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SURFSIDE, Fla .– Moshe Candiotti sensed Champlain Towers South shaking in the middle of the night and ran for the door, taking next to nothing with him as he fled for his life.

Mr Candiotti, 67, knows he was lucky to have survived last month’s condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida. At least 97 of its neighbors have not.

He can’t help but wish, however, that some of his personal possessions emerge from the rubble at some point. Perhaps the framed portrait of his mother. Or the gold and silver coins from all over the world that he collected since childhood.

“They are collecting the bodies, which is more important than anything else,” he said.

But as efforts to track down those killed in the collapse draw to a close, disaster survivors and families of the dead have also begun to wonder if any memorabilia, heirlooms, or other keepsakes – testimonies of lives and homes lost in an instant – could also be recovered.

Some, in fact, have.

As research teams dig through the concrete and metal heap after the building collapsed on June 24, they collect and catalog the large number of personal items they find along the way, a massive undertaking with little of local precedent which required creativity, logistics and major works.

Sifting through more than 26 million pounds of concrete and debris, researchers found everything from the mundane, like kitchenware, to the precious, including jewelry, said Sgt. Danny Murillo, who is leading the effort along with about 20 officers from the Miami-Dade Police Department. They worked 12-hour shifts around the clock to record the findings.

“You have things that are not scratched and things that are totally destroyed,” Sergeant Murillo said in an interview this week, dressed in a hazmat suit not far from the air-conditioned tent where the agents spend their days sifting through objects. (Officers wear hazmat suits and masks to limit their exposure to any contaminants in the debris.) “It’s a never-ending flow of property. “

Items are tracked based on where they were found in the stack, which has been divided into search grids. Officers receive bins of items from search teams, then spread them out on tables, trying to determine if any items fit together – a toy that has been broken into several pieces, for example. The items are then sealed in plastic evidence bags, placed in boxes and locked in a shipping container.

By the start of the week, officers had filled perhaps a hundred large boxes in four shipping containers, Sgt. Murillo estimated.

Among personal treasures is real treasure – thousands of dollars in cash, which agents count and record as they would to prove.

But the most sentimental finds are those that touch the hearts of officers, like family photos and children’s artwork.

Frequently Asked Questions

It could take months for investigators to determine precisely why a significant portion of the building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed in the middle of the night of June 24. But there are already clues to the potential reasons for the disaster, including design or construction flaws. . Three years before the collapse, a consultant found evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab under the pool deck and “heavy” cracks and crumbling in the columns, beams and walls of the parking lot. . Engineers who have visited the wreckage or viewed photos say the damaged columns at the base of the building may have less steel reinforcement than originally intended.

Condominium boards and homeowner associations often struggle to convince residents to pay for necessary repairs, and most of Champlain Towers South’s board of directors resigned in 2019 due to their frustrations. In April, the new council chairman wrote to residents that conditions in the building had “deteriorated considerably” in recent years and that construction would now cost $ 15 million instead of $ 9 million. Residents also complained that the construction of a massive residential tower designed by Renzo Piano next door was shaking Champlain Towers South.

Entire families have died because the collapse happened in the middle of the night, while people were sleeping. The parents and children killed in Unit 802, for example, were Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, a fan of the rock band Kiss and the University of Miami Hurricanes; Anaely Rodriguez, 42, who has embraced tango and salsa; Lucia Guara, 11, who found astronomy and outer space fascinating; and Emma Guara, 4, who loved the princess world. A floor-by-floor look at the victims shows the extent of the devastation.

A 15-year-old boy and his mother were rescued from the rubble shortly after the building fell. However, she died in a hospital and no other survivors were found during the two-week search and rescue mission. It was hoped that the demolition of the remaining structure would allow rescuers to safely explore voids where someone might have survived. But only bodies were found. There were 94 confirmed casualties up to July 12.

“It can be difficult,” said Sergeant Murillo. “We are all human. “

Developing a system to collect everything took some trial and error, as the police department had never had to deal with so many items of unknown property from a single event, said Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, a porter. word. How owners will be able to claim their property is still being worked out, as estates will likely be involved in obtaining the items from their rightful heirs.

Officers pay special attention to religious artifacts, often identified by a rotating team of rabbis working side-by-side with police in the sorting tent. Torahs, Menorahs, Mezuzas – Rabbis are on the lookout for anything that might have sacred significance to the many Jewish families who lived in the Champlain Towers. Bibles were also found, said Sergeant Murillo.

But bringing all of this to the people who are so desperate to find what might be left of their crushed homes or the possessions of their lost loved ones seems likely to take some time. Survivors know they will have to be patient.

Mr. Candiotti, who bought Unit 407 only 16 months ago, kept his coin collection in a safe, along with his passport and other important documents. The coins attracted him because they seemed to have real value. (“I don’t trust the bank,” he said.) His grandmother taught him coins when he was little.

“She always put gold coins and valuables in her bra. Her bra! he remembered with a small laugh. “It was his bank.

His mother’s portrait hung in the living room and had a “great story,” he said. He owned an electronics store in South Beach and kept a picture of his mother near the cash register. One day a man came in and asked for work. When the man told Mr. Candiotti that he was a painter, Mr. Candiotti bought him a canvas and ordered a painting of the photograph. He loved it so much that he paid the man $ 500 and has treasured the coin ever since.

“Someone told me that if I found a photo on the computer, they could do it again,” Mr. Candiotti said. “But I’ll have to see.”

“Everything has been destroyed,” he said. “When that floor shook, I thought of nothing. I just thought about my life.

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