Glad to be alive, but destroyed


Imagine having nothing.

Imagine being a survivor of the Surfside, FL., condo collapse.

Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida. (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

You have been out of your home for 11 days, and have just learned Champlain Towers South must be demolished. That happened Sunday night.

This is not to diminish the immense loss of life, which is certain to be more than 100. The grief of their families is palpable, but for the dead, who I hope died quickly, it is over.

For the living, it is just beginning.

For them, almost everything they owned was in their apartments, and they were not allowed to retrieve anything before explosives brought it down. Officials said it was not safe.


Maybe a few people grabbed their medicine, but most didn’t.

I can imagine it, a little.

Less than a decade ago my condo building suffered a severe flood, starting at the top of the building where a water valve failed, one that would be used to suppress fire. The building flooded from the top down, with a few apartments demolished, some moderately damaged, some barely touched. 

When the alarms went off, as they do from time to time, I was not concerned and left the building in the evening pretty much with nothing other than what I was wearing. The elevators were off, so I walked down 28 floors, which was not hard, but kind of dizzying.

After inspection, the fire department ordered that no one be allowed back in the building. PFD feared the building’s structural integrity might have been compromised. It was about midnight.

It was inconvenient. Management of the building made a quick deal for a reduced rate at the nearby DoubleTree Hotel. I headed for the nearby Daily News and slept in my office, figuring this was just temporary. 

It wasn’t.

We were not allowed in the next day. The elevators were turned off. 

I had a problem. My cat was in my apartment and he needed to be fed. 

Fortunately, I was friendly with a building staffer who snuck me in and took me to the 28th floor. I cleaned the litter box, put out a lot of food and water, grabbed my meds and left.

That night a Daily News friend took me to her home in New Jersey. The third night I spent in the Sofitel. 

The building then opened.

But what if it had gone another way?

Had authorities ordered the building demolished, I’m sure emergency workers would have rescued pets — but not possessions.

So there I would have been — no home, just the ID in my wallet.

My passport and birth certificate would have been destroyed.

Fortunately, my insurance company knows me. Would a total loss of everything be covered?

Maybe yes, but would it buy me a new condo at market value and how long would that take? And what would I do with my cat?

A lifetime collection of books, plus my notes and records — gone.

One break — most of my important pictures were transferred to my iPad, which connects with my iPhone, and they would be in the cloud, so they would be retrievable.

Furniture, book cases, books, silverware, dinnerware, rugs, bric-a-brac, memorabilia, momentos, artwork, files — clothing from underwear to winter parkas — all gone.

So that’s what dozens of families in Surfside are facing.

Authorities have said they have organized a method for collecting personal effects after the demolition. How well will that go? 

Yes, they are lucky to have their lives, but they will have to rebuild or recreate everything they ever owned.

And some things, of sentimental value, can’t be replaced.

It was an awful Fourth of July for them.

8 thoughts on “Glad to be alive, but destroyed”

  1. Your points should get every reader to go over a list of necessities to take to at least prepare for the worst but have as much backup with insurance and recovery plans as possible. We have seen tragedies such as this on a smaller scale but just as devastating to the homeowner as the condo owner. Preparation is always in the back of the mind when we see incidents such as this as we simply retreat into the theory of a mental state of invulnerability thinking it won’t happen to me. To contemplate the loss they must all feel to go through the event and then to line up to attempt to cover the retrieval of a lifetime in items that are individually priceless in human value. At the other end of the spectrum, I have watched in a weird way, both sad and yet comical is the escape from a fire at a vacant building by a homeless person who has nothing to lose and can start over again with all of nothing in tack. It will take time for the residents to partially recover and begin life all over again but being alive hopefully with some positive items recovered will once again give some meaning to their lives.

    1. I photostated ALL my important papers, passport, credit cards, etc., but keep them in my dresser. I think they must go in my bank safe deposit box.

    We humans are a resilient lot, we are ! As a population, we have recovered ( still recovering ) from wars, floods storms and mass murder. “It won’t happen to me ” is the famous phrase. Me, I usually say, “when”. Because of my lifetime of misadventures, I have learned to try and protect my most valuable possessions. That would be my family. Then try to protect what I can. There is this thing out there. It’s called a safe ! It’s not just for guns. It doesn’t have to go behind a wall picture. Depending on your lifestyle and budget, you could have a small carry safe. A fireproof file cabinet or even an entire room. My first house had such a room. In another time, it would have been called a bomb shelter.
    What can not be saved are all of the intangibles. That favorite ornament. The heirloom crystal in the glass etagere. The many collectibles all through the house.
    What can be saved, is the lives of the people and pets that you love. After the dust settles, we can rebuild – we we do.

    1. My memorabilia is irreplaceable. I have no jewelry, other than rings or pins for service that can’t be replaced, but which I seldom see.
      All photos are now in the cloud. With the building demolished, I lost my friends here and customary surroundings. Just a pain in the can to recreate.

  3. My cousin used to live in a suburb of Philly. The family went to Florida for a vacation. While away, a gas leak occurred. The house blew up and everything was destroyed.

  4. It was avoidable. Condo owners knew bldg was structurally unsound and they didn’t want to pay to fix the problems. Remember the old Fram oil filter commercial.

    1. HAPPY FRIDAY !!!
      I would politely ask you to reframe from carrying accusations. I’m sure that in every fatal accident, the same has been said. Truthfully. We won’t know till the forensic engineers are done analyzing the complex.
      It doesn’t do any good to speculate. Myself. I was involved in forensic engineering on several occasions.

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