NewsWorldIn Surfside, a grieving community rallies as hopes of...

In Surfside, a grieving community rallies as hopes of finding survivors trapped in the rubble fades


(CNN) – As the chances of finding survivors after the South Florida apartment tower collapse dwindles, loved ones of those still missing spend their days filled with hope and fear.

Shocked evacuees and family members gather every day on the second floor of a hotel in Surfside for updates. Between calls, tears, and hugs from visiting therapists, they sit in white leather chairs scattered around the lobby.

At least 10 people died and 151 are still missing after the Champlain Towers South tragedy.

Surfside: waiting for relatives of the disappeared 5:03

Margarita Bermúdez, who flew in from Puerto Rico last week, is part of a constant stream of family members searching for their loved ones. Her nephew, Luis Andrés Bermúdez, her mother, Ana Ortiz, 46, and her boyfriend, Frankie Kleinman, were in building 702.

Andrés was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was born and suffered a stroke last year, Bermúdez said. With rescue teams taking days to examine the mountain of rubble, Bermúdez feared it was too late to reach his nephew.

“Luis has always had so much faith and hope despite the fact that everything that has happened to him sucks,” says Bermúdez. We’re scared, but what else can we do? Now it is our turn to have hope.

Bathers look at the site of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida.

Small town tragedy goes international

Surfside is a small town of about 6,000 residents. But images of the collapse resonated around the world.

The residents of the condo complex reflect Miami’s multicultural population. Dozens of missing persons are from various Latin American countries, including Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile.

Structural problems were already seen in the building in the 2018 report 4:49

The city is also home to a large population of Orthodox Jews. At the hotel’s family reunification center, it is common to hear a mixture of conversations in Hebrew, Spanish, English and Portuguese.

Synagogues and churches opened their doors for emergency prayer services after the collapse. Rabbi Zalman Lipskar told CNN’s Randi Kaye that at least 20 people associated with the Bal Harbor Shul are missing. Kleinman is one of the missing, who is between 20 and 60 years old.

Luz Zenedith prays for the victims on the east side of the beach where the Champlain Towers South building collapsed.

The rabbi said he spoke to a woman who had seven missing relatives.

“It’s been heartbreaking … not knowing and not really being able to deal with this magnitude of unfolding tragedy,” Lipskar said. “The only thing that helps in these times is kindness, empathy and togetherness, because you can not remove reality,” he added. “It is a reality, we accept it and we have to learn how we do it in our culture of resilience to move forward.”

At the Temple Menorah, three generations of a family are among those missing, Rabbi Eliot Pearlson said. “It is very difficult to understand how it is possible,” he said.

How are the relatives of the disappeared contained? 1:01

A few blocks from the building’s ruins, San José Catholic Church held a vigil for the missing on Saturday. Dozens of people prayed, sobbed and embraced with the ruins of the tower visible in the background.

Father Juan Sosa said that about 10 parishioners are missing, but the number of people linked to the church could be higher. The apartment tower is popular with vacation renters and international visitors, who stay there while in town.

“It was horrible because I didn’t know exactly where in the building a lot of those families lived,” he said. “But apparently, the 10 families were in that part of the building that collapsed.”


About 20 people linked to the Shul of Bal Harbor synagogue remain missing.

The duel at Surfside in different ways

Most of Surfside’s main streets remain empty as police cars with flashing lights limit access to the crash site.
But even with the usually bustling summer streets almost deserted, residents are finding ways to cry.

On a recent night, eight people held hands near police barricades and prayed. His words were lost in a chaotic mix of sirens, drones, and drills. The acrid smoke from the smoking ruins hangs in the air.

Leo Soto, whose high school friend lived in the condo tower and is still missing, said he felt helpless and wanted to help. He woke up one morning at 4 a.m. and set up a monument with photos of the missing near the place of the remains. Florists across the city donated roses to the wall, he said.

“I did it out of desperation, out of exasperation, trying to find a way to help,” he said.

Surfside: the complex search for survivors 5:07

On the beach behind the apartment tower, María González and other neighbors left candles and white daisies on the sand. He lives two blocks away and woke up to a blackout in his neighborhood when the tower collapsed.

“I saw lights and fire trucks, I thought they were there to fix the power and I went back to sleep,” he said. When he woke up later that morning, he realized the magnitude of the tragedy.

On the beach, González and his granddaughter joined a group to pray the Our Father. They sat on the sand and lit the candles over and over again. The breeze kept blowing them off.
“We just want to do something, no matter how small, to honor our neighbors,” he said.


Residents, friends and family visit the memorial wall of photos and flowers for the missing near the site of the collapse.

Families of the disappeared cling to hope amid fear

At the assembly center, the families of the disappeared meet daily and wait in silence. While clinging to hope, some said they have a hunch.

On Saturday, Bermúdez’s voice cracked with excitement as he spoke of his nephew.

“Oh my gosh, look at his face, he’s the most amazing guy,” she said, pulling out a phone and showing her photo.


Leo Soto put up a memorial wall near the site of the condominium collapse.

He was a huge fan of electronic music, sushi, and painting, and most of his art featured different types of sushi rolls.

“His only movement was his hand, so he drew and painted a lot,” Bermúdez said. “And he loves sushi, especially eel sushi.”

The following day, the Miami-Dade Police Department announced that the remains of Luis Andrés Bermúdez and his mother had been recovered.
I was 26 years old.



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