Following Surfside building collapse, families are 'praying for a miracle'

click to enlarge After a building collapse in Surfside, Florida, families of residents are praying for good news. - Fresh Take Florida
Fresh Take Florida
After a building collapse in Surfside, Florida, families of residents are praying for good news.

Kevin Spiegel woke in the middle of the night Thursday to an email alert from his North Miami Beach condo. It had partially collapsed.

Spiegel, 65, was in California on a business trip, and he promptly called his daughter, Rachel, to drive to the building and look for his wife, Judith – Rachel’s mother – who was still inside.

Judith Spiegel, 65, is one of scores of residents still missing after the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South Condo, a 40-year-old residential building in Surfside, Florida. The 12-story building’s collapse killed at least four people and trapped others beneath rubble and dust.

Air-conditioning units, office chairs and beds were exposed and dangling from the structure. State and local emergency services continued search and rescue efforts early Friday.

Rachel spent the entire day at the scene of the ruined building and the family reunification area, where panicked family members asked about their missing loved ones. Rachel waited anxiously for news of her mother.

“At the end of the day they asked me to do a DNA sample,” Spiegel said in a phone interview. “So it's tough. It's tough.”

She said people at the scene who reported missing family members were asked to give DNA samples to help identify bodies as rescuers recover them. But Rachel said she, her two brothers and her father were doing their best to stay positive as the search drew into Thursday night.

“I just love my mom so much, and I hope we find her,” she said, her voice breaking. “I hope we find her.”

Kevin and Judith Spiegel have lived at Champlain Towers for the last four and a half years. Rachel said she, her children and her husband visited her parents at the oceanfront building Saturday, spending the day with them at the beach.

Jay Miller, 75, a retired college professor from Philadelphia, has lived in Champlain Towers for the last three years. He said the building was a popular spot for seasonal tourists and permanent residents alike.

He said the building’s demographics were well-mixed; it was home to both elderly and young residents, and it had significant Latin American and Jewish populations.

Miller’s apartment was in the section of the building that collapsed — luckily, he had left for the week to visit family in Philadelphia.

Now, he’s unsure of whether he’ll return to Florida.

“As I've been watching the news, I'm seeing pictures of almost all the people who lived on my floor are listed as missing, and they had pictures of them up and their names up,” Miller said. “I've actually tried to contact some friends in the building who I know live in that wing, on other floors, and I haven't gotten texts back from them, so I'm concerned.”

Miller, who attended all the building’s homeowner’s association meetings, said the building was recently undergoing a structural re-evaluation, 40 years after its construction in 1981. He said the building’s owners hired an engineering firm to evaluate the building.

He said it was undergoing a number of renovative projects: The roof was under repair, concrete needed to be replaced, windows and balconies needed to be hurricane-proofed, and the garage needed to be water-proofed.

Despite how much work the building needed, Miller said no one could have foreseen such a catastrophic failure. Now, the same people he would routinely see at the beach or the buildings’ pool, are on TV, missing or searching for their loved ones.

“You get to know people – you see them in the elevator, and you see the pictures and you recognize them,” Miller said. “And I begin to think how completely grateful I am that I left last week.”

In a matter of seconds, Miller lost his home and all of his possessions.

“But you know, none of them are that important, and particularly when I see the people that live next door to me on either side are listed among the missing.”

___ This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at [email protected].
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