3 Long Island Natives Among 145 People Missing in Florida Condo Collapse

condo collapse
Rescue efforts have resumed at the site of a partially collapsed residential building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Three Long Island natives are among the 145 people still missing after a beachfront condominium in Surfside, Fla. collapsed more than one week ago, according to news reports.

Brothers Brad and Gary Cohen were still unaccounted for a week later, according to NBC New York, whose reporters spoke with a Dix Hills rabbi who has known the Cohens for more than 20 years. Brad lived in Surfside, and Gary was visiting from his home in Alabama when the building collapsed June 24 at around 1:30 a.m. 

“I feel sick. Heartbroken, I’m a basket case,” Rabbi Yakov Saacks told NBC.

“Where there’s life, there’s hope. And we don’t know for sure there’s no life,” he added.

Judy Spiegel, who is from Plainview, is also among the missing, according to CBS New York. Her daughter, Rachel, and son, Josh, spoke to CBS reporter Jessica Layton the day after the collapse. Both their parents lived on the sixth floor of the condo, and their father is safe; he was traveling in California at the time. Rachel had spoken with her mother just hours before the collapse.

“She texted me and said, ‘I remembered that Scarlett wanted this Disney dress,’ my daughter. ‘I just remembered it. I went online and they have it in a size 4 and I bought it.’ So my daughter has a dress coming in the mail from my mom, and I really want my mom to give it to her,” Rachel told Layton on a Facetime call. 

“She was the best, our best friend. I can’t live without her,” Josh added.

So far, 18 people have been confirmed dead in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, a small town on the water north of Miami Beach.

Rescue crews are still searching for people in the rubble. The search was halted for 14 hours on Thursday, July 1, due to concerns that the remaining part of the building could fall. It has since resumed as search-and-rescue teams look for those still missing and feared buried beneath tons of pulverized concrete, twisted metal, and splintered lumber as the search stretched into its ninth day on Friday.

Two of the dead were children, aged 4 and 10.

Under the new search plan, teams would confine their work for now to just three of nine grids demarcated in the ruins of the 12-floor Champlain Towers South condo, Miami-Dade County Fire and Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said.

Authorities were eager to make as much progress as possible before the expected arrival of Elsa, which strengthened into the first hurricane of the 2021 season on Friday as it threatened the Caribbean.

The storm could hit South Florida by early Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, with heavy rains and strong winds arriving before that. But the center warned that Elsa’s forecasted path remains uncertain.

The renewed search effort began shortly after a visit to the scene on Thursday by U.S. President Joe Biden, who spent about three hours consoling families of the dead and missing in the oceanfront town of Surfside, adjacent to Miami Beach.

The president also met with first responders, and was briefed by state and local leaders, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, widely seen as a potential Republican White House candidate in 2024.

Biden, a Democrat, told them he would deliver “whatever you need” in federal assistance, including temporary housing for survivors.

Biden, whose personal experience with tragedy has helped define his political persona, acknowledged that prospects for finding more survivors dimmed with each passing day but said it was possible someone might still be found alive.

“Hope springs eternal,” he said at a news conference at the nearby St. Regis hotel after meeting privately with affected families and before viewing flowers and posters woven into a fence as an impromptu memorial near the ruins.

“The whole nation is mourning with these families. They see it every day on television, they’re going through hell,” he told reporters. “I sat with one woman who lost her husband and her little baby boy and didn’t know what to do.”

Nobody has been rescued from the fallen building since the hours immediately after about half of the 136-unit building caved in on itself in the middle of the night, as residents slept.

Investigators have not determined what caused the 40-year-old condo complex to crumble into a heap in one of the deadliest building collapses in U.S. history.

But a 2018 engineering report prepared by an engineering firm ahead of a building safety-recertification process found structural deficiencies in the condo complex that are now the focus of various inquiries, including a grand jury examination.

USA Today, citing a document the newspaper obtained from a family member of a missing victim, reported late on Thursday that a 2020 document from the same firm noted “curious results” after testing the depth of the concrete slab below the pool. But the document did not specify what that meant, the newspaper reported.

The firm also documented severe deterioration in the pool area and expressed concern that repairs could threaten the stability of nearby areas, according to USA Today.

As recently as last April, the condo association president warned residents in a letter that major concrete damage identified by the engineer around the base of the building had grown “significantly worse.”

-With Reuters (Reporting by Katanga Johnson and Francisco Alvarado in Surfside, Florida; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, Dan Whitcomb, Brendan O’Brien, Peter Szekely, Kanishka Singh and Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

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