Surfside collapse survivor: ‘For sure, I am not getting a condo on the beach’

On Wednesday night, Steve Rosenthal was among the people who trusted Champlain Towers South in Miami-Dade County’s town of Surfside — was safe enough to fall asleep in.

The 72-year-old resident of Unit 705 said he woke up to “the loudest thunderclap” he had ever heard in his life. Five seconds later, his bed was rocking and shaking. Dust was coming in from the ceiling and hitting him in the face.

“I go to my front door, it leads to the hallway, all dust don’t see a thing,” Rosenthal said. “I’m seeing all the rubble, all the cement, the ceiling, everything is falling down and people are yelling, ‘Help me! Help me get me out!’”

Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert/)

The 12-story northern section of the L-shaped building collapsed shortly before 2 a.m. at 8777 Collins Ave. Residents of neighboring buildings said they too woke up to loud noise. Some said their windows shook and there was a large white cloud of dust. Rosenthal said there was no way for him to get out of his apartment, which was the last line standing.

“If I am in 704, I am dead,” Rosenthal said Monday. “I am the first unit that survived on that side.”

Fire Rescue personnel moved to evacuate trapped survivors with a cherry picker. Rosenthal said the process was agonizingly slow. People waited for their turns in their balconies hoping the rest of the building would hold.

“Finally they get up to the 7th floor. They pull me in. It’s not that easy to get into it. You’ve got railings … they gotta pull you in,” Rosenthal said, adding he is grieving for the neighbors who didn’t make it out alive.

Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky/)

An army of rescuers wearing hard hats moved in. Dogs started sniffing the scattered ruins for clues. Authorities used a warehouse to store the items recovered. Crews were using a crane to carefully remove metal, concrete, and other hazardous debris that could fall from above. The tech used included drones and robots.

Experts from as far as Israel and Argentina traveled to the site with the hope of helping to find survivors. Search-and-rescue teams continued to tunnel through a compact mountain of pancaked concrete on Monday evening. They had been taking turns to search day and night while facing sporadic rain and spontaneous fires. More than 150 people remained unaccounted for.

As the world wondered how this could be possible in Florida, where hurricanes have forced officials to increase structural standards, a troublesome 2018 report surfaced. It shows engineers had reported there was major structural damage at Champlain Towers South. Rosenthal was among the property owners who were going to contribute their part in more than $9 million in projects.

Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky/)

Officials said the 1981 building was in the process of recertification, which is required every 40 years and involves scrutinizing every part of the residential property. Rosenthal filed a lawsuit against Champlain Towers South Condominium Association alleging there was negligence when a lack of maintenance led to the deterioration that caused the collapse.

“It’s sad. And people ask me, ‘Where are you going to go? Where are you going to be?’ Well, for sure I am not getting a condo on the beach,” Rosenthal said. “That’s done!”

The first lawsuit against the association was filed hours after the collapse. Donna Berger, a lawyer with the Becker law firm that represents the homeowner’s association, told USA Today that she categorized the lawsuit seeking more than $5 million in damages “as despicable.” She added the association’s vice president is among the residents who were unaccounted for.

Related story: Surfside condo attorney says it’s too early to tell what went wrong

Gov. Ron DeSantis said it’s going to take time to find out with certainty what exactly caused the tragedy. Engineers with The National Institute of Standards and Technology are collecting preliminary information to make a recommendation about whether or not a federal probe into the cause of the collapse is needed.

Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky/)

Related story: Geologist warned of instability in Surfside

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the findings of the NIST probe and other investigations could allow federal and state lawmakers to make changes to prevent a future tragedy. As countless unanswered questions lingered, the Miami-Dade Police Department was slowly releasing the identities and ages of the victims.

People embrace at a makeshift memorial outside St. Joseph Catholic Church, in Surfside, Fla., Monday, June 28, 2021, near the collapsed building for people still missing or dead. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert/)

Related story: Loved ones name those they say are missing

Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, died on Thursday on her way to the Aventura hospital after crews pulled her out of the rubble. Her 15-year-old son survived after he managed to get the attention of a neighbor who was near the rubble. Crews also recovered the body of Antonio Lozano, 83.

On Friday, crews found the bodies of Lozano’s wife, Gladys Lozano, 79, and Manuel “Manny” LaFont, 54. On Saturday, crews found the bodies of Luis Bermudez, 26, Ana Ortiz, 46, Marcus Guara, 52, and Leon Oliwkowicz, 80. On Sunday, crews found the body of Christina Beatriz Elvira Oliwkowicz, 74. On Monday, crews found Frank Kleinman, 55, and Michael Altman, 50.

