3 generations, 8 families: what the collapse of the condo took from a church


This first Sunday, Father Sosa conducted his usual morning mass, but with many empty benches. “When our father read their names it broke my heart,” Nury Lopez, 51, a two-decade parishioner, said of the list. “These people were here last Sunday.

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It could take months for investigators to determine precisely why a significant portion of the building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed in the middle of the night of June 24. But there are already clues to the potential reasons for the disaster, including design or construction flaws. . Three years before the collapse, a consultant found evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab under the pool deck and “heavy” cracks and spalling of the columns, beams and walls of the pool. parking garage. Engineers who have visited the wreckage or viewed photos say the damaged columns at the base of the building may have less steel reinforcement than originally expected.

Condominium boards and homeowner associations often struggle to convince residents to pay for necessary repairs, and most of Champlain Towers South’s board of directors resigned in 2019 due to their frustrations. In April, the new council chairman wrote to residents that conditions in the building had “deteriorated considerably” in recent years and that construction would now cost $ 15 million instead of $ 9 million. Residents also complained that the construction of a massive residential tower designed by Renzo Piano next door was shaking Champlain Towers South.

Entire families have died because the collapse happened in the middle of the night, while people were sleeping. The parents and children killed in Unit 802, for example, were Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, a fan of the rock band Kiss and the University of Miami Hurricanes; Anaely Rodriguez, 42, who has embraced tango and salsa; Lucia Guara, 11, who found astronomy and outer space fascinating; and Emma Guara, 4, who loved the princess world. A floor-by-floor look at the victims shows the extent of the devastation.

A 15-year-old boy and his mother were rescued from the rubble shortly after the building fell. However, she died in a hospital and no other survivors were found during the two-week search and rescue mission. It was hoped that the demolition of the remaining structure would allow rescuers to safely explore voids where someone might have survived. But only bodies were found. There were 94 confirmed casualties up to July 12.

Father Sosa also struggled to deal with the dozens of deaths. A few days later, in an essay he titled “A Pastor’s Dilemma,” he posed this question: How do you deal with a group of worshipers who reside in a building that unexpectedly collapses in the middle? of the night ?

The response, he wrote at the time, came out of the tragedy: “You must be present and available, hoping that God will restore what is broken and bring peace to those who await news from their relatives and friends.

Ever since he was a young priest, when he led a funeral mass for an older couple who died less than 24 hours apart, Father Sosa had not faced such family and congregational grief.

But two weeks ago, three coffins stood in front of him, containing the bodies of Marcus Guara, his wife, Anaely Rodriguez, and their young daughters, Lucia and Emma, ​​who were buried together in a single white coffin. . Hours earlier, he was part of the funeral mass at another nearby church for another collapse victim and St. Joseph’s parishioner, Hilda Noriega.

During this funeral, Father Sosa prayed and affirmed the strength of family ties. He offered heartwarming words and called on loved ones left behind, those not anchored by collective and aggravated anguish, to try to find God in the depths of their devastation. Despite loss and unfathomable darkness, he told them, they must see the light, they must move on.

This next chapter, he said, is healing and remembrance. St. Joseph’s plans to honor parish families who were killed with a memorial at the church. And as weeks eventually give way to months, to mend the hearts of the parishioners, he said, we will have to rely on their faith, listen to each other and, “show the goodness of this. that others who live now have done for those who are dead. “

Giulia Heyward contributed reports. Sheelagh McNeill contributed to the research.

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