Watch CBS News

Memorial held for victims of the Surfside tragedy on anniversary of the condo collapse

get the free app
  • link copied
Surfside condo collapse: one year later 01:31

A memorial ceremony honoring the victims of a deadly condo collapse was held Friday, which marks one year since the event. First lady Jill Biden spoke at the event, honored the 98 people killed when the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida, fell.

The 12-story oceanfront condo building came down with a thunderous roar in the middle of the night, leaving a giant pile of rubble and claiming 98 lives — one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.

The disaster also turned into the largest emergency response that didn't involve a hurricane in Florida history.

For two weeks last June and July, rescue crews descended from elsewhere in Florida and from as far away as Mexico and Israel to help local teams dig through the pile and search for victims.

Friday's agenda included a private overnight gathering for families to light a torch. First Lady Jill Biden was among speakers a public event organized by the town of Surfside that also included Gov. Ron DeSantis, local officials and relatives of the victims.

Building Collapse Miami
First lady Jill Biden speaks during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Florida. Friday marks the anniversary of the oceanfront condo building collapse that killed 98 people in Surfside. The 12-story tower came down with a thunderous roar and left a giant pile of rubble in one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history. Wilfredo Lee / AP

"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.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden speaks at Surfside public memorial 02:20

The speakers' stage was flanked by a large black banner with with the Surfside town seal in gold, "Love Lives On" written in white and a rendering of two outstretched hands meeting.

Only two teenagers and a woman survived the fall and were pulled from the rubble, while others escaped from the portion of the building that initially remained standing.

Images of one survivor's rescue traveled widely, offering a glimmer of hope right after the collapse, but the long, grueling search produced mostly devastating results as families torturously waited only to learn about the remains of their loved ones.

Those missing in the collapse included the 7-year-old daughter of a firefighter who helped in the search, later found dead with her mother, aunt and grandparents; a woman whose cries for help were heard in the early hours but suddenly stopped; and two sisters, 4 and 11, pulled from the rubble, who were so tiny they were buried in the same casket. A 12-year-old girl sat down to pray across the rubble for her physician father, who was ultimately found dead.

The victims included local residents as well as visitors who were Orthodox Jews, Latin Americans, Israelis, Europeans and snowbirds from the Northeast.

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 problems, and shoddy construction techniques were used in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include sea level rise caused by climate change and damage caused by salt water intrusion.

Pablo Langesfeld, the father of a 26-year-old lawyer who had married and moved to the building a few months before the collapse, said that for him closure will not come until that investigation is completed.

"This is a nightmare that never ends," Langesfeld told The Associated Press.

The site where the building stood has been swept flat.

Federal officials are investigating the collapse, which spurred Florida lawmakers to make changes that would increase the safety of condominiums, including inspections at designated intervals. 

Although the investigation is expected to take years, a judge awarded victims of the collapse $1 billion Thursday in a remarkably swift resolution to the lawsuit brought by the survivors.

"It will never be enough to compensate them for the tragic loss. This settlement is the best we can do. It's a remarkable result. It is extraordinary," said Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman, CBS News Miami reported.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.