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Florida condo collapse victims and families to receive at least $150 million initially

Collapsed condo tower
The Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Fla., after it partially collapsed in June.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

As the remaining rubble from the collapse of a Miami-area condo tower was cleared away Wednesday, a Florida judge said victims and families who suffered losses will initially share a minimum of $150 million in compensation.

That sum includes about $50 million in insurance on the 12-story Champlain Towers South building and at least $100 million from the sale of the site in Surfside, Fla., where it once stood, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing.

“The court’s concern has always been the victims here,” the judge said, adding that the group includes visitors and renters, not just unit owners. “Their rights will be protected.”

The $150 million does not take into account any proceeds from the numerous lawsuits already filed over the June 24 collapse. Those lawsuits are being consolidated into a single class-action suit that would cover all victims and family members if they chose, the judge said.

“I have no doubt no stone will be left unturned,” Hanzman said of the lawsuits.

So far, 97 victims have been identified, many of them through DNA analysis. Officials have not yet announced an end to the recovery effort.

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Recordings of 911 calls after the Miami-area condo tower collapse show disbelief, panic and confusion as people tried to comprehend what happened.

The site of the tragedy has mostly been cleared away, with the debris moved to an evidence-collection site near the airport, where a thorough search will continue “with enormous care and diligence,” said Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

“The enormous pressure of the weight of the collapse and the passage of time also make it more challenging,” she said in a statement Wednesday, stressing that workers were still carefully combing through the rubble for the remaining victims as well as for personal and religious effects.

On Wednesday, police said the remains of 24-year-old Anastasia Gromova and Linda March, 58, were identified.

Gromova, a Canadian from Montreal, had just been accepted to an English-teaching program in Japan and was visiting the condo for one last hurrah with friend Michelle Pazos. Gromova’s body, recovered three days ago, was one of the last to be identified.

Deven Gonzalez, 16, lived with her family on the ninth floor of the collapsed Florida condo tower. She and her mother survived; her father is missing.

Her grieving family rushed from Canada after the collapse and had spent weeks in an agonizing wait in Miami.

“It just makes it real and hard but on a different level. At least we can move on now,” her sister Anna Gromova told the Associated Press, describing Anastasia as a bright star that fell fast. “We will remember her forever.”

March’s body was recovered July 5, police said. Earlier this year, the attorney rented the tower’s furnished penthouse. Described as an outgoing person, March had lost both her parents and sister in the last decade, had gotten a divorce and was looking for a new start in the Miami area, friends said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading a federal investigation into the collapse, according to a receiver handling finances for the condominium‘s board.

The tower was just undergoing its 40-year recertification process when it collapsed — three years after an engineer warned of serious structural issues needing immediate attention. Most of the concrete repair and other work had yet to be started.

There remain differences of opinion among the building’s condo owners about what to do with the site. Some want the entire tower rebuilt so they can move back in. Others say it should be a memorial site to honor those who died. A third suggestion is to combine the two.

Raysa Rodriguez, who owned a unit on the ninth floor, said she couldn’t imagine living on the spot where so many friends had died.

“I personally would never set foot in a building that’s a grave site,” Rodriguez told the judge. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of everyone who perished.”

After poring over three condo buildings in Marina del Rey, a team of Los Angeles County inspectors concluded that there was no immediate threat of a catastrophic collapse like the one in Florida.

Oren Cytrynbaum, an attorney who is informally representing some fellow condo owners, said it was important to think creatively about the building sale, including whether a memorial of some kind might be added.

“It shouldn’t be a traditional land sale,” Cytrynbaum said. “We’re not on one path.”

The judge said time was of the essence because victims and families needed money to begin rebuilding their lives.

“This is not a case,” Hanzman said, “where we have time to let grass grow underneath it.”


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