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Concern, uncertainty as families search for loved ones following condominium collapse

Surfside Community Center serving as assistance and reunification center
A crowd gathers outside the Surfside Community Center following a deadly condo collapse on June 24, 2021.jpg
Posted at 2:59 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-24 18:09:24-04

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Hundreds of people are gathering on Thursday at the Surfside Community Center, anxiously awaiting word about their loved ones following a deadly condominium collapse overnight.

The community center, located at 9301 Collins Avenue, is serving as a family assistance and reunification point for people who are unable to locate relatives who live in the building.

"It was just horrifying to see what was going on," said Viviana Azen, whose aunt, Marian, has lived at the Champlain Towers South property for 20 years. "It feels like a horrible nightmare. Like it's not for real."


Family member speaks at family reunification center

Azen said her aunt's master bedroom is in the middle of the collapsed section of the building, making this waiting game even more nerve-wracking.

"It's not good, but we're very hopeful that we are gonna find her," Azen said. "We're hoping that she's in one of the hospitals. We just don't know when we're gonna hear from them."

The condominium was undergoing its 40-year assessment when it partially collapsed around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, and had its share of structural issues, according to Azen.

"We know that the building wasn't in good shape," Azen said. "It needed a lot of work. Plenty of work."

If you have a loved one who lives in the Champlain Towers complex and is unaccounted for, you can open a Missing Person Report Online or call 305-614-1819.

"People in despair. It's a terrible, terrible nightmare that we have here," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine Cava at the reunification center on Thursday.

Levine Cava said it's unclear how many people are missing at this time, but a variety of local and state agencies are assisting with the rescue and recovery efforts.

"We're doing everything possible, humanly possible. We have a great team doing the search. All kinds of assistance is coming in. Hotel rooms are opening up," Levine Cava said.

The mayor said she received a phone call from President Joe Biden earlier on Thursday, who offered the full support of the federal government.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis briefly visited the reunification center on Thursday afternoon following a news conference.

"We are happy to report that through the help of the Red Cross, we have short-term hotels set up for these folks," DeSantis said. "We're gonna work with the city, the county, the state to make sure that there's any longer-term needs that we can be helpful in any way that we can."

Officials said the reunification center will announce names and hand out information about those who were found.

Some of the residents who were evacuated from the Champlain Towers complex and other nearby buildings were loaded onto buses and taken to hotels where they will stay Thursday night.

If you live at the Champlain Towers, you are encouraged to complete this Wellness Check Form to ensure all tenants of the building are located.