Friends and family describe disappearance in Florida condo collapse
SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – Families around the world were stuck between waning hopes and growing fears on Saturday, two days after a staggering 12-story condominium collapse near Miami.
SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) – Families around the world got stuck between waning hopes and growing fears on Saturday, two days after the astonishing collapse of a 12-story condominium near Miami.
At least four people have been killed and more than 150 people are still missing as rescuers continued to dig through the rubble from the South Champlain towers to Surfside. The building was home of an international mix foreign retirees, South American immigrants and Orthodox Jews, all with anxious loved ones across the world.
Here are the stories of some of the missing:
DAVID AND BONNIE EPSTEIN
David and Bonnie Epstein lived in Unit 901 with their dog Chase, Bonnie’s cousin Joey Feldman said.
David was a retired real estate investor who enjoyed jet skiing and kitesurfing. The couple have a son who lives in New York.
Feldman said the family is very small.
“Bonnie was like my sister growing up,” said Feldman, who lives in Los Angeles. “She took me to my first concert.”
He said he is devastated but is praying for a miracle.
“I remain hopeful,” he said. “I came to work to take my mind off things. But no sleep.
Hilda Noriega had lived in the Champlain Towers for over 20 years. But six years after her husband’s death, the 92-year-old was ready to go.
“We were going to move him into our house and his condo was for sale,” said Sally Noriega, her daughter-in-law.
Sally Noriega said her stepmom was extremely active and loved living so close to the ocean and her friends. But, she said, “when you lose a spouse, you want to be surrounded by your family… and she wanted to spend more time with her family and her grandchildren.”
Hilda Noriega’s daughter-in-law described her as “an extremely loving and gentle person,” who built a life with her husband and raised a family after arriving in the United States from Cuba in 1960.
“She was just one of those people who from the first time she met a person, she immediately loved that person and that person immediately loved her,” said Sally Noriega, who was rushed to the scene of the collapse with her husband, Carlos Noriega.
There they found a reminder of the particularly strong bond Hilda Noriega shared with members of her religious group. As they tried to keep their hopes up amid the rubble, Carlos Noriega noticed an envelope sticking out from under his shoe.
“On the outside it was addressed to Hilda and the card had butterflies on it and it was a birthday card signed by her prayer group,” said Sally Noriega. “They took her on her birthday and they all signed the card.”
Sally Noriega said the family didn’t know what to make of the map found among so much debris and chaos.
But, “we are a family of faith,” she said. “We’re going to stop there.”
MYRIAM CASPI NOTKIN and ARNOLD NOTKIN
Myriam Caspi Notkin, 81, and her husband, Arnold “Arnie” Notkin, 87, married about 20 years ago after losing their spouse, according to a family friend.
“They were a happy couple. We hope for a miracle, ”said Fortuna Smukler, a North Miami Beach commissioner who grew up with Myriam Notkin’s three daughters. When they met as adults, Notkin always remembered his friendship with Smukler’s mother, who died 40 years ago.
“Whenever Miriam saw me she always had to make a point of saying how wonderful my mother was,” said Smukler. “She was very thoughtful.”
Smukler also knew Arnie Notkin when he was a physical education teacher and coach at Leroy D. Fienberg Elementary School in South Beach in the 1960s. He had an endearing personality and always had a story to tell.
“He had students who got famous, and he must have told me about them, how good or how mischievous they were,” she said.
MARIA THERESA AND RICKY ROVIROSA
Maria Theresa and Ricky Rovirosa are a “perfect partner” who support each other, according to longtime friend Monika Mucarsel Gressier.
The couple have two grown children whom they raised in their South Miami home and used their Surfside condo as a part-time summer getaway. Gressier was living in California when she met Marie-Thérèse, whom she called Maituca, as part of her job.
“We became friends instantly,” Gressier said in a text message. “She was one of the reasons that gave me the security and support to accept a relocation to live in Miami. Maituca has become the breadwinner of my family and has always given me and others the resources and advice needed to navigate the city of Miami.
Gressier described Ricky as charming and his wife as “incredibly beautiful” inside and out.
“When I think of them, I think of one of my favorite memories of the times I watched them dance salsa and how much they have always been in love with each other,” Gressier wrote. “I pray and hope that they will survive this tragedy, because I know the strength they both carry within them, and I also know that their immense love for their daughters and their families will make them fight for survive this. “
Cassondra Billedeau-Stratton, 40, has worked as an actress, model and Pilates instructor, bringing “a keen love of life to everything she does,” her husband said in a statement.
“Cassie is a wife, mother and true friend to many,” said Michael Stratton, a Democratic political strategist from Colorado. He told KMGH-TV of Denver that his wife and wife had spent much of their time during the coronavirus pandemic in the apartment they had owned for four years.
Billedeau-Stratton enjoyed walking and biking along the beach, her sister, Stephanie Fonte, told the New York Times. When the sisters were together, she often had them pose for pictures on the beach or near a bouquet of flowers.
Michael Stratton said he and his wife were talking on the phone when the building collapsed.
“She described the building shaking, then… the phone went off,” he said.
Ilian Naibryf has been an active member of the University of Chicago’s Jewish community since joining the school three years ago, said Rabbi Yossi Brackman of the school’s Rohr Chabad.
Naibryf, who has just completed his first year, served as chairman of the Chabad House student council last year. He and his girlfriend were in Florida to attend the funeral of a friend who died from COVID-19, his parents told CNN.
“He’s a really great guy, very nice, always has a smile on his face and he’s just a very appreciated person,” said Brackman.
Brackman said the Rohr Chabad community is helpless but hopeful.
“Our message is a message of hope and we encourage everyone to pray and be kind during this difficult time for many people,” he said. “We believe in miracles, we have seen them and hope to see them again. “
Associated Press editors Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee, Colleen Slevin in Denver, Don Babwin in Chicago, Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia, Kelli Kennedy in Miami, and Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
The Associated Press