Surfside victims to receive at least $150million, judge rules as cleanup ends

Victims of the Surfside collapse and their families will got a minimum total of $150million compensation, a judge said Wednesday.

That sum includes insurance on the Champlain Towers South building and the expected proceeds from the sale of the Surfside property where the structure once stood, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing.

‘The court’s concern has always been the victims here,’ the judge said, adding that the group includes visitors and renters, not just condo owners. ‘Their rights will be protected.’

The $150 million does not count any proceeds from the more than a dozen lawsuits already filed since the June 24 collapse, which killed at least 97 people. Those lawsuits are being consolidated into a single class action that would cover all victims and family members if they choose, the judge said.

‘I have no doubt, no stone will be left unturned,’ Hanzman said of the lawsuits.

A receiver appointed by Hanzman to handle the Champlain Towers board’s finances said the site has been completely cleared of debris under the watchful eye of investigators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology – the agency leading a federal probe into the collapse.

Photos released Tuesday of the site of the deadly condo collapse in Surfside, Florida showed it largely cleared of debris nearly four weeks on from the disaster. A judge ruled Wednesday that victims of the collapse and their families were eligible for at least $150million initially  

Twenty-six million pounds of rubble was  moved offsite where the recovery effort continues to identify the remains of the two victims still unaccounted for

Twenty-six million pounds of rubble was  moved offsite where the recovery effort continues to identify the remains of the two victims still unaccounted for 

With $150million initially set aside for families who suffered losses in the collapse, much of the rubble being held at a holding site will serve as evidence for the numerous lawsuits filed related to the collapse

With $150million initially set aside for families who suffered losses in the collapse, much of the rubble being held at a holding site will serve as evidence for the numerous lawsuits filed related to the collapse

With the remains of the 12 story building removed, local officials said they hoped for a return to normal

With the remains of the 12 story building removed, local officials said they hoped for a return to normal

Photos from the site shared Tuesday show a landscaped transformed, where once stood a towering pile of concrete rubble, mangled rebar and debris is now a mostly cleared surface 27 days after the deadly disaster, with a remaining few walls and support beams jutting from the ground.

Rubble considered key evidence is being stored in a Miami-area warehouse, with the rest in nearby vacant lots, said the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg. All of that will be preserved as possible evidence for the lawsuits and for other experts to review, he said.

‘It may take years for their report to become public,’ Goldberg said of the NIST probe.  

More than 26million pounds of debris have been removed, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava reported, as the recovery effort continues at a debris collection area offsite, and medical examiners continue their work sifting through the rubble. 

As of Sunday, Miami-Dade County reported that the remaining work to be completed on the site was removing seawater from the lower levels of the building. By Tuesday, it appeared that work had been completed. 

‘What’s happening now is that the first responders are conducting additional searches of the debris at the collection site,’ a county spokesperson told the Miami Herald. ‘They’re continuing to do everything that they can to be as thorough as possible in the search for any additional remains to bring closure to families.

Rescue and recovery workers had spent nearly four weeks combing through and removing the rubble of the building. It is pictured on June 24 the day of its collapse

Rescue and recovery workers had spent nearly four weeks combing through and removing the rubble of the building. It is pictured on June 24 the day of its collapse

Workers continued to look for survivors at the site on July 5, a day after the remaining portion of the structure was demolished to aid in their search effort

Workers continued to look for survivors at the site on July 5, a day after the remaining portion of the structure was demolished to aid in their search effort 

 

With the removal of the debris local officials hoped life around the fallen building might soon return to normal

With the removal of the debris local officials hoped life around the fallen building might soon return to normal 

Workers walked past the site on July 6, a little more than a week into the rescue and recovery effort

Workers walked past the site on July 6, a little more than a week into the rescue and recovery effort

With the removal of the debris local officials hoped life around the fallen building might soon return to normal. 

‘I think that in the very near future, we will be able to get Collins Avenue partially open for traffic,’ Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told the Herald. ‘We’re trying to semi-normalize life in Surfside, however, we’re not doing anything that would jeopardize the investigation into the site. We’re trying to balance those two requirements.’ 

