Surfer families mark one year since Champlain Towers collapsed south

Standard settlements for victims and their relatives failed to close a year after the Surfside, Fla. building collapsed. (Video: Luis Velardi/The Washington Post)
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SURFSEID, Florida – In the year since the Champlain Towers collapsed in the South, families of 98 people who have died have been denied two things they say will help them heal. The first is a reason – why did the 12-storey building suddenly collapse and crash to the ground in the predawn hours of June 24? This answer may still be years away.

The second is simpler: they wanted to be where it happened. To stand in the site that for the most part was a rubble-strewn stricken area, and then, once the final remains were recovered and the piles of debris pulled away, a sandpit was flooded. A plot of land surrounded by a fence with a locked gate is for sale.

Early on Friday, the parents of the dead, their children and siblings had the opportunity to enter a vacant lot on the beach. They gathered in the same place, and at the same time a year ago when – just after 1 am – the building began to twist and sway and within 10 minutes caved in on itself. First Lady Jill Biden will speak at a public memorial service later in the morning.

“It’s a way of staying in a place where we weren’t allowed to stay for a year,” Chana Ainsworth Wasserman, who lost her parents, Zvi and Ingrid Ainsworth, said in the meltdown. “The idea behind this is to give a moment of silence and respect, and to reflect on the brutality of how the people we loved died there, and how it happened at that location.”

On the first anniversary of one of the worst construction failures in US history, many families of the dead say they are still in limbo. The remains of their loved ones have been identified, but not an explanation for their death. Florida has passed some apartment safety fixes, but there are doubts about how effective they will be. A judge Thursday gave final approval to a $1.2 billion settlement for families who lost loved ones, but it did not provide answers for what happened and assume no responsibility.

“It’s been a year, and the only thing I hear is, he’s under investigation,” said Pablo Langesfeld, whose daughter Nicole and her husband Louis Sadovnik, who perished in the disaster, died in the disaster. “It’s a nightmare. It’s still a nightmare.”

Families helped plan this weekend’s events – most of them related to the meltdown site. Surfside town officials lit up 98 bonfires around the roughly two-acre plot where the building once stood. A large eight-foot torch will remain lit at the site for about a month, which is the time it took rescuers to find the last remains buried under the rubble.

Meanwhile, lawsuits against more than 25 entities, including the Champlain Towers South Apartment Association, as well as the engineers and developers of the adjacent building, have been settled. Payments are expected to start from the settlement to families In the fall, but another painful process comes first.

Relatives are required to fill out claims forms that ask them to “describe how the loss of the deceased affected the life of this survivor.” The document asks them to note “any psychological distress, grief, or grief” as well as a loss of “care, guidance, advice, training, protection, community, comfort, or companionship.”

“A lot of my clients, they couldn’t really grieve, to focus on the loss, because a lot of other things were going on with the lawsuit and insurance,” said Edith Shero, a clinical psychologist in Miami. Treat more than a dozen family members. “They get traumatized again with every meeting, hearing or event. Now they have to fill out a form so that someone can put a value on each person’s life to decide how much they are going to get.”

Crash survivors face a different set of challenges, including finding a permanent place to live in an area where home prices have risen sharply in the past 12 months. The judge awarded them $96 million, with some proceeds from selling the $120 million property to Damac Properties in Dubai.

Oren Cytrynbaum lived in Champlain Towers South, and his parents also owned a unit in the building. None of them were present at the time of the collapse, which places them in the “economic loss only” category of casualties.

“You will not be able to compare the two. You cannot compare loss of life to property or economic loss,” Sitterenbaum said. But this does not detract from the fact that some people have been completely devastated by the loss of their homes and all their possessions. Don’t compare, but that doesn’t take away that hurt.”

Looming all over is the unanswered question of what and why.

“This is a terrible situation for families. I know they want to know why this building fell. “We all want to know,” said Charles Burkett, who was mayor of Surfside at the time of the crash. “But a lot of people basically want to shut down the book and have everyone come forward to get on with life. But we need answers.”

After cataloging the rubble, investigators at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are preparing to conduct more gaseous tests on the debris in hopes of shedding light on the condition of the building’s concrete and steel reinforcement at the time of the collapse.

“We haven’t ruled out anything at this time,” a NIST update from this month stated.

Early theories were that the condominium’s pool deck failed due to poor maintenance. This part of the property seemed to have collapsed first, followed by half of the building being smashed to the ground. The rest of the condominium was unstable and demolished as a hurricane approached Surfside.

Operating on a budget of $22 million, NIST is expected to take up to five years to achieve.

“There are huge implications for the life safety of buildings across the United States and elsewhere in the world,” says the NIST update.

Despite the slow pace of the complex investigation, Emily Guglielmo, former president of the National Council of Structural Engineers Unions, said the failure of Champlain Towers South was timely. It will likely lead to new building codes nationwide.

“It made us question everything,” Guglielmo said. “Do we have the right codes? Do we have the right construction? Is there a climate change issue? Is there a sea level issue? Across the board, from design through construction to how you maintain the building, there are conversations happening live as a result of Surfside that weren’t happening Before that “.

Florida lawmakers, after being criticized for taking no action in the state’s regular legislative session, met in special session last month and passed condominium safety reforms. They include frequent building inspections—Champlain Towers South had been under inspection for 40 years when it collapsed—and a requirement for condo units to raise funds and provide a reserve for maintenance. Some question whether the state has enough structural engineers to make those new standards a reality.

A Miami-Dade County grand jury recommended dozens of changes to building inspection requirements, including reducing the 40-year time frame for re-certification — although their motions weren’t binding. At the federal level, South Florida Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) announced Thursday that she will introduce a bill next week to provide low-interest funding for apartment associations to pay for structural maintenance.

Controversy and disagreements among condo board members at Champlain Towers South over the cost of needed maintenance delayed preparations for the repairs by three years. Concrete restoration work was set to begin when half of the building collapsed.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniela Levine Cava said families receive bi-weekly updates in an effort to be transparent and “we’re doing everything we can to show that we’re with them, that we’re working with them to come up with answers.”

Rescue teams worked around the clock, from June 24 until July 20, when the final remains were found. But only three people were saved alive, including Jonah Handler and his mother, Stacey fang. First responders pulled them out of the rubble after a man walking his dog nearby heard Handler’s calls for help.

Fang died in the hospital later that day. Handler, now 16, was seriously injured but recovered enough to start playing baseball again. He and his father, Neil Handler, organized a party Charity An event Saturday night to raise funds for first responders, trauma victims, veterans, their families and their communities. The Handlers called the charity The Phoenix Life Project, with the goal of “bringing serenity to disaster.”

Jonah Handler now lives with his father in Champlain Towers North, two tower blocks away from the collapse site. Neil Handler said his son always wanted to do something to honor his mother and to thank the first responders who saved his life.

“I try to teach Jonah that no matter how bad something is, he tries to turn it into something positive,” said Neil Handler. “One of the things I’ve realized is that some people are stuck in this morbid reflection of what happened, and it defines who they are. I said to Jonah: You can’t let this thing define you. Either it will paralyze you or make you stronger.”

He said the charity is a way for his son to move forward, as are the more bleak moments, like the candlelight vigil at the site.

“This disaster has connected us all,” he said, “and we will all recover in different ways.” “It is important that we celebrate those we have lost, as well as come together in a spirit of love and tolerance.”

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