Surfside condo survivor realizes how close he was to tragedy

The resident of Apartment 1106 in the Surfside Champlain Towers South says he was only 15-feet away from tragedy.

SURFSIDE, Fla. – It’s nothing short of a miraculous story that Albert Aguero and his family survived the collapse of Champlain Towers South. Aguero said he and his family were in their condo on the 11th floor when, shortly after 1 a.m., the entire room began shaking.

“The walls were shaking. My wife jumped out of bed and went to check on the kids,” said Aguero of Apartment 1106.

He said he and his wife thought that maybe the noise was thunder until they looked outside from their balcony and saw a gray cloud of what they thought was smoke.

“The firefighters arrived. I went out in the balcony and realized it wasn’t smoke. It was basically concrete dust. I reached out and yelled down to them, ‘Do we need to evacuate?’ They said, ‘Yes, absolutely, get out as fast as you can.’ "

As they tried to get out, they realized it was their building that had collapsed. Their neighbor’s apartment was cut in half and, Aguero said, only about 15-feet away from his condo.

There were no elevators available, he recalled, and half the wall was missing from the stairwell. But, he said, the family was willing to take a chance.

“At that point, I remember distinctly thinking, ‘I need to get these guys out before the rest of the building collapses because it’s probably going to happen soon.’ "

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Aguero said that as they got to the third floor, they saw an elderly woman who they helped get to the bottom floor and out of the building.

“She was obviously shaken. She was like, ‘I’ve lived a good life. I’m good. I was like, ‘No, no, you’re going to make it to your 89th birthday, I promise.’ And we got her out,” Aguero said.

When he got to the family unification community center, he says he discovered that there were 30 others who, just like him, were able to get out of the building.

So far, no official numbers have been released about how many people who were in the building were able to make it to safety.

For information or to report the status of a loved one who is unaccounted for, call 305-614-1819 or 305-993-1071.

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About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local