Where the 95 identified Miami condo victims were before the tower’s collapse   

Floorplans of the Miami condo tower have revealed where many the victims lay sleeping or were going about their lives inside their homes on the night of the horror collapse. 

Almost all of the victims have now been pulled from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, while the families of the last few still missing continue to wait in agony for news almost one month on from the disaster.  

Almost 100 people were killed when 55 of the 136 units in the 13-story tower collapsed at 1:25am on June 24.  

The remaining section was demolished on July 4 when the site became too dangerous for rescue teams to continue searching for the missing and Tropical Storm was barreling toward south Florida, threatening to topple it entirely. 

A total of 97 victims have now been pulled from the rubble, ranging in age from 1 to 92. All but two bodies have been identified while the families of three women are still waiting for news, meaning at least one more body is thought to be buried under the remains of the oceanfront building.

Saturday will mark the one-month anniversary of the tragedy and the recovery effort at the site is winding down, paving the way for investigators to focus on determining what caused the building to collapse and whether or not it could have been prevented. 

Using information released by Miami-Dade police along with public records and online appeals, DailyMail.com has revealed where the victims were living at the time of the tragedy which has become one of the deadliest construction disasters in US history. 

 

DailyMail.com has compiled floorplans of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, using public records and information released by police. They show where many the victims lay sleeping or were going about their lives in their homes when the tower fell

DailyMail.com has compiled floorplans of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, using public records and information released by police. They show where many the victims lay sleeping or were going about their lives in their homes when the tower fell

The floorplans reveal the true scale of the tragedy, with victims of all ages spread across the 13 floors of the tower.

The oldest victim was 92-year-old Hilda Noriega who lived in apartment 602.

Noriega, the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega, had only recently celebrated her birthday with her son finding a birthday card given to her among the rubble before her body was recovered on June 29.

A Miami firefighter pulled his own seven-year-old daughter from the rubble that same day.

Stella Cattarossi, 7, was sleeping alongside her mom Graciela in the family’s fifth floor apartment 502 when it collapsed. Three of their family members were also killed. 

The youngest victim of the tragedy is one-year-old Aishani Patel whose body was recovered on July 6. 

Aishani’s pregnant mom Bhavna Patel, a 38-year-old British and US citizen, and her husband Vishal Patel, 42, were also killed when they were inside their third floor apartment when the building fell.   

Also on the third floor was Theresa Velasquez, a Los Angeles-based executive for the Live Nation event promotion company. 

The 36-year-old was the most recent confirmed victim of the collapse after officials announced her death last week, taking the death toll to 95.   

She had flown into Miami to visit her parents who lived in apartment 304. They both also died in the collapse.

The youngest victim of the tragedy is one-year-old Aishani Patel whose body was recovered on July 6. Aishani's pregnant mom Bhavna Patel, a 38-year-old British and US citizen, and her husband Vishal Patel, 42, (all pictured together) also died

The youngest victim of the tragedy is one-year-old Aishani Patel whose body was recovered on July 6. Aishani’s pregnant mom Bhavna Patel, a 38-year-old British and US citizen, and her husband Vishal Patel, 42, (all pictured together) also died

Anastasia Gromova, 24, is also among the last of those missing in the Champlain Towers South collapse. She had just been accepted to a program teaching English to students in Japan and was visiting friends

Anastasia Gromova, 24, is also among the last of those missing in the Champlain Towers South collapse. She had just been accepted to a program teaching English to students in Japan and was visiting friends 

Friends posting online said Stella Cattarossi's body was found alongside her mother Graciela

Friends posting online said Stella Cattarossi’s body was found alongside her mother Graciela

The devastating toll of the Miami condo collapse has become evident as almost all of the victims have now been pulled from the rubble. Rescue workers are seen combing through the rubble on June 25

The devastating toll of the Miami condo collapse has become evident as almost all of the victims have now been pulled from the rubble. Rescue workers are seen combing through the rubble on June 25 

Other victims include Elaine Lia Sabino, 71, and Richard Augustine, 77, who were staying in the condo they shared on the 12th floor – the lower penthouse level – when the tower collapsed. 

