Victims and families
who suffered losses in the collapse
of a 12-story oceanfront Florida
condominium will initially receive a minimum of $150 million in compensation, a judge
announced on Wednesday.
At a hearing, Miami-Dade Circuit
Judge Michael Hanzman stated that the amount includes approximately $50 million in insurance
on the Champlain Towers South
building and at least $100 million in proceeds from the sale of the Surfside
property where the structure once stood.
“The court’s concern has always been the victims here,” the judge said, adding that the group includes visitors and renters as well as condo owners, and that “their rights will be protected.”
The $150 million does not include any proceeds from the numerous lawsuits filed since the June 24 collapse, which killed at least 97 people
; those lawsuits, the judge said, are being consolidated into a single class action
that would cover all victims and family
members if they so choose.
Regarding the lawsuits, Hanzman stated, "I have no doubt
that no stone will be left unturned."
So far, 96 victims have been identified, many of whom have been identified using DNA analysis. Relatives and friends
of three missing people say they are waiting for word on loved ones believed to be in the building, raising the total toll to 98.
According to her family and police
, Anastasia Gromova, 24, was identified on Wednesday. The young Canadian had recently been accepted into a program teaching English in Japan
and was visiting the condo for one last hurrah with friend Michelle Pazos. Gromova's body
was recovered three days ago and was one of the last to be identified.
Her bereaved family had flown in from Canada
following the collapse and had been waiting in Miami for weeks.
“It just makes it real and hard on a different level, but at least we can move on now,” her sister Anna Gromova told The Associated Press
, describing her sister as a bright star who fell fast. “We will remember her forever.”
Her parents described her as bright, always on the go, always smiling, and unafraid of difficult challenges.
“It’s difficult because you knew the loss could have been avoided,” her sister explained.
Meanwhile, the disaster site has been cleared of debris under the supervision of investigators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology — the agency leading a federal investigation
into the collapse, according to a receiver handling the finances on behalf of the condominium board.
According to the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg, the key evidence is being stored in a Miami-area warehouse, with the rest in nearby vacant lots, and will all be preserved as possible evidence for the lawsuits and other experts to review.
The NIST investigation could take years to complete, according to Goldberg.
The building had only recently completed its 40-year recertification process when it collapsed, three years after an engineer had warned of serious structural issues that needed immediate attention, and the majority of the concrete repair and other work
had yet to begin.
Some condo owners want the entire condo rebuilt so they can move back in, while others believe it should be left as a memorial
site to honor those who died. A third option is to combine the two.
Raysa Rodriguez, whose apartment was on the ninth floor, said she couldn't imagine returning to a building where so many of her friends had died.
“I personally would never set foot in a building because that is a gravesite,” Rodriguez told the judge, adding, “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of everyone who died.”
Oren Cytrynbaum, an attorney representing some fellow condo owners on an informal basis, said it was critical to think creatively about the building sale, including whether requirements such as a memorial of some kind for future developers might be added.
“It shouldn’t be a traditional land sale,” Cytrynbaum said, explaining that “we aren’t on one path.”
Hanzman, on the other hand, stated that time
is of the essence because victims and their families require funds to begin rebuilding their lives.
“We don't have time to let grass
grow underneath it,” he said.
Dan Gelber of Miami Beach
has offered a parcel of land in his neighboring city for the construction of a Surfside memorial.
“All options will be considered,” the judge said, adding that any memorial would have to be paid for with public funds. “It will have to be funded by the general public, not these specific victims,” he added.
Kelli Kennedy of the Associated Press in Fort Lauderdale
, Florida, contributed to this report.