Argentine Family Among Those Missing In Florida Condo Collapse

2021-06-29 10:13:00

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — The remains of 11 people have been found after the collapse of a 12-story beachfront condominium building in Florida, authorities said Monday. The Associated Press has been reporting brief descriptions of the dead and the missing.

Miami-Dade police released late Monday the names and ages of three men who died in the collapse. They said the body of Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, was discovered on Saturday but only identified on Monday. Authorities say they found on Monday the remains of Michael David Altman, 50, and Frankie Kleiman, 55, who had recently gotten married.

Late on Sunday, police identified the remains of Leon and Christina Oliwkowicz, an elderly couple from Venezuela with ties to Jewish communities in Florida and Chicago. They also found the bodies of Luis Bermudez, a young man with muscular dystrophy, and his mother, Ana Ortiz, who were from Puerto Rico.

Authorities said 150 other people remain unaccounted for as rescuers search through the rubble of Champlain Towers South. Among them are Linda March, whose penthouse apartment was ripped apart, leaving her office chair and a set of bunkbeds next to the abyss.

An aerial view of the site during ongoing rescue operations in Surfside.


Argentine Graciela Cattarossi is a beloved mother and friend who works as an independent photographer for hotels, magazines, banks and airlines from different parts of the world, said Kathryn Rooney Vera, a friend who has known Cattarossi since 2008.

The most important thing in her world, however, is her 7-year-old daughter Stella.

Cattarossi, 48, a single mother, lived in Champlain Towers South with Stella and her own parents, Graciela and Gino Cattarossi. All four were missing Monday, along with Cattarossi’s sister, Andrea, an architect in Pilar, Argentina, who was visiting.

Vera said Cattarossi is a dedicated mother whose devotion to her child is “unparalleled.” She also described her as a “very hard worker, a beautiful person and beloved by everyone.”

Cattarossi and Vera were exchanging text messages on Wednesday night, just hours before the building collapsed. The photographer took professional photos of Vera’s fourth pregnancy years ago and presented them as a gift to celebrate what they believed would be Vera’s last child.

“She was happy to know that I was pregnant again,” said Vera. “We are devastated by what happened.”

Vera said that Graciela Cattarossi has lived in Miami for decades.


Luis Bermudez, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, had battled muscular dystrophy for years and used a wheelchair. The 26-year-old man lived with his mother, Ana Ortiz, on the seventh floor of the Champlain Towers South. They were identified among the 11 who died after the building collapsed Thursday.

His father, also named Luis Bermudez, texted the AP saying “my son is a hero.” He also wrote on Facebook that he could not believe he’s gone.

“Now rest in peace and without any obstacles in heaven,” he wrote. “I will see you soon my Luiyo.”

In honor of Luis, family members on Monday laid flowers in the ocean at a beach near the site of the building collapse.

Ortiz, 46, had just gotten married to Frankie Kleiman. Alex Garcia, the couple’s close friend, told The Miami Herald he had set them up on a blind date. Kleiman lived with his wife and stepson on the same floor as his brother Jay Kleiman, who was in town for a funeral, and their mother Nancy Kress Levin. The Kleimans and their mother are still missing.

Ortiz was described as a woman who was committed to giving her son the best possible life.

“She’s a rock star,” Garcia told the Herald. “And on top of that a super mom.”


Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and his wife Cristina Beatriz de Oliwkowicz, 74, lived on the 8th floor of the condo tower for several years, according to Venezuelan journalist Shirley Varnagy, a close friend of their family.

They had already sent their children to live in the U.S. from Venezuela, and then joined them as the economic and political crisis worsened in their native country, said Rabbi Moshe Perlstein, dean of the Yeshivas Ohr Eliyahu-Lubavitch Mesivta, an Orthodox Jewish School in Chicago where one of their daughters, Leah Fouhal, works as an office manager.

Perlstein flew to Florida to support Fouhal after the disaster as she waited anxiously to learn her parents’ fate. Late Sunday, authorities announced that their bodies had been recovered.

“On Friday, she was there and she was standing a few blocks away, and smoke was coming from the (collapsed building). And she tells me, ‘I just hope I’ll be able to bury my parents instead of their ashes…’ And then, thank God she was able to bury her parents, not the ashes,” he said.