The two friends lived in apartment 1210 – the apartment on the end next to the section that remained standing.

Sabino, a flight attendant who worked for US Airways and JetBlue, was found in the rubble on July 6, with Chicago native Augustine found hours later. 

They were next-door neighbors to Elena Chavez, 84, and Elena Blasser, 64, a mother and daughter who lived together in apartment 1211. 

Blasser’s son Pablo Rodriguez said his mom had told her she was woken by ‘creaking noises’ in the building the night before it collapsed. He said he had thought nothing of it at the time.

Blasser’s body was found on July 5 and her mom’s July 6. The next day another 12th-floor resident was also recovered from the rubble.

Another woman who lived on the top floor is still known to be missing.  

Attorney Linda March, 58, was renting a penthouse in the condo after recently moving back to Miami from New York after recovering from COVID-19.  

Bunk beds and a desk chair exposed in the side of the building after it partially collapsed were said to belong to the apartment she was staying in.  

An aerial view of the site during a rescue operation of the Champlain Tower partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, July 1

An aerial view of the site during a rescue operation of the Champlain Tower partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, July 1

Almost 100 people were killed when 55 of the 136 units in the 13-story tower collapsed in the early hours of June 24

Almost 100 people were killed when 55 of the 136 units in the 13-story tower collapsed in the early hours of June 24

March was close friends with fellow former New Yorker Estelle Hedaya who is also among the last of those still missing, along with Anastasia Gromova.  

Hedaya lived on the sixth floor and quickly connected with March when she moved in, a close friend of both women told Associated Press.   

Leah Sutton described the two women as ‘friends in life and souls in death’ while Hedaya’s boss Joe Murphy said ‘the weirdest thing about this whole thing is that Estelle’s best friend in the whole building is Linda.’

Hedaya was chief operating officer for jewelry company the Continental Buying Group and was feeling especially confident after a recent weight loss, Murphy said.  

Meanwhile, March’s two best friends in New York told Associated Press the almost one-month wait to find her was agony. 

‘It feels like the wound gets deeper with each day that she is not located,’ friend Dawn Falco said. 

‘After falling victim to such a horrendous tragedy, she at least deserves to be placed to rest with dignity.’ 

Gromova, 24, had just been accepted to a program teaching English to students in Japan and was visiting friends at the Surfside condo before relocating to the country. 

Sophia López Moreira, her husband Luis Pettengill and their three young children were on the 10th floor of the tower. Moreira is the sister of President Mario Abdo Benítez's wife Silvana

Sophia López Moreira, her husband Luis Pettengill and their three young children were on the 10th floor of the tower. Moreira is the sister of President Mario Abdo Benítez’s wife Silvana 

Elena Chavez, 84, and Elena Blasser, 64, are pictured together. The mother and daughter lived together in apartment 1211

Elena Chavez, 84, and Elena Blasser, 64, are pictured together. The mother and daughter lived together in apartment 1211

The oldest victim was 92-year-old Hilda Noriega who lived in apartment 602. Noriega, the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega, had only recently celebrated her birthday

The oldest victim was 92-year-old Hilda Noriega who lived in apartment 602. Noriega, the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega, had only recently celebrated her birthday 

Tzvi (pictured far left) and Ingrid (pictured far right) Ainsworth, members of the Jewish community from Melbourne, lived in an apartment on the 11th floor of the building

Tzvi (pictured far left) and Ingrid (pictured far right) Ainsworth, members of the Jewish community from Melbourne, lived in an apartment on the 11th floor of the building

Her family said she loved to travel, with her father Sergiy Gromov saying ‘she always wanted to do as much as possible with her life.’ 

Gromova’s parents and sister, who live in Canada and immediately flew to Florida after the collapse, spoke of their agony as they have watched other victims’ relatives, alongside whom they have waited for weeks, return home after their loved one was identified.