Complete coverage

HOW TO HELP: Here’s a list of resources to support those impacted by building collapsePhotos: Loved ones name those they say are missingPhotos: Search-and-rescue teams in actionPhotos: Building in Surfside partially collapses Hotline and wellness form for residents and families
Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky/)

Coverage on Monday

Another body pulled from rubble in Surfside, bringing the total confirmed dead to 10Residential property audit announced by Miami-Dade mayor already underwayBuses take loved ones of missing Surfside residents to collapse site8 victims now identified following Surfside building collapse88-year-old Surfside condo survivor remembers those who helped her to safety‘Don’t give up hope,’ local leaders tell families of Surfside missingWatch out for Surfside charity scams and price gougingDespite warning, town deemed condo building in ‘good shape’Mayor: Child alone outside collapse site brings tragedy homeWho are they? Stories of the victims of Surfside collapseWhat caused Surfside collapse? Engineer offers insight‘I will miss you all my life:’ Father pens beautiful note to late son who died in the Surfside condo collapseMemorials grow in Surfside as desperate search for victims continues into fifth daySurfside collapse is ‘wake-up call,’ DeSantis says as questions remain about cause of devastating collapse
Crews work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee/)

Coverage on Sunday

State fire marshal provides insight into efforts to locate victims while fighting fireTeam of national scientists to visit Surfside collapse siteTeams use sonar devices, lasers to aid in Surfside rescueSeveral families belonging to Miami Beach church remain missing, parishioners gather to pray and hopeNeighboring residents express concern as investigation into Champlain Towers South collapse continuesBuses take loved ones of missing Surfside residents to collapse siteRemembering the dead and missingSearch-and-rescue teams tunnel through pancaked concrete 3 days after building collapse
Workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. One hundred fifty-nine people were still unaccounted for two days after Thursday’s collapse, which killed at least four. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert/)

Coverage on Saturday

Relative of Surfside building collapse victim lashes out at DeSantis for not ‘doing enough’Surfside building collapse: Four out of 5 dead identified; 156 remain unaccounted forMissing grandparents’ landline calling from Champlain Towers South condo, family saysSurfside tower had ‘major structural damage’ — but enough to cause a collapse?North Bay Village police chief’s mother has been unaccounted for since Surfside building collapse‘The hope is that there are going to be miracles,’ relative of Surfside building collapse victims saysFire burning beneath rubble of collapsed Surfside condo hindering rescue effortsSurfside building collapse first responders having difficulty locating victims in massive debris pileMiami-Dade Mayor: ‘I’m hopeful this will be the day we have a breakthrough’Surfside mayor expresses concern over Champlain South’s identical sister buildingTraffic changes in Surfside area as rescue efforts continue following deadly building collapse
Search and rescue workers go through rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Fla., section of Miami, Friday, June 25, 2021. The apartment building partially collapsed on Thursday. The teams continue to work at the site hoping to detect any sounds coming from survivors. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky/)

Coverage on Friday

Champlain Towers South resident survives by climbing through rubble in the dark with her dogTeen identified after being pulled from rubble in Surfside, family confirms mother is among those deadMan who lives in condo looks out, tells wife ‘My parents’ apartment isn’t there’Surfside collapse: Family reunification center moving from community space to hotelFirst lawsuit filed after partial building collapse in SurfsideSmoke billows out from Champlain Towers South collapse siteSurfside officials discuss aftermath of building collapse: ‘Terrible tragedy’ to change recertificationIsrael sends help to Surfside’s Jewish community Amid anguish after building collapse, memorial, prayer circle help some cope with Surfside tragedy
This photo taken from video provided by ReliableNewsMedia firefighters rescue a survivor from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla., early Thursday, June 24, 2021. (ReliableNewsMedia via AP). (Uncredited/)

Coverage on Thursday

Officials fear there will be many casualties after Surfside building ‘pancaked’ during collapseSurveillance video captures eerie moments as part of Surfside condo crashes downMan says all he saw was ‘white clouds of dust’Father remains missing; wife and daughter hospitalized after Surfside building collapseSurfside condo that collapsed was going through a recertification processAfter Surfside collapse do you need to worry about your building?Officials fear there will be many casualties after Surfside building ‘pancaked’ during collapseGeologist warned of instability in Surfside Read More


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