“The Jewish people have unfortunately known too many cases where we have buried ashes. We don’t want to bury people, but it’s better than burying ashes,” he said as he prepared for their funeral on Monday.

Perlstein said the couple was known for their generosity: Three years ago, they donated a valuable Torah scroll to the school in memory of Leon Oliwkowicz’s parents.

“He was a person that enjoyed when he gave, he was happy. He loved giving,” Perlstein said. “With his wife, they were very dedicated to their children, helping the children, doing anything they could for their children,” he said. “It was their life ― giving to the family and giving charity to others.”

Other Venezuelans who were caught in the collapse included Moisés Rodán, 28; Andrés Levine, 27; and Luis Sadovnik, 28, who remained missing along with his Argentine wife, Nicole Langesfeld, Varnagy said. The parents of Rodán, Levine and Sadovnik were able to travel to the U.S. from Venezuela after the disaster, she said.

“Some did not have a visa, others had an expired passport, but with diplomatic collaboration they were able to arrive,” Varnagy said.

People attend a community vigil on the beach for those missing.

People attend a community vigil on the beach for those missing.


Among the missing was Linda March, who eagerly traded a cramped New York apartment for fresh air and ocean views after surviving a COVID-19 infection. She even bought a bright pink bicycle to cruise around Miami with, best friend Rochelle Laufer said.

March rented Penthouse 4, and was using the second bedroom of the furnished apartment as her office, Laufer told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Thursday’s partial collapse of the condominium building left the penthouse’s interior exposed, with bunk beds and an office chair still intact just inside the broken edge where the rest of the 12-story structure crumbled into a pile of debris.

Another friend, Dawn Falco, said she had been talking on the phone with March until just two hours before the disaster. Falco said she immediately began searching for word on her friend, who she said never leaves the house “without a smile.”

“My heart is breaking as I see the office chair that she just purchased next to the bunkbeds,” Falco said.

Florida was a new start for the 58-year-old attorney. In the past decade, she’d lost her sister and mother to cancer, her father died a few years later and she and her husband divorced. She had no children.

“She would say to me, ‘I’m all alone. I don’t have family,’ and I would say, ‘You’re my sister, you don’t have to be born sisters. And I said you always have me,’” Laufer recounted through tears.

Laufer said March loved the ocean views but hated the incessant noise from nearby construction and had decided to break her lease. “She was looking for another apartment when this happened,” Laufer said sadly.

Still, Laufer had been planning to visit her friend this fall.

“I joked I’m going to take the top bunk when I visit,” she said.


The missing include Vishal Patel, his wife, Bhavna, and their 1-year-old daughter. Bhavna Patel is four months pregnant.

Vishal Patel’s niece Sarina Patel told KABC-TV that she talked to her uncle on Father’s Day, telling him that she had bought a ticket to go see the couple and meet their child. Since the building’s collapse, her family has tried texting and calling, but hasn’t heard back, she said.

“We’re starting to prepare for the negative possibility, especially as the hours pass, but at the end of the day our family is very hopeful,” she said. “I just keep praying they have found a pocket somewhere where they were able to seek shelter and just waiting to be found.”

Sarina Patel said her aunt and uncle moved into the building two years ago. Her family is desperate for answers, she said.

“If they said they wanted volunteers, I would be on a plane and I would go start helping. Anything to make it go faster,” she told KABC. “Miracles do happen,” she said.


Rachel Spiegel is still waiting for word on her mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, who lived for her family and would go to any length to show her love. She had been swimming with her two granddaughters this month when one of them remarked how much she wanted a specific Disney princess dress.

The dress was sold out, Rachel said, but the doting grandmother immediately began hunting across several stores until she found it.

“She’s very thoughtful, she cared about the details,” a tearful Rachel told The Associated Press. “She was certainly the matriarch of our family.”

Her daughter joked that Judy was a terrible cook, but whenever anyone came to the house, she knew everyone’s favorite foods and quirks and made sure everything was perfectly arranged. She never went a night without her beloved Ben and Jerry’s chocolate ice cream, her daughter said.