‘We are still waiting,’ her mother, Larysa Gromova, said through tears. ‘It’s too much, it’s taking too long.’

‘We are the last ones,’ he said. ‘It’s terrible, it’s painful.’

Gromova was on vacation at the tower with 23-year-old Michelle Pazos at her father Miguel’s apartment. Michelle’s body was found 11 days ago while the body of father Miguel Pazos, 55, was found July 8.  

For the families of the three women still missing, the recovery efforts feel painfully slow. 

Officials said Sunday they are ‘working to dewater the lower levels of the collapse’ and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify victims during this phase of the search. 

They are relying heavily on the medical examiner and highly technical processes to identify remains.

The first victim was found almost immediately after the collapse in the early hours of June 24.

Stacie Fang, 54, was pulled from the debris and rushed to Aventura Hospital and Medical Center, but died of her injuries soon after.

Fang’s 15-year-old son Jonah Handler survived after being trapped under the frame of his bed. He was seen being rescued from the rubble by emergency crews with the help of a passing dog walker.

Jonah was seen reuniting with his rescuers earlier this month.  

Estelle Hedaya (left) and Linda March (right) are both still missing. They were close friends with each other. Hedaya lived on the sixth floor and March on the top floor 

The mother and son lived in apartment 1002 on the 10th floor of the tower. 

Also staying on the 10th floor were some of the youngest victims of the collapse – siblings Alexia Maria Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 9, Anna Sophia Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 6, and Luis Vicente Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 9.

The young children were the daughters of Sophia Lopez Moreira, the sister-in-law of Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benítez. Their mom, father Luis Pettengill, and housekeeper Leidy Vanessa Luna Villalba also died. 

The family did not live in the building; they were celebrating Luis’ birthday after the family traveled to the US for their COVID-19 vaccines. 

One floor above, in apartment 1104, lived Tzvi Ainsworth, 68, and his wife, Ingrid Ainsworth, 66. 

The couple split their time between Florida and Australia and were well known among Melbourne’s small Jewish community

In apartment 903, lived Antonio Lozano, 83, and his wife Gladys Lozano, 79. The Cuban couple were about to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary on July 21.  

With most of the victims inside the building at the time of the collapse now located and rescue teams now close to the bottom of the pile of rubble, the search is nearing completion. 

At least 240 people connected to the building were accounted for in the aftermath of the tragedy and more than 26 million pounds (12 million kilograms) of debris and concrete has been removed during the search.  

An engineer hired by Surfside to investigate the cause of the collapse said the probe cannot get fully underway until the recovery mission is completed. 

Search and Rescue personnel search in the hours after the collapse on June 24. Now, 97 bodies have been found around one month on

Search and Rescue personnel search in the hours after the collapse on June 24. Now, 97 bodies have been found around one month on 

The remains of the building were demolished on July 4 as Tropical Storm Elsa barreled toward south Florida fueling fears it would collapse

The remains of the building were demolished on July 4 as Tropical Storm Elsa barreled toward south Florida fueling fears it would collapse

A worker waits to load his truck with debris from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

A worker waits to load his truck with debris from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Allyn Kilsheimer told CNN experts cannot collect samples and test them at present. 

‘Until they do their job, we can’t go in to do samples of materials and take those samples and test them to understand what the various components of the building that came down was,’ he said.  

The federal government sent in a team of scientists and engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last month as questions continue to mount about what caused the 1980s building to suddenly collapse. 

NIST is the federal government agency responsible for leading investigations into building failures and was set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Witnesses said they saw sections of the pool deck collapse into the garage below before the building fell.  

Investigators are also probing whether there was critical failures in the handling of the building’s maintenance. 

A consultant engineer warned in a damning October 2018 report that the Champlain Towers South had ‘major structural damage’ to the pool deck area and underground parking garage. 

The structural field survey report specifically raised concerns about the pool deck area, in which the waterproofing was failing, and the underground parking garage which was riddled with ‘abundant’ cracking. 

It said the tower was in need of numerous repairs around the base of the structure ‘in a timely fashion.’ 

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