‘Still a nightmare’: Surfside families mark one year since collapse

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Record-breaking settlements for victims and their relatives have failed to provide closure a year after the Surfside, Fla. condo building collapsed. (Video: Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)
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SURFSIDE, Fla. — In the year since Champlain Towers South collapsed, families of the 98 people who died have been denied two things they say will help them heal. The first is a reason — why did the 12-story building suddenly implode and crash to the ground in the predawn hours of June 24? That answer is probably still years away.

The second is simpler: They wanted to be at the place where it happened. To stand on the site that for months was a rubble-strewn disaster area and then, once the final remains were recovered and the piles of debris hauled away, a flooded sandpit. A plot of land surrounded by a chain-link fence with a locked gate and put up for sale.

Early Friday, the parents, children and siblings of those killed got the opportunity to set foot on the vacant lot on the beach. They gathered at the same place, and at the same time a year earlier when — just after 1 a.m. — the building began to buckle and heave and within 10 minutes cave in on itself. First lady Jill Biden will speak at a public memorial event later in the morning.

“It’s a way to be in a place we weren’t allowed to be in for a year,” said Chana Ainsworth Wasserman, who lost her parents, Tzvi and Ingrid Ainsworth, in the collapse. “The idea behind it is to give a moment of silence and respect, and to reflect on the brutality of how the people we loved died there, how it happened at that site.”

On the first anniversary of one of the worst building failures in United States history, many families of those killed say they are still in a state of limbo. The remains of their loved ones have been identified, but not an explanation for their deaths. Florida has passed some condo safety reforms, but there are doubts about how effectively they can be implemented. A judge on Thursday gave final approval for a $1.2 billion settlement to families who lost loved ones, but it offers no answers as to what happened and assigns no blame.

“It’s been a year, and the only thing I hear is, ‘It’s under investigation,’ ” said Pablo Langesfeld, whose daughter Nicole and her newlywed husband, Luis Sadovnic, perished in the disaster. “It’s a nightmare. Still a nightmare.”

Families helped to plan this weekend’s events — much of which involves the site of the collapse. Surfside town officials lit 98 torches around the nearly two-acre lot where the building once stood. One large eight-foot torch will stay lit at the site for nearly a month, marking the time it took rescue workers to find the final remains buried in the rubble.

Meanwhile, lawsuits filed against more than 25 entities, including the Champlain Towers South condo association, as well as engineers and developers of a building next door, have been settled. Disbursements from the settlement to families are expected to begin in the fall, but another painful process comes first.

Relatives have to fill out claims forms that ask them to “describe how…

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