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Families gather to remember Surfside condo collapse victims

Remembrance ceremony held for Surfside condo collapse victims who died three years ago
Remembrance ceremony held for Surfside condo collapse victims who died three years ago 02:44

MIAMI - Families of those who died three years ago when the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside collapsed gathered Monday to honor them.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett addressed those at the gathering. He said on this day, three years ago, he received a call that changed all their lives.

"As Charles Dickens once wrote in his classic book 'A Tale of Two Cities,' it was the best of times and the worst of times. Clearly, we all know too well why it was the worst of times and will never forget the pain and devastation that our families, friends and neighbors were subjected to, much of which remains with us today," said Burkett. 

"However, in the blackness and near hopelessness that we all felt in those early days and weeks, something unexpected emerged: an unbreakable bond between those who endured those dark days together. A bond not unlike that which men in war talk about when they return from the battlefield," he said. "The survivors, their family, their friends and those who worked about the clock to support them also understand this bond very well."  

Families gathered to honor those who died in Surfside condo collapse 35:31

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, "Today is a day that we especially have our memories come front and center, even though they are with us every single day. We all know where we were on June 24th, 2021 in the wee hours of the morning and this is truly etched in my heart forever. Three years ago today our worlds changed forever and these years have gone by either too slowly or too quickly, or a little bit of both. But the pain remains the same. The pain is timeless."

Earlier Monday morning, a moment of silence was held at 1:22 a.m. which marked the time the condo abruptly collapsed, killing 98 people

"It brings me back to the night that it happened," said Mike Noriega, who rushed to the building that night in 2021. His grandmother lived on the 6th floor, and her balcony was still visible in the rubble when he arrived.

"If you've ever had a dream that just felt so real that you had to convince yourself that it was not real, it was the opposite process for this," he said. "I had to convince myself that it was real because I was thinking things like, 'There's no way this building just collapsed. Was this an earthquake in the middle of the night in Miami? Was this a planned demolition and my grandmother, she just somehow forgot to tell us and we didn't have notice and she's safe somewhere?'" 

"They helped raise me, as much as my own parents did," he said. "And so to fathom that this woman that was truly the matriarch of our family was underneath there, that was almost impossible to accept."

Families of those killed in Surfside condo collapse gather for moment of silence 02:53

Pablo Langesfield said with every passing milestone he sees in other people's lives the pain gets worse. His 26-year-old daughter Nicole Langesfield was in the building with her new husband at the time.

"It's very hard for me, and I'm sure for many other families, to see an empty lot," he said. "It's also very hurtful to see all the friends having families and kids and getting married. My daughter's life was cut short at 26 years old."

For weeks after the collapse first responders worked tirelessly searching through the rubble for survivors and the remains of those who died.

Rabbi Yossi Harling, a chaplain with the Miami-Dade police department, said it was unlike any other tragedy he's helped with. With a shooting tragedy, he said, families start picking up the pieces a day later. With the collapse, families came back day after day — some for 30 days straight — asking if their loved ones had been found in the rubble.

"While many across our nation continue their lives as usual, our community is reminded of the pain of losing loved ones to an unprecedented and tragic incident that Surfside will never forget," said Rep. Frederica Wilson in a statement. "In 2021, the condominium collapse claimed 98 lives, and although time passes, the void left in the hearts of countless families and friends remains. June 24, 2021, is a day forever etched in the minds and souls of the entire Surfside community. However, that incident also demonstrated to the world the strength and resilience of our community as we came together. I'm proud to represent Surfside and to see the strength of Surfside firsthand." 

Three years later, the families are still searching for answers as to why the building crumbled. An investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology is currently underway. Investigators have focused on the pool deck, which is strongly believed to be the starting point of the Surfside collapse.

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