Leo Soto, who created this memorial with grocery stores donating
flowers and candles, pauses in front of photos of some of the missing
people that he put on a fence, near the site of an oceanfront condo
building that partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, on June 25,
2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Victims in Miami condo collapse came from around
By Regina Garcia Cano, Roxana Hegeman, and Jocelyn Gecker
The Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) — A Filipino American who loved to play the piano and her
Chilean husband lived on the 10th floor of the building. One flight down
were Cuban immigrant grandparents who had dreamed of retiring at the
beach. And just a week ago, a young Paraguayan arrived to work as a
The Champlain Towers South condominium was a true reflection of
Miami’s international mix — South-American immigrants, Orthodox Jews,
foreign retirees. The 12-story building’s stunning collapse on June 24
quickly became a symbol of international tragedy, as families around the
world hoped for news of loved ones in a terrified state of limbo.
Among them is Richard Luna, who is praying for a miracle but already
speaking of his sister in the past tense. Lady Vanessa Luna Villalba, a
nanny newly come from rural Paraguay, is among the 151 people still
missing in the disintegration of the condominium into a smoldering heap
of twisted metal and concrete in Surfside, Florida, just north of Miami.
"She had many hopes of progressing and helping our parents," said
Richard Luna, who is anxiously watching news reports in Paraguay. "We
are emotionally devastated."
A child of farmers, the 23-year-old Luna had studied nursing, but was
looking after the three children of a Paraguayan family who helped her
get a passport. The children are also missing along with their parents,
Sophia López Moreira Bó and Luis Pettengil. Sophia López Moreira Bó is
the sister-in-law of the president of Paraguay and the first lady flew
Officials last Friday weren’t sure exactly how many residents or
visitors were in the building at the time. A clearer picture emerged
from diplomatic dispatches and overseas news reports: Israeli media said
the country’s consul general in Miami, Maor Elbaz, believed that 20
citizens of that country are missing. Another 22 people were unaccounted
for from Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
By Friday evening, authorities had helped family members from more
than a dozen countries get visas to travel to Florida, according to a
tweet by senator Marco Rubio.
The horror of seeing hard-to-watch video of the tower’s collapse was
compounded by the shock of its location: America.
"You don’t think that can happen here in the United States," said
Sergio Lozano Jr., whose grandparents, Antonio and Gladys Lozano, both
in their 80s, are among the missing.
The couple emigrated from Cuba years ago, and the elder Lozano, now
retired, worked in banking. Until a day ago, they were living out their
dream in unit 903 of the seaside tower.
"My grandfather always said when he retired, he wanted to retire on
the beach," said Lozano Jr. "He wanted to be able to walk out on his
balcony and look at the beach."
Their son, Lozano Jr’s father, lived just two buildings away. On
Thursday night, the family ate dinner together.
Lozano Jr. said his father woke up at 1:30 in the morning to a
thundering noise that sounded like a tornado and went to his balcony to
bring in the outdoor furniture. He looked out at the condo.
It was no longer there.
He called Lozano Jr. and woke him up with these words: "They are
Juan Mora Sr. and his wife Ana were also immigrants from Cuba, and
part of a tight-knit Cuban American community. Their son Juan Jr., was
born in the U.S. and worked as an executive for Morton Salt in Chicago.
Throughout the pandemic, he stayed away from his elderly parents, but
was visiting when the building collapsed.
"He was doing his best to keep them safe," said longtime friend Danny
Ugarte, who grew up with Juan Jr. He was the envy of his friends as a
child, Ugarte said, because his mother worked for Delta Airlines and he
got to travel the world.
Ugarte’s mother, Jeanne, was close with Ana Mora, who did so much for
her community, her children, and her church — many times all at once.
They took their sons as children to Santo Domingo on missionary trips to
help build churches and bridges.
"She was a very devout Catholic, a genuinely caring and loving
person," said Ugarte, in an emotional telephone interview. "We would
sleep on the ground on mats, and she was so dedicated."
The Ugartes are trying to stay positive, but Jeanne is resigned.
"I know they’re not going to find them (alive)," she said. "It’s been
Among six missing Colombian natives is a family of three that came to
the U.S. weeks ago to get the COVID-19 vaccine and have a vacation.