She was also a passionate advocate for Holocaust awareness.

“My mom is an incredible person. She has the best heart and we need to find her.”


Elaine Sabino, 70, treated others with the same care and kindness she displayed as a flight attendant for US Airways and JetBlue, her friend said.

“The main thing people know about Elaine is, she’s always there to give you a hand in everything you’re doing,” her friend, Shelly Angle, told the Miami Herald. “She was the ultimate hostess, on the airplane, everywhere.”

Sabino, who was in a penthouse on the 12th floor when the structure collapsed, is still missing.

Angle said her friend was staying active, and was an excellent jazz and belly dancer. Sabino graduated from the University of Florida, where she was a baton twirler on the Gatorette team. Later, she taught baton twirling and judged national competitions.

She had been complaining about construction on the roof of the condo building, her brother-in-law, Douglas Berdeaux, told The Washington Post. There has been no determination about what made the building crumble.

“She said she was worried that the ceiling was going to collapse on top of her bed,” he said.

Therapy dogs brought by volunteer Jay Harris.

Therapy dogs brought by volunteer Jay Harris.


The worried daughters of a Chilean man and his wife who lived on the 10th floor of Champlain Towers South arrived at the scene with growing anger over what they’re learning about problems with the building before it collapsed.

Sisters Anne Marie and Pascale Bonnefoy said their father Claudio Bonnefoy and his Filipino-American wife Maria Obias Bonnefoy had been spending little time in the apartment, and probably wouldn’t have been among the missing if not for the pandemic.

Bonnefoy, an 85-year-old lawyer, is the second cousin of former Chilean President and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and both he and his wife worked for international organizations, they said.

“We are just processing all this but this is starting to make me angry because reports from years ago reporting serious structural damage to the building are little by little being known,” said Pascale Bonnefoy. “Notifications that have been ignored, or even that the building was built on wetlands, that the construction was with sand and that the salt began to corrode the iron.”


Richard Augustine, 77, was just hours away from a flight to Chicago, where his daughter, Debbie Hill, had planned to pick him up at the airport.

Instead, she watched video of the condo collapse, and could see her dad’s upper-floor unit plummeting, then disappearing in a cloud of dust.

“That was pretty scary to watch,” she told Chicago’s ABC7. “Immediately I tried to call him and his phone went straight to voicemail.”

Augustine had just visited his son in California, and went back to his Florida home to repack for the weekend visit with his daughter.

Augustine grew up in the Chicago area and lived in the suburbs before moving to Florida, where he worked in the air freight industry and planned to retire in the fall.

Hill told FOX32 in Chicago that her father shared the apartment with a roommate, who also was still missing.


Juan Mora Jr., who works for Morton Salt in Chicago, had been staying with his parents, Juan and Ana Mora, when the building collapsed.

Immigrants from Cuba and devout Catholics, they took their family on missionary trips to the Caribbean to build churches and bridges, said Jeanne Ugarte, a close friend of Ana’s. Later, they became like second parents to Juan Jr.’s friends in Chicago, where their son has managed East Coast distribution for Morton Salt’s road salt business, his friend Matthew Kaade said.

When the Moras came to visit, they would take all of Juan Jr.‘s friends out to dinner. In Florida, they introduced Kaade to Cuban coffee and food, he said. “They were the kind of people that even if someone says ‘I’m not hungry,’ they would just continue to order food to make sure you had a full belly,” he said.

Kaade, who graduated with Mora from Loyala University Chicago in 2011, said he texted this month saying he was planning to return to Chicago in early August.

“I was super excited to get him to come back,” said Kaade. He described Juan Jr., an avid Chicago Cubs fan, as genuine and someone his friends could always rely on “to be real and straight” with them.

No matter what happens, a group of friends will travel down to Florida — hopefully to celebrate with Juan Jr. and his family when they are found — but sure to celebrate him either way, because that’s what he would have wanted, Kaade said.

“No matter the outcome, it will be a celebration of his life,” he said. “I keep saying your story is not over. … I have hope that it will be Juan continuing his own story, but no matter what, I’ll be there to be one of the many to help carry it on,” he said.


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