Families of Miami condo victims await news from loved ones

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SURFSIDE, Fla .– All around Magaly Ramsey, a chorus of newly familiar strangers shouted the names of their loved ones, hoping their voices would penetrate the looming pile of debris. These were the people Mrs Ramsey had spent long days with, awaiting news of their loved ones buried under the collapsed building.

“I love you,” they shouted over the rubble. “Please get out of here.” “We are waiting for you.”

But Ms Ramsey did not shout the name of her missing 80-year-old mother. As soon as relief let her approach the scene of the tragedy on Monday afternoon, she decided her mother couldn’t be alive.

Up close, the pile of rubble looked like a sand dune.

“I am a very logical and tough woman,” Ms. Ramsey said. Instead of screaming, she said, she asked questions of a nearby rescue official. Can a body just disintegrate?

The answer, Ramsey recalled in an interview, was ‘yes’.

The death toll rose from one, to 12, on Tuesday at Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., Where floors of a section of the 13-story building collapsed early Thursday morning. Nearly 150 people, including Ms Ramsey’s mother, Magaly Delgado, are still missing.

The round-the-clock rescue operation now involves 210 workers walking through the giant mound at any given time. In the days following the collapse, crews had removed three million pounds of concrete from the pile, said Chief Alan R. Cominsky of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

But for most of the families who have spent their days together in a government-sponsored reunification center, this progress has been unsatisfactory. Without the news they are most desperate to hear, they have had no choice but to navigate an ugly, liminal place where grieving can seem both necessary and premature.

Miami-Dade County officials have refused to release a list of the names of dozens of people missing. In twice-daily press conferences, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava reiterates that the numbers are fluid.

When a family member or friend calls the county hotline to report someone who may be missing, state and local authorities search for leads, examine them, and open a case.

“We have people calling from all over with hunches,” Ms. Levine Cava said.

The White House announced on Tuesday that President Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, were to travel to Florida on Thursday to visit the site of the building collapse and meet with families.

The long wait for answers came to an end for some families on Monday evening, when authorities identified Frank Kleiman, 55, as well as Michael David Altman, 50, and Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, among the dead.

Mr Kleiman, known to his friends as Frankie, lived on the seventh floor with his new wife, Ana Ortiz, and his stepson, Luis Bermudez, whose death has also been confirmed.

Alex Garcia, 55, helped Mr Kleiman set up a blind date with Ms Ortiz about a dozen years ago. “He always kept his chin up. He wasn’t judging. He was the kind of guy you could share anything with, ”said Garcia, who attended the same high school as Mr. Kleiman. “He was one of my best friends, my wedding witness and we traveled together.”

They had just seen each other on Father’s Day.

Mr. Guara, who lived in Unit 802 with his wife, Ana, and their two daughters, Lucia and Emma, ​​who are all missing, was remembered Tuesday as a kind and generous man, the godfather of the twin of his close friend. one year old boys and hard rock music fan.

Jose Dezarraga, who grew up with Mr Guara, said much of their childhood was spent outdoors, running and swimming or cycling and playing football. The two also bonded through a shared love for rock band Kiss.

“His mother took us to our first Kiss concert and we went back to see them in Tampa two years ago,” said Dezarraga, 53. They spent last Christmas together and Mr. Guara gave the twins bikes.

“I had just spoken to him about two weeks ago,” he said. “What I didn’t know at the time was that he and another friend were planning a surprise visit.”

There were further indications this week that the next step – figuring out who or what should be blamed for the disaster – was underway. Miami-Dade County Prosecutor Katherine Fernández Rundle announced on Monday that she would ask a grand jury to examine the collapse, although the jury has yet to be made up. Ms Levine Cava pledged her support for such an investigation at a press conference on Tuesday.

In addition, a letter the chairman of the condominium association wrote to residents in April has surfaced publicly, revealing deep concerns about the condition of the building less than three months before it relinquished. Ross Prieto, the former Surfside construction manager who had been briefed on the Champlain Towers issues three years ago, is now on leave from his current job as a contractor in the nearby town of Doral, officials said. city.

More intimate calculations were made closer to the site. Ms Ramsey, a marketing executive who grew up in South Florida, said there was another reason she hadn’t shouted out her mother’s name when she visited the pile Monday after- noon: her mother, she said, “didn’t like making a scene. “

Magaly Delgado had spent decades under the name Magaly Alfonso, but 12 years ago she divorced her longtime husband and resumed her maiden name. Ms Delgado initiated the breakup, her daughter said. “She just felt like she didn’t want connections and wanted to be an independent woman, and it wasn’t working for her, so she split things up.”

Mrs. Delgado was like that. She had left Cuba in the early 1960s, fearing to speak out against the revolution and suffer reprisals. In the United States, she learned English herself, which she spoke imperfectly but with relish.

After the divorce, she moved into the Champlain South towers, unit 911. It was a lavishly appointed place with recessed lighting, gracefully curved walls. and a set of delicate porcelain Lladró figurines that she adored.

Ms Delgado was a fan of Queen Elizabeth, a follower of the etiquette, and not always an easy-going person. “She was a stubborn woman,” Ms. Ramsey said. But over the past few years, after some time apart, she had grown close to her daughter again and made a habit of driving her Lincoln sedan 90 minutes north of Mrs. Ramsey and her husband’s house in Jupiter, generally presenting itself in an impeccable manner. in Anne Klein or Ralph Lauren.

Ms Ramsey was in Orlando for a business conference with her husband early Thursday morning when they learned that Champlain Towers South had fallen. They were almost certain that Ms Delgado was sleeping at home: she had refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19 after having had bad reactions to other drugs (‘A hard-headed woman,’ Ms Ramsey repeated) and always tried to stay home as much as possible to avoid infection.

The Ramseys immediately ran to Surfside, listening to the news on the four-hour drive. Ms Ramsey’s father had died of Covid-19 in August. She had seen him disappear through a glass partition, breathless. She did not have the opportunity to hold him back.

When the couple arrived at the assembly center, they discovered that Ms Delgado was not yet on the missing list. They gave officials his information. Ms Ramsey had the inside of her cheeks swabbed to provide a DNA sample. And they waited.

They have been waiting ever since, making the long drive first to the site of the Jupiter tragedy, and more recently staying in a given apartment closer.

Ms Ramsey said other family members have complained about the pace of recovery, but she has come to appreciate the enormity of their task. She had prayed every day, she said, but she no longer prays for her mother to be alive.

She prays that the rain – which has plagued rescue teams all week – can stop.

And she prays that her mother’s body will be found whole.

Christina morales contribution to the Surfside report, Francoise Robles from Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, and Audra DS Burch from Miami. Campbell Robertson also contributed to the report.


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