Luis Fernando Barth, 51, the director of a nonprofit organization;
his wife Catalina Gómez, a 45-year-old lawyer; and their daughter
Valeria Barth, 14, are from the western Colombia city of Medellín. They
were renting apartment 204 and were not supposed to be there. They had
travelled to another beach location and planned to return to the rental
"Unfortunately, they decided to advance the trip, and arrived at the
apartment again on Wednesday," said the woman’s brother-in-law, José
Luis Arango, who last spoke to them Wednesday evening.
For the Velasquez family, this was supposed to be a time of
togetherness after the coronavirus pandemic had kept them apart.
Theresa Velasquez travelled from California to visit her parents,
Julio and Angela. All three of them were in the building when it
collapsed, said her uncle, Fernando Velasquez.
Julio, 66, born in Colombia, was a devout Catholic retired from the
insurance industry. He enjoyed soccer and travelling with his wife,
Angela, who owned a clothing store. He was also writing a book about
religion, said his brother, who spoke to him on the phone almost every
"He was a breath of fresh air. He was a peacemaker. He was a joy,"
said Fernando Velasquez, who lives in Elmhurst, N.Y. He called his
sister-in-law, Angela, "a beautiful person ... always smiling, always
ready to assist in any way, shape,or form."
Fernando had returned from an evening mass when he heard of the
collapse and picked up the phone.
"I called, and of course you don’t get any answers," he said. "That’s
how you know."
Fernando said he and his wife visited in April and slept in the
condo, but he didn’t notice anything wrong.
"It could have been us," he said. "It could have been all of us."
Also among the missing South Americans was a prominent Argentinian
plastic surgeon, his husband, and their young daughter.
Dr. Andrés Galfrascoli, 45, has an office in Buenos Aires, but took
his family to Miami because he couldn’t work in Argentina’s capital
during the pandemic. His husband, Fabián Núñez, 55, is a producer and
"Andrés is one of the best surgeons in the country, very low profile,
very honest," a friend, Flavia Martínez, told a local TV station. "I
spoke to him the day before yesterday, he told me that he was fine, that
he was resting."
The family had been in Miami since April and had enrolled their
6-year-old daughter, Sofía, in a local school. They were one of the
first same-sex Argentine couples to have a baby by surrogacy, and had
said they were eager for another child.
A Chilean man, Claudio Bonnefoy, and his Filipino-American wife,
Maria Obias Bonnefoy, lived on the 10th floor of the building. The
husband, 85, a lawyer, is the second cousin of former Chilean President
and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
His wife Maria, 69, was an artist who loved to play the piano and was
very close to her sibling, Dulce Obias Manno. Manno said throughout the
pandemic, her sister was extremely cautious, going out just to buy food
— only to suffer this unexpected tragedy.
"My sister is everything for me," said Manno, 66, who travelled from
Virginia in hopes of finding her sister alive. "She is my brain, my
conscience, my model."
Surfside is also home to a large Jewish Orthodox community, and
families crowd the sidewalks before sunset walking to services for the
Sabbath. In the Orthodox community, thoughts turned not just to the grim
likelihood of multiple deaths but how to handle inevitable burials.
According to Jewish custom, true virtue or "Chesed Shel Emes" means
the entire body and all its parts, including limbs, blood, and tissue,
must be collected for burial. Bodies are also not allowed to be left
overnight or exposed in the open.
Zaka World, a volunteer organization in Israel, specializes in the
painstaking work of collecting the entire body. International director
David Rose, said in mass casualty disasters like that in Miami, they use
DNA samples for blood and tissue, carefully collecting it from the
concrete and other surfaces. In some cases, however, certain parts may
not be matched to the deceased.
"Everything gets collected and everything gets buried," Rose said.
"It might not be with the person it belongs to, but that’s the most
important thing — that it gets buried."
Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, the founder of The Shul of Bal Harbour, the
Orthodox Jewish synagogue near the building collapse, said his community
is still praying for miracles as rescue teams continue to search for
survivors. He could not say exactly how many members of Surfside’s
Jewish community were unaccounted for.
"It’s a very large group of people, unfortunately," he said. "The
circumstances are very, very grim."
Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this
report. Cano reported from Mexico City, Hegemen from Belle Plaine,
Kansas, and Gecker from San Francisco. Adriana Gomez Licon and Gisela
Salomon in Miami, Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, and Luis Andres
Henao in New York City also contributed reporting.
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