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‘Something inside me said run’: Surfside survivor describes escaping as building came down

Champlain Towers South resident rushed from apartment moments before it crumbled
Champlain Towers South resident rushed from apartment moments before it crumbled

SURFSIDE, Fla. – It’s an unbelievable story of survival.

For 64-year-old Iliana Monteagudo it’s as if a supernatural force she said woke her up and guided her from her sixth floor unit at Champlain Towers South.

“I feel like strange sounds, and I run to my living room,” she told Local 10 News’ Christina Vazquez.

She thought what she was hearing was possibly wind coming through her balcony sliding doors, and then she spotted a crack, snaking its way down the wall.

“The ceiling, down,” she said. “When I see that, something inside of me said run because this building will collapse.”

She then raced, barefoot, out of unit 611, where she had only moved into last December, and toward a staircase by the building’s elevators.

“I start going down, fast, and I hear crack, crack, crack,” she said. “I start to scream, ‘Come on God, I want to see my son, I want to see my grandson. Don’t let me die in this condition.’”

On her way down, while passing the fourth floor, she said she heard a thunderous noise.

After emerging on the ground floor, Monteagudo noticed something.

“She was the first one out,” her son Andrea Alvarez said.

A security guard was there, and he helped the grandmother out of the stairwell. She had to climb over several walls that had crumbled on her way to safety.

“He was there, he helped her escape, jumping over hurdles, holes in the ground,” Alvarez said. “The ground floor, the garage is below, she could have fallen where the broken concrete floor to the garage floor.”

Once outside, Monteagudo made an emotional phone call.

“She called me to say Andy, I want to let you know that I am okay, but the building collapsed,” Alvarez said.

It’s something he said now, days later, he remains in disbelief.

“I just could not believe it,” he said. “Every time she says something to me, I am going to believe it.”

After seeing the the portion of the Surfside building his mom had called home collapsed, the magnitude of his mom’s split-second decision becomes that much more apparent.

“You know when it really hit, is when I called her probably a day or two afterwards,” Alvarez said. “I said to myself, I want to call my mother and see how she is. And when I called her, it hit me. It gets me a little bit now, it hit me knowing that I could call her.

“Not being able to would have killed me and I just started crying my eyes out on the phone with my mother.”

Said Monteagudo: “Three seconds separate me, the life to the death. Three seconds.”

A GoFundMe page was created to support Monteagudo, who lost everything she owned when the building went down. To visit the page, click here.

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About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."