Victims of Champlain Towers South Remembered as Death Toll Climbs to 18
Family members wait and pray for a miracle.
It has been one week since an ordinary summer night turned into an unimaginable and unexpected tragedy when the Champlain Towers South, a 13-story oceanfront condominium in Florida’s Surfside community, partially collapsed without warning.
Search and rescue crews worked tirelessly, battling elements that were obstacles earlier in the search that included heavy smoke, fires that ignited underneath the rubble, rain, falling debris, and putting their own lives at risk in the race to find any survivors.
The total death toll now stands at 18 with 147 more still unaccounted for, officials said.
Rescue crews from as far away as Israel and Mexico worked in rotating 12-hour shifts, trying to bring some solace to heartsick family members.
One of those people is Kevin Spiegel, whose wife of 39 years, Judith, is among the missing. Spiegel and his three children have been in utter despair since the news broke that the tower crumbled to pieces. Spiegel, who was away on a business trip, was not home with his wife on the night of the tragedy.
“There’s this optimistic view so many people have, but the reality is every day and every minute that goes by, the chances of survival are diminished,” Spiegel told The New York Post.
Antonio Lozano, 82, and his wife, Gladys, 80, who had been married for 58 years, were found next to each other when they were pulled from the rubble, a family member told CBS Miami.
Their grief-stricken son, Sergio Lozano, told the news outlet that he had dinner at his parents' condo hours before the collapse.
“After dinner, I work early in the mornings and hugged my mom goodnight, kissed my dad, and that was it – no more,” he said, according to the Herald.
Lozano said his parents met when they were 12 years old in Cuba, and said they often joked about who would die first because neither wanted to live without the other.
After the tragedy, he learned that they were together until the very end. "I was told they were in bed together. That’s the end of the romantic story," he said.
Marcus Joseph Gaura, 52, his wife, Ana, and their two daughters, Lucia and Emma, lived in unit 802. They all remain missing. Guara was also the godfather to his close friend’s twin 9-year-old boys. He was remembered as “a kind and generous man,” who loved the rock band KISS and was planning a surprise trip to visit a childhood friend, according to The New York Times.
Others who perished include Ana Ortiz, 46, Annie to her friends, she was described as a hardworking mother who was devoted to her wheelchair-bound son, Luis Andres Bermudez, 26, who had muscular dystrophy, the outlet reported.
According to friends and family, Bermudez never let his disability get in the way of his best life. A talented graphic fashion designer, he described himself on Instagram, as “just a guy with big dreams and ideas. Creative in every way and looking to collaborate with artists. Making my way up. Blessed. Follow.”
After Bermudez’s father, also named Luis Bermudez, confirmed his son’s death on social media, he wrote a heart-wrenching post on his Facebook page to his son and his son’s mother that included photos of the father and son in happier times.
“Luiyo of my life I miss you in every beat of my heart. I know you are with our mom in heaven resting in peace and without impediment anything, you are free….Ay my Luiyo how hard it is to be without you. You tell me everything and teach me to be who I am. You were my teacher and everything I learned with you I keep doing… You will be my example forever. I love you.”
Three weeks before the tragedy, Bermudez’s mother, Annie Ortiz, married Frankie Kleiman, who also perished in the collapse. The pair met on a blind date that was arranged by Alex Garcia, friends of both Ortiz and Kleinman, the Miami Herald reported.
Kleiman’s mother, Nancy Kress Levin, who lived on the same floor, number seven, as her son and new daughter-in-law, is still missing. And Kleiman’s brother, Jay, who was visiting from Puerto Rico when the tragedy took place is also still unaccounted for.
Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74, and Leon, 81, Oliwkowicz recently moved to the Surfside community from Chicago. The couple, who were from Venezuela had strong ties to the Lubavitch community in Chicago, according to their daughter, Leah Fouhal, per Chabadinfo.com. The couple was described as “active and generous members” of the Jewish community in Chicago, the Miami Herald reported.
More than 3 million pounds of concrete have been removed from the site, according to Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky from the site so far, CNN reported.
Early in the search, 12-year-old Jonah Handler miraculously survived but had been trapped underneath the rubble when the 13-story building came crashing down. Handler was the first survivor rescuers pulled from the wreckage and may have also been the ‘only’ survivor of the fatal collapse, according to reports. Handler's mother, Staci Fang, 54, sadly did not have the same fate and would become the first official victim of the fatal collapse. Fang was described as a devoted and loving mother to her young son.
Jonah’s father, Neil Handler, his fiancée, Veronica Fiorini, and the Fang family created a GoFundMe describing Jonah as their “beloved miracle boy.”
“As if this traumatic event, is not enough for a young teenager to recover from, he is also grieving the loss of his mother, Staci Fang on the road to healing and dealing with this trauma,” Handler said. “As are here feeling completely humbled by God’s amazing grace sparing Jonah’s life in what has been an unfathomable and unprecedented tragedy.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly $74,000 has been raised of their goal of $150,000. Some of the money raised will go towards Jonah’s medical expenses, mental health, his mother's funeral expenses, and Jonah’s college education.
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