Disasters & Accidents

US 1st lady joins families to mark anniversary of Surfside disaster

By Alvaro Blanco

Surfside, Florida, Jun 24 (EFE).- The first lady of the United States traveled to this Miami-Dade County municipality on Friday to show solidarity with the families and friends of the 98 people who lost their lives a year ago in the partial collapse of a 12-story condominium building.

“Hidden in crowds – scattered throughout workplaces, and grocery stores, and parks – there is a fellowship of loss,” Jill Biden told the gathering on the site where Champlain Towers South stood.

“And though we are strangers, we know untellable truths about one another: That we will spend the rest of our lives longing for a face that’s gone forever – and that when they left our world, they took a light inside of us with them,” she said.

“There are some who might say that the hurt fades over time. But we know that’s not true,” she said. “The things we carry are heavier now. And one year later – or many years later – our knees sometimes buckle beneath the weight of our grief.”

“On behalf of my husband, President (Joe) Biden, whose heart and prayers have never left this community, we stand with you today and always,” the first lady said.

The pain described by Jill Biden was evident on the face of Luis Bermudez, whose 26-year-old son perished when part of the tower collapsed at 1:22 am on June 24, 2021.

His voice breaking, a tearful Bermudez credited his late son with teaching him the meaning of “unconditional love” and about “living life without fear.”

Raquel Oliveira, who lost husband Alfredo Leone, 48, and the couple’s 5-year-old son, Lorenzo, recalled that the family had moved from Brazil to Miami in pursuit of a “safe place” for the youngster.

The public remembrance also included recognition of the firefighters and other rescue workers who spent weeks combing through the rubble, initially in search of survivors and later to recover the bodies of the dead.

“These guys, the first responders were there, from the wee hours of the morning, they save people from the adjacent tower,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “And they were there working on that pile, doing whatever they could to try to save anybody who may have been a survivor.”

Only three people were pulled from the wreckage alive.

“It was a tough, tough situation. We had the people not only from Miami-Dade, we had teams end up coming from all over the state of Florida and even other states come to help. And so as governor, I just want to say thank you for stepping up and being there,” DeSantis said.

He held up a sign that is to be installed along Collins Avenue in front of the site designating that segment as 98 Points of Light road.

The remembrance followed a more intimate gathering of loved ones of the victims at 1:22 am to light torches in honor of the dead.

On Thursday, a judge gave final approval to a settlement that will see more than $1 billion distributed to those affected by the tragedy.

Champlain Towers South, built in 1981, was in the midst of a legally mandated 40-year recertification process when part of the building collapsed. Within days, the Surfside municipal government published a 2018 report from engineering consultants documenting structural problems with the building. EFE abm/dr

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