Surfside 1 Year Later: 65-year-old survivor still struggling to rebuild her life

‘I try hard to find the happiness, but I lost it. I can’t find it,’ Ileana Monteagudo says

Ileana Monteagudo escaped with her life during the Surfside building collapse. She saw a crack snake down her wall and ran. She rushed down the stairs in her nightgown.

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Ileana Monteagudo escaped with her life during the Surfside building collapse. She saw a crack snake down her wall and ran. She rushed down the stairs in her nightgown.

Once she was on the ground floor, she saw a gaping hole. The 65-year-old grandmother said she was confused when a security guard turned over to help her.

Monteagudo managed to climb out to safety.

“My escape was like a fantasy, like a mission impossible,” she said.

Monteagudo said she couldn’t believe she was not among the 98 dead when a section of the Champlain Towers South turned into pancaked concrete. The tragedy still haunts her.

On June 24, 2021, the Champlain Towers South partially collapsed killing 98 people.

“Every night, I can’t sleep without a pill because it’s coming like a film in my mind every night,” Monteagudo said. “And you know how long is one year to suffer? You know how many months, how many hours, how many minutes? To think about it and suffer.”

Monteagudo said she had planned to spend the rest of her days at the oceanfront property. She never imagined she would ever be homeless or lose all of her sentimental items.

“Fifty years of collecting things lost it in seven minutes — in seven minutes — everything,” Monteagudo said. “I don’t have one picture of my parents. The last picture that I take a look at when I am leaving is my father and my mother in Las Vegas laughing, both of them,” Monteagudo said. “I try hard to find the happiness but I lost it. I can’t find it.”

Monteagudo is living in a furnished Miami Beach rental after having lived at Champlain Towers South for about six months.

“This chair is not mine, this television is not mine,” she said adding she has to leave the apartment on Aug. 1. “I don’t know where I will be going because they didn’t give me one penny yet.”

Monteagudo said she has also felt like the survivors have been treated as if they were guilty of the tragedy. This has made the settlement negotiations between property owners and wrongful death claimants painful, she said.

“How can you tell me it was my fault the building fell down or whatever because nobody took care of the building? Me in six months, nobody told me anything about it. My case is not the same case as other people,” Monteagudo said.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who is presiding over the civil litigation, said during a hearing that he was optimistic about reaching an agreement. Monteagudo isn’t as hopeful.

“The judge is a human being, I don’t understand how that human being, Judge Hanzman, doesn’t think about our situation, I feel like as a survivor, I feel like nothing because the judge takes care of everybody, the lawyers, the relative of the wrongful death, everybody but us, the survivor. I am not expecting millions.”

Monteagudo’s family and friends have helped her. She said prayer has too. Other survivors have also been supportive.

“We are in the same situation. We have the same situation. We don’t have a house. We don’t have anything,” Monteagudo said. “We are one year older. The difference is that we are one year old, we don’t have hope at all.”

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

Marking the anniversary

With a private service at 1 a.m., on Friday, the grieving families of some of the 98 victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse will mark the painful anniversary.

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Graphic: Timeline of aftermath


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."