete and rebar didn't have time to really internalize
the unfolding tragedy.
Hope became fuel — the slim chance of finding someone alive
in the debris powered the members of Florida Task Forces 3
and 4 to keep going.
"I pride myself on being able to do this job to help people,
to save lives — I don't go into these situations to sift
through material to pull out not lives," said Alex
Ralls-Novo, a senior Task Force member who knows all too
well the emotional strain of a painstaking search.
Inevitably, his team's 12-hour shifts in the blistering heat
transitioned from a rescue mission to a heartbreaking
recovery operation. While none of the responders were
physically injured — and incredible feat given the all
inherent dangers — many left the scene with scars.
But, they also came home with important lessons learned.
Preventing future tragedies
Millions of Floridians live in high-rise condos, so the
deadly collapse in Surfside left many people wondering just
how safe they really are in their own homes.
State lawmakers promised in the immediate aftermath to do
whatever was necessary to prevent another tragedy, but their
proposed bills went nowhere in Tallahassee — at least not
until last month.
During a special session to address the unrelated property
insurance crisis, Florida's House and Senate passed
legislation to ensure residents are living safely in similar
All Florida condos three stories or taller must now undergo
a structural integrity inspection before 2025, and their
associations must keep enough money in reserve to fully fund
all necessary repairs.
“If those smaller issues don’t get addressed through proper
maintenance or through proper periodic inspections, then
those issues can magnify and become larger problems,” said
Joel Figueroa Vallines, a forensic structural engineer.
He and his team were chosen to investigate the Surfside
collapse and make recommendations. They created a 3D model
using Champlain Tower's original blueprints and found the
catastrophic flaws were literally built in.
“The structure really doesn't stand a chance, if it has
little redundancy, once that first floor collapsed ... there
weren't any beams on that floor,” he explained.
'It was not an act of God'
For many, the developments in Tallahassee don't address the
question that still lingers in the minds of those who lost
family members and friends in the Surfside collapse: How
could it have happened?
They're left with memories of lifetimes ended in seconds,
and a year after the tragedy, they say that grief continues
“Its kind of like when you are on a rollercoaster, and you
are going down," said Ronit Naibryf, who lost her
21-year-old son, Ilan, in the collapse. "It is that feeling
in the stomach. It's a pit. That's it. I don’t think about
anything. I just feel it.”
Amid the ongoing investigation and court proceedings,
Naibryf says her family hasn't been able to move forward —
and they still need answers.