miami – A judge said on Wednesday that victims and families suffered by the collapse of a 12-story seaside Florida condominium would initially receive at least $150 million in compensation.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Heinzmann said in a hearing that that amount includes about $50 million in insurance on the Champlain Towers South building and at least $100 million in proceeds from the sale of the surfside property where the structure once stood.
“The court’s concern has always been a victim here,” the judge said, adding that the group includes visitors and renters, not just condo owners. “Their rights will be protected.”
The $150 million does not count any proceeds from multiple lawsuits already filed since the June 24 fall, which killed at least 97 people. Those lawsuits are being consolidated into a single class action that would cover all victims and family members if they so choose, the judge said.
“I have no doubts, no stone will be left unturned,” Heinzmann said of the lawsuits.
So far 96 victims have been identified, many of them using DNA analysis. Relatives and friends of the three missing say they are awaiting information about their loved ones who are believed to have been in the building, meaning the total number could go up to 98. Officials have yet to announce the end of the recovery effort.
According to her family and police, 24-year-old Anastasia Gromova was identified on Wednesday. The young Canadian was accepted to an English-teaching program in Japan and was visiting a condo with friend Michelle Pazos for one last storm. Gromova’s body was recovered three days ago and she was one of the last identified.
Her grieving family fled to Canada after the collapse and waited for weeks in Miami.
“It just makes it real and difficult but on a different level. At least we can move on now.” Her sister Anna Gromova, told The Associated Press, described her sister as a bright star that fell sharply. “We will always remember him.”
Her parents said that she was bright, always on the move, constantly smiling and was not afraid to take on tough challenges.
“It’s hard because you knew the damage could have been prevented and yet nothing was prevented,” said her sister.
Meanwhile, according to a receiver handling finances on behalf of the condominium, the tragedy site has been completely cleared of rubble under the supervision of investigators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology – the agency is conducting a federal investigation into the collapse. group.
The receiver, Attorney Michael Goldberg, said the wreckage is believed to be stored in a Miami-area warehouse in a nearby vacant lot at the rest. All of them will be preserved as potential evidence for trial and review by other experts, he said.
“It could take years for their report to become public,” Goldberg said of the NIST investigation.
Excavating machinery continues digging through the ruins of a partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, on July 15, 2021. 92 victims have been identified as search and recovery efforts near completion
When the building collapsed, it was undergoing a 40-year recertification process. It came three years after an engineer warned of serious structural issues with immediate attention. Most of the concrete repairs and other work had not started yet.
Differences remain among condo owners about what to do with the site. Some people want the entire condo to be rebuilt so they can move back in. Others say it should be left as a memorial site to honor those who died. The third suggestion is to combine the two.
Owner Raisa Rodriguez, whose unit was on the ninth floor, said she couldn’t imagine going back to a building in a place where so many friends died.
“I personally would never set foot in a building. It’s a cemetery,” Rodriguez told the judge. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of everyone who died.”
Oren Citrinebaum, a lawyer who is informally representing some fellow condo owners, said it was important to think creatively about the sale of the building, adding requirements such as some sort of monument to future developers. may or may not.
“It shouldn’t be a traditional land sale,” Citrinebaum said. “We’re not on a path.”
However, Heinzmann said time is of the essence as victims and families need money to begin rebuilding their lives.
“It’s not a case where we have time to grow grass under it,” he said.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has offered a portion of land to build a Surfside Monument in his neighboring city.