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Florida, Surfside remembers 98 victims of apartment collapse a year later

A year ago, in the middle of the night, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in Surfside, Florida collapsed with a thunderous roar, leaving a huge pile of rubble and killing 98 people – l one of the deadliest collapses in United States history.

The Champlain Towers South disaster also turned into the largest non-hurricane emergency response in Florida history.

His victims were honored Friday at field events where, for two weeks last June and July, rescue teams traveled from elsewhere in Florida and from as far away as Mexico and Israel to help local teams to dig into the heap and search for victims.

Friday’s agenda includes an overnight private gathering for families to light a 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 pulled from the rubble, while others escaped from the part of the building that had initially remained standing.

A view of the memorial poles is placed on the site of the former Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida on June 24, 2022.

Footage of a survivor’s rescue circulated widely, offering a glimmer of hope in the aftermath of the collapse, but the long and grueling search produced results that were mostly devastating, as families waited only to discover the remains of their relatives.

Among those missing in the collapse were the 7-year-old daughter of a firefighter who helped with the search, later found dead with her mother, aunt and grandparents; a woman whose cries for help were heard in the early morning but suddenly stopped; and two sisters, 4 and 11, pulled from the rubble, who were so small they were buried in the same coffin. A 12-year-old girl sat down to pray on the rubble for her doctor father, who was eventually found dead.

Victims included local residents as well as Orthodox Jewish, Latino, Israeli, European visitors and snowbirds from the Northeast.

Florida, Surfside remembers 98 victims of apartment collapse a year later
Well-wishers visit a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Champlain Towers South condo building collapse.

The cause of the collapse remains under investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, with the probe entering a new phase this month to cut and drill into concrete and steel. Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance issues and shoddy construction techniques were used in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include sea level rise caused by climate change and the 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 for him closure will not come until this investigation is complete .

“It’s a nightmare that never ends,” Langesfeld told The Associated Press.

Florida, Surfside remembers 98 victims of apartment collapse a year later
Ronit Naibryf, right, shows Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levina Cava her son’s name on a large banner in remembrance of the Surfside victims.

The site where the building stood was razed.

Although the investigation is expected to take years, a judge on Thursday approved a compensation settlement exceeding $1 billion for the victims.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman praised the dozens of attorneys involved, and a woman who lost her daughter called them heroes in black dresses and business suits.

Hanzman said the indemnification agreement was extraordinary in its scope and speed.

“This settlement is the best we can do. It is a remarkable result,” he said.