A year on, Surfside remembers 98 victims of condo collapse

  • Lazaro Carnero mourns for his best friend Edgar Gonzalez, during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse on June 24 in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SURFSIDE, Fla. — A year ago in the middle of the night, a 12-story oceanfront condo building in Surfside, Florida, came down with a thunderous roar, leaving a giant pile of rubble and claiming 98 lives — one of the deadliest structure collapses in U.S. history.

The names of each victim were read aloud during a ceremony Friday to mark the somber anniversary, attended by political figures, first responders and family members of those who died at Champlain Towers South on June 24, 2021.

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The ceremony came a day after a state judge approved one of the largest class action settlements of its kind: more than $1 billion to compensate victims’ families and survivors.

“Exactly 365 days ago, my house imploded, my home collapsed with everything and everyone inside but me. I am alive, and I have the chance to rediscover something that motivates me to smile again, to fight, to be a whole person,” said Raquel Oliveira, whose husband and 5-year-old son died in the collapse while she was visiting her mother.

“Let’s not give up on justice, love, gratitude, forgiveness. Let’s not give up life. We have not come this far just to come this far,” she added.

The disaster, the largest non-hurricane emergency response in Florida history, drew rescue crews from across the U.S. and as far away as Israel to help local teams search for victims. They were honored Friday for their difficult work.

Before the public ceremony organized by the town of Surfside, there was a private torch-lighting at the time — about 1:25 a.m. — when the 136-unit condominium building fell a year ago.

First Lady Jill Biden was among speakers at the public event that also included Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We stand by you today and always,” Biden said during comments briefly interrupted by a standing ovation when she mentioned the firefighters “who spent weeks working to recover your loved ones.”

“If there is something strong enough to help us carry this burden of grief forward, something to break its gravitational pull, it’s love,” Biden said.

DeSantis, a Republican, recalled how he was awakened at 3 a.m. the day the building fell and increasingly realized the immense scope of the disaster as he traveled to Surfside.

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