Surfside 6 months later: ‘We are healing. ... We’re getting better.’

Loved ones lost in condo collapse are remembered this holiday season

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Six months after the Champlain Towers South collapsed, loved ones and members of the community continue to honor the victims’ memories as they await a permanent memorial.

Immediately following the collapse, a memorial wall began growing across the street from the site. That wall was covered in photos, letters, flowers and more as first responders searched through debris.

“We are healing. We are moving forward. We’re getting better,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.

Since then, the items and sentiments left behind have been removed for preservation.

“Once that wall came down, the commission knew and the manager knew that it was something that had to get done,” Burkett said.

The more permanent, but temporary “Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial” was installed by the town’s Public Works Department at the corner of Collins Avenue and 88th Street, directly across the street from the collapse site.

The memorial has a center-mounted wreath flanked by two banners. One of those banners lists the identities of the 98 people killed when the condo suddenly fell in June. There are also lights to illuminate the names at night.

“My fondest hope had been that we’d be able to just use this site that we’re looking at right now, across the street, as a memorial. I’m not sure that’s going to come to fruition,” Burkett said.

Sale of the collapse site was approved by a judge in September. The deal did not include plans for an on-site memorial. Many of the victims’ families and survivors have pushed to make that a reality.

“I think where you’ve got a building, or a site where 98 people died, I’m not so sure that’s going to be just forgotten, and people are going to smile and come over and buy condos and be happy,” Burkett said.

But not all hopes of an on-site memorial are lost.

“The person that buys that piece of property is then going to have control over what happens there,” Burkett said, “and it’s not out of the question to approach that person and ask them if they would be amenable to doing something on their site.”

Manuel Guara lost his brother, Marcus, his sister-in-law, Anaely and two nieces, Lucia and Emma, in the collapse.

“I think it is going to give us a sense of peace,” Guara said.

Guara memorialized the family with an underwater plaque earlier this month. He said the family was always on the water, at the beach or doing outdoor activities.

The plaques were placed underwater in their memory at the Neptune National Reef, an artificial reef off Key Biscayne.

“Everybody is fixated on doing the right thing here,” Burkett said.

Burkett says that means working with victims and survivors to get their input on where a proper memorial should be and what it should look like. In the meantime, the community will have the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial.

“I think it’s here. I think people know it’s here. I think they know why it’s here,” Burkett said.

About the Author:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.