, Fla. (AP) — Susana Alvarez fled her
home on the 10th floor of Champlain Towers South
, escaping with only her life.
“I don’t have anything,” said the 62-year-old survivor of the condominium building collapse
. “I walked out with my pajamas and my phone.”
The disaster, which killed at least 18 people
and left more than 140 people missing, displaced dozens of people and buried many cars in the building's underground parking
Though the majority of those who managed to flee to safety lived in parts of the building that are still standing, they have little hope of returning to reclaim clothing, computers, jewelry, and sentimental belongings they left behind.
Officials announced Thursday that they are planning to demolish all parts of the building that did not collapse, after search and rescue
operations were halted for several hours due to growing indications that the structure was dangerously unstable.
Alvarez is still dealing with the trauma; she hasn't slept in a bed since the collapse a week ago, instead sleeping in a chair, constantly thinking of the victims who couldn't escape; and she can still hear the screams from that night.
“I lost everything,” Alvarez admitted, “and it means nothing to me.”
and even strangers have been helping her replace what she's lost. Friends she's staying with outfitted her with new clothes and a computer. An eyeglass store refilled her prescription even though she never called it in. And she got the last condo in a 16-unit building that was open to Surfside survivors rent-free for the month of July.
It's unclear how many people have been displaced, but those who have insurance
should be able to recoup some of their losses.
Victims may also be compensated by the liability insurer for Champlain Towers South's condominium association, which is involved in at least four lawsuits related to the collapse.
An attorney for James River Insurance Company wrote to the judge
in one case this week, stating that the company intends to “voluntarily tender its entire limit” from the association’s policy toward resolving claims, with limits ranging from $1 million to $2 million shown on an attached copy of the policy.
Michael Capponi, president
of a Miami-area nonprofit that has assisted victims of disasters ranging from hurricanes
in the United States
and abroad for the past decade, said he has personally dealt with 50 people who lost their homes in the building.
Capponi's organization, Global Empowerment Mission, has distributed approximately $75,000 in gift cards to surfside survivors, and he is also working with hotel and condo owners to find them housing
for the next two months.
Most of the people who have contacted his nonprofit for assistance live in the area that is still standing, but they believe their homes and anything inside are destroyed.
“They will basically have to start over,” Capponi said, adding that “some of them don’t have insurance, and they have lost everything they have worked for their entire lives.”
Raysa Rodriguez, a retired postal worker who had lived at Champlain Towers South for 17 years and was nearing the end of her mortgage, described how crashing sounds woke her up the night of the collapse in a lawsuit she filed against the condominium association.
“The building swayed like a sheet of paper.... I ran to the balcony. I (opened) the doors
, and a wall of dust hit me,” she wrote in her filing.
Rodriguez assisted neighbors in fleeing to a second-floor balcony, where firefighters
assisted them to the ground; she has since moved in with family
members, assuming what remains of the building will be demolished with no opportunity to recover belongings.
“She lived there for a long time, and she planned to live there for the rest of her life,” her attorney, Adam Schwartzbaum, said.
According to Ryan Logan, the American Red Cross' regional disaster officer for south Florida
, the organization has been assisting about 18 families, some of whom are looking for ways to help other victims.
“These people we're serving, who we know are having the worst day of their lives, are turning around and asking you what they can do to help,” Logan said.
Gabriel Nir, a recent college
graduate, narrowly escaped a first-floor apartment with his mother and 15-year-old sister, which the family had only moved into six months prior. Nir, a recent college graduate, was living there while looking for work and considering medical school.
For the time being, they are staying at a nearby hotel, the floor of their room cluttered with items donated by friends and strangers, and they have no luggage. Their car was destroyed in the building's garage, but he claims that all of the material possessions they lost can be replaced.
“I’m just thankful I got out alive with my family,” Nir said.
Kennedy was in Fort Lauderdale
, Florida, when this story was published.