A year ago, in the middle of the night, a 12-story oceanfront apartment building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed with a thunderous crash, leaving behind a giant pile of debris and killing 98 people – one of the deadliest collapses in US history.
The Champlain Towers South disaster also turned into the largest non-hurricane emergency in Florida’s history.
His victims were honored Friday at events on the ground, where for two weeks in June and July, rescue crews arrived from other parts of Florida and even Mexico and Israel to help local teams dig up the pile and find the victims.
Friday’s agenda includes a private nightly gathering for families to light the torch. First Lady Jill Biden is expected to speak at a public event hosted by the City of Surfside.
Only two teenagers and a woman survived the fall and were removed from the rubble, while others managed to get out of the part of the building that was originally standing.
Images of one survivor being rescued have been widely circulated, offering a glimmer of hope in the immediate aftermath of the crash, but the long, grueling search has produced mostly devastating results as families agonized only to learn of their loved ones’ remains.
Missing in the collapse were the fireman’s 7-year-old daughter who helped in the search, later found dead along with her mother, aunt and grandparents; a woman whose cries for help were heard early in the morning but suddenly stopped; and two sisters, aged 4 and 11, recovered from the rubble, who were so tiny that they were buried in the same coffin. A twelve-year-old girl sat down to pray through the ruins for her doctor father, who was eventually found dead.
The victims included local residents as well as visitors who were Orthodox Jews, Hispanics, Israelis, Europeans, and snowbirds from the northeast.
The cause of the collapse is still under investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the investigation entered a new phase this month to cut and drill concrete and steel. Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance problems and substandard construction methods were used in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include sea level rise caused by climate change and damage caused by salt water intrusion.
Pablo Langesfeld, the father of a 26-year-old lawyer who married and moved into the building months before the collapse, said there would be no closure for him until the investigation was completed.
“This is a never ending nightmare,” Langesfeld told the Associated Press.
The site on which the building stood has been swept away.
While the investigation is expected to take years, a judge on Thursday approved more than $1 billion in compensation to the victims.
Miami-Dade District Judge Michael Huntsman praised the dozens of lawyers involved, while the woman who lost her daughter called them heroes in black robes and business suits.
Huntsman said the offset deal was extraordinary in its scope and speed.
“This settlement is the best we can do. This is a wonderful result,” he said.