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New Jersey couple recalls terrifying escape from Surfside condo collapse 1 year ago

N.J. family recalls escape from Surfside condo collapse
N.J. family recalls escape from Surfside condo collapse 02:39

SURFSIDE, Fla. -- It's been one year since a 12-story beachside condo building in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed without warning, killing 98 people.

For the survivors of the catastrophe at Champlain Towers South, that day is never far from their minds. CBS2's Alice Gainer sat down with a family from New Jersey who managed to escape the devastation.

Janette Aguero and her husband, Albert, were staying in an 11th floor condo unit owned by his parents when the collapse happened.

"When I looked, the apartment next to us had been sheared in half. We survived by about one room length," Albert Aguero said.

One year later, and it's all still very vivid.

"I still can visualize concrete walls looking like Jell-O," Albert Aguero said.

It was after 1 a.m. on June 24, 2021. The couple was sleeping. Their two kids, awake.

"Just like a crash or an explosion," Albert Aguero said. "I realized it's not smoke, and I realized that it is basically concrete dust."

After noticing there were no elevators, the family made their way to the stairwell, where one of the walls had partially collapsed.

On their way down, they helped an elderly woman to safety despite her telling them, Albert Aguero says, "'I've lived a good life. You guys can leave me.'"

They made it to the garage. The family says it took them about 10 minutes to escape.

"We were able to find an opening through some broken, it was rubble and bushes," Albert Aguero said. "We all broke down together as a family, just gave each other one big, huge hug on beach."

For Janette Aguero, going to the community center as other families received information about loved ones haunts her deeply.

"You just sit there and just watch these people, one after another, come in, wishing that they were wrong," she said. "And you know, you walked into that building seeing those people, seeing children playing at the pool, seeing kids having fun at the beach. It was gone."

The family lives in West New York, New Jersey, in a mid-rise building, which keeps them on edge.

Their 15-year-old daughter and 23-year-old son are dealing in different ways.

"My daughter will not go back to Florida. She refuses to talk about it," Janette Aguero said. "There's certain sounds and things that will just trigger him."

While talking with Janette Aguero, Gainer noticed her necklace with the word "Grateful." She saw it in a store days after the collapse as she bought supplies.

"Every day, every day I am grateful," Janette Aguero said. "Every day I'm grateful that I walked out of there. Every day, I'm grateful that nothing happened to my family."

Grateful but also struggling with survivor's guilt.

"The hardest part is knowing you walked out and other people didn't," Janette Aguero said.

"The four of us somehow survived, and we still don't know how or why we were the lucky ones," Albert Aguero said.

A close-knit family before, holding each other even closer now.

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