Surfside Survivors Don't Expect to Return to Standing Sections to Retrieve Possessions

Survivors of the collapsed condominium building in Surfside, Florida, do not expect to return to remaining standing sections of the building to retrieve their possessions, the Associated Press reported.

Most of the survivors who escaped lived in areas of the building that did not collapse. They do not plan to go back for clothes, jewelry and other belongings of value that were left behind. Dozens are now displaced and plans to demolish the remaining parts of the building outside Miami are being discussed by officials.

"They are going to basically have to start all over again," Michael Capponi, the president of nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission based in Florida, told AP. "Some of them don't have insurance, and they've lost everything they worked all their lives for."

At least 18 people have been found dead and more than 140 are still missing. Many cars were lost in the building's underground parking garage, leaving some who survived without vehicles.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Surfside Building Collapse
Surfside survivors do not expect to retrieve their possessions from standing sections that remain of the collapsed building. Above, search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 30, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Susana Alvarez fled her home on the 10th floor of Champlain Towers South, escaping with her life and almost nothing else.

"I don't have anything," the 62-year-old said. "I walked out with my pajamas and my phone."

Officials said Thursday they're making plans for the likely demolition of all parts of the building that didn't collapse. The announcement came after search and rescue operations were paused for hours because of growing signs the structure was dangerously unstable.

Alvarez is still dealing with the trauma. She hasn't slept in a bed since the collapse a week ago. Instead she's been sleeping in a chair, constantly thinking of the victims who couldn't escape. She still hears the screams from that night.

"I lost everything," Alvarez said, "and it doesn't mean anything to me."

Still, friends and even complete strangers have been helping replace what she's lost. Friends she's staying with outfitted her with new clothes and a computer. An eyeglass store refilled her prescription, even though she never called it in. And she got the last condo in a 16-unit building that was opened up rent-free to Surfside survivors for the month of July.

It's unclear exactly how many residents have been displaced, but those with insurance policies should recoup at least a portion of their losses.

Victims also appear likely to get some money from the liability insurer for Champlain Towers South's condominium association, which has at least four lawsuits pending related to the collapse.

An attorney for James River Insurance Company wrote to the judge in one case this week that it plans to "voluntarily tender its entire limit" from the association's policy toward resolving claims. An attached copy of the policy showed limits between $1 million and $2 million.

Capponi, the president of a Miami-area nonprofit that for the past decade has helped victims of disasters from hurricanes to wildfires in the U.S. and abroad, said he has personally dealt with 50 people who lost homes in the building.

Capponi's organization, Global Empowerment Mission, has distributed roughly $75,000 in gift cards among surfside survivors, and he's also working with hotel and condo owners to find places they can live for the next two months.

Most people who have contacted his nonprofit for help lived in the part that is still standing but assume their homes and anything inside are a complete loss.

Raysa Rodriguez, a retired postal worker who lived at Champlain Towers South for 17 years and was close to paying off her mortgage, described in a lawsuit she filed against the condominium association how crashing sounds roused her from bed the night of the collapse.

"The building swayed like a sheet of paper....I ran to the balcony. I (opened) the doors and a wall of dust hit me," she said in the filing.

Rodriguez helped neighbors escape to a second-floor balcony where firefighters helped them to the ground. Now she has moved in with family members and assumes what's left of the building will be torn down with no chance to recover belongings.

"She lived there for a long time," said Adam Schwartzbaum, her attorney, "and she was planning to live there for the rest of her life."

Ryan Logan, the American Red Cross' regional disaster officer for south Florida, said the organization has been helping about 18 families, and some of them have been looking for ways they can help other victims.

"These folks that we are serving, who we know they are having the worst experience of their lives, are turning around and asking you what can they do to serve," Logan said. "It's nothing short of amazing."

Gabriel Nir narrowly escaped a first-floor apartment with his mother and 15-year-old sister. The family had just moved in six months ago. Nir, a recent college graduate, was living there while he looked for a job and considered medical school.

For now they are staying at a nearby hotel, the floor of their room cluttered with items donated by friends and strangers. They have no luggage. Their car was destroyed in the building's garage. But all the material possessions they lost can be replaced, he said.

"I'm just grateful I made it out alive with my family," Nir said.

President Joe Biden Visits Surfside
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit a photo wall, the "Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial," near the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, on July 1, 2021. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images