Surfside building collapse: Victims’ relatives react to judge allowing process to sell property

Martin Lagesfeld is grieving the loss of his 26-year-old sister Nicole and his 28-year-old brother-in-law Luis Sadovnic.

Crews recovered the married couple’s remains a week ago. They had lived at Champlain Towers South’s unit 804 in Surfside.

The search and recovery operation continued at the site of the former 12-story building, at 8777 Collins Ave., when he learned that a judge had approved the sale of the land for commercial use.

“There are people unaccounted for under that rubble,” Lagesfeld, 23, said Wednesday.

His and other families in anguish were outraged Wednesday when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman ordered that the selling process begin.

“This is obviously a case where there’s no amount of money that could possibly be available to compensate these families from their suffering and loss,” Hanzman said in court.

With the official death toll rising to nearly 100 victims, several families said the oceanside property where the June 24th tragedy happened should be a memorial.

“Some developer could come here and build a building on top of this within a few months and everything is forgotten,” Lagesfeld said.

Court records indicate the property — that for nearly a month has been Miami-Dade County’s epicenter of despair — is valued at $100-$110 million. A developer could be required to build a memorial in part of the property.

Hanzman said “there’s no money in the world” that can pay for the damages caused, but “the law places value on claims, and these claims are going to have to be valued.”

The judge also said the aggregate value of the claims that the law will place on them is going to far exceed all amounts available for recovery, both by way of insurance proceeds, assets, and third-party claims.

Attorney Michael Goldberg, the court-appointed receiver, told The Associated Press that Hanzman was exploring a potential sale contingent on making sure the proceeds benefit the victims.

Goldberg, who is tasked with disbursing insurance payments, said the decision did not necessarily preclude a buyer from turning at least a portion of the site into a memorial, as some people have advocated.

Hanzman also ordered the condominium association to return $2.4 million in special assessment payments to the $15 million to pay for planned repairs at Champlain Towers South.

“It feels like every day there is a new roadblock, but this one is inhumane … We aren’t a case number,” Lagesfeld said. “We lost humans. We lost family members. Loved ones.”

The 136-unit condominium was built in 1981. After engineers reported in 2018 that the building had “major structural damage,” the building association reported Rosendo “Ross” Prieto, the former town’s chief building official, had reviewed the report and determined it was in “very good shape.”

About two months before the collapse, the president of the association informed residents the damage reported in 2018 had worsened and the cost of repairing it had ballooned and there was a proposal for a $15 million special assessment.

“A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by,” Jean Wodnicki, the condo association president, wrote.

On the morning of the tragedy, a 911 caller said there was a group who thought the roof had collapsed when they ran out of their apartments and got trapped in the parking garage. They didn’t know the residents of the northern section were trapped in a compact mountain of pancaked concrete.

“We are going back up to our apartments but some of the hallways are blocked and there is water coming in through to the bottom, through the garage,” the 911 caller said.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel evacuated survivors from the balconies of what was left standing of the building. The search-and-rescue operation went on day and night despite intermittent storms and spontaneous fires. Families waited in anguish. They found bodies and human remains.

Witnesses saw a Miami veteran firefighter held his little girl after Florida Task Force 2 Miami pulled her body out of the rubble. Seven-year-old Stella Cattarossi died with her mother, aunt, and maternal grandparents. Many other families mourned more than one relative.

On the Fourth of July, while other areas of Miami-Dade had fireworks displays, engineers monitored the demolition of the Champlain Towers South ruins. This sped up the search-and-recovery mission that followed after thunderstorms that stemmed from Tropical Storm Elsa.

There were more than 14,000 tons of concrete and metal removed from the site. Maggie Castro, a firefighter and paramedic, is a spokeswoman for MDFR. On Wednesday, she said the rain continues to slow down the recovery operation.

“The rubble that’s being removed now is from the building we purposely collapsed days after the event,” Castro said. “Right now, the biggest issue is the weather. We have a lot of water accumulation so we’re attempting to de-water the area.”

Related stories

The wife of a doctor whose body has yet to be recovered says that building a memorial at the site only cause her more pain and suffering.Casket of nanny killed in condo collapse returns to ParaguayJudge approves sale of site of Surfside condo collapseForensic engineer hired by Surfside sidelined and ‘pissed off’
Death toll in Surfside condo collapse rises to 97, one more victim identified

This is a developing story.

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