Champlain Towers South resident survives by climbing through rubble in the dark with her dog

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Sharon Schechter said her life changed in seconds. She is among the 127 Champlain Towers South residents who Miami-Dade County authorities have accounted for after a section of the building collapsed early Thursday morning in the oceanside town of Surfside.

Schechter, 60, was a resident at 8777 Collins Ave. Shortly before 2 a.m., she was asleep with her dog in apartment 1109. A noise that was “a little unusual” woke her up abruptly. She then felt like the whole building was shaking. She looked out the window.

“I realized, ‘Oh my God!’ Where is the building? There’s no building!’”

Fearful that what was left of Champlain Towers South was going to crumble, she grabbed her dog and rushed out of her apartment. She tried running down the only available stairwell, but there was rubble.

“We were screaming, ‘Help! Come get us! We are here! Come get us!”

She was banging on the door hoping someone could hear her. Schechter realized she was on her own. She decided to climb with her dog through rubble and on top of cars. The goal was to get out of the 12-story building as fast as she could.

“It was pitch black ... We are finding our way out until we get to some light,” Schechter said.

Firefighters searching pancaked rubble pile that was left by the collapse of the 12-story condominium building in Sunrise, Florida. (AP photo)

She made it out with her dog. She left everything else she owns behind. Her passport. Documents from work. She operates a Medicare insurance business. It will be complicated to recover, but she made it out with her life.

“I was one of two I think that survived on my floor,” Schechter said.

Not knowing whether or not all of her neighbors made it out has been haunting her. She said she called one of the neighbors who lived on her floor but he didn’t pick up.

A bed dangles from a building that partially collapsed, Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. A wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed with a roar in a town outside Miami early Thursday, trapping residents in rubble and twisted metal. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

All she could think about was the many people who didn’t make it out, she said. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said four people died and 159 were unaccounted for as of Friday evening.

“I feel like I’m mourning every minute for someone in that building,” Schechter said, later adding, “I am hoping that there is a reason why I survived — a bigger picture.”

Family reunification center

The town was hosting those who are waiting for information about unaccounted relatives after the partial collapse at Champlain Towers South at the community center at 9301 Collins Ave. On Friday, they moved the relatives to the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside at 9449 Collins Ave. Levine Cava said relatives had two daily briefings.

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

Maria Fernanda Martinez, left, and Mariana Corderiro, right, of Boca Raton, Fla., stand outside of a 12-story beachfront condo building which partially collapsed, Friday, June 25, 2021, in the Surfside area of Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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About the Authors:

Joseph Ojo joined Local 10 in April 2021. Born and raised in New York City, he previously worked in Buffalo, North Dakota, Fort Myers and Baltimore.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.