Two of the total three survivors pulled from the rubble following the June 24 collapse of a condominium complex in Surfside, Fla., who claimed the lives of another 98 people are speaking out for the first time Thursday, detailing the horrors their family experienced just 70 days ago.
Angela Gonzalez, 45, was watching a horror movie with her husband, Edgar, and their 16-year-old daughter, Deven, when around 1:30 a.m. that night she heard what she though was thunder. The three were together in the same bed in their condo on the ninth floor of Champlain Towers South.
“Whoever thinks a building is going to collapse on you?” Angela, now in a wheelchair, told NBC’s “Today” in a sit-down interview with Deven and her other daughter, Taylor, who was out with friends when the building collapsed. “It just felt like an earthquake… I just screamed, ‘Run!’ Maybe right out of our bedroom. Maybe a couple steps right out of our bedroom, and then the floor just started to cave.”
SURFSIDE CONDO COLLAPSE: BODY CAMERA VIDEO FROM INITIAL RESPONSE RELEASED
Deven fell five stories down with the building, and though her left leg was crushed and her femur snapped, managed to scream for help to rescue crews. Her mother, who was knocked unconscious, landed on debris a few stories above and was also pulled from the wreckage. She spent five days in a coma, waking up in the hospital on her birthday. Her husband was among those missing for nearly two weeks and ultimately did not survive.
“I want to know why my husband lost his life. I want to know why they don’t have their father,” Angela said. “I have my daughters so I have something to look forward to. But I know there are other mothers there who have lost a husband or a child, and it’s just not OK. It’s just not OK.”
“I didn’t get to say goodbye,” Deven, once a high school volleyball star, still using crutches, said of her father. “But a lot of people have said that saying ‘goodnight’ and ‘I love you’ and ‘I’ll see you in the morning’ was a lot better than a goodbye because it’s like a ‘see you later,’ and I’m glad I had that.”
Taylor described how she rushed back home the early morning of the collapse to find chaos, as rescuers at the scene initially said anyone who lived on the same side of the 12-story building, as her family had, likely died. But she later found her sister and mother alive at the hospital.
“They told me that if they were on that side of the building there wasn’t going to be any survivors,” Taylor said in the interview aired Thursday. “So that was a very difficult night.”
The family’s lost all of their belongings, except for Edgar’s wedding ring, which was recovered from his body. His widow and their two daughters now take turns wearing the ring on a chain around their neck.
“We have this thing that every week, each of us get it. I got it for the first week of school. It’s gonna be Taylor’s turn on Monday, and then after Taylor, it’s Mom and we all just wear it,” Taylor said.
“Each week, we share it,” Angela added.
The family is speaking out for the first time as federal investigators still evaluate the cause of the collapse. Last week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced that it will conduct a five-pronged probe led by Judith Mitrani-Reiser, the associate chief of the Materials and Structural Systems Division in NIST’s Engineering Laboratory, who grew up in Miami.
The NIST also released video showing densely packed steel reinforcement along with extensive corrosion where one column met the building’s foundation, WFOR-TV reported.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who is overseeing lawsuits filed in the collapse aftermath, told a court-appointed receiver Wednesday to investigate a proposed land swap to allow for an on-site memorial to the victims for financial viability.
Many survivors and victim family members of the Champlain Towers South collapse oppose a memorial at a nearby Miami Beach park. And many are uneasy with replacement of that doomed building with a luxury structure on what they regard as sacred ground.
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The proposal would work this way: A new Surfside community center containing a Champlain memorial would be built on the collapse site. In exchange, land on which the 10-year-old community center now sits would be sold to provide compensation to survivors and victim family members.
A proposal to purchase the existing Champlain site for about $120 million is still being negotiated, with other bids expected. A complicating factor is the potential that the town of Surfside will enact a zoning change that could reduce the property’s value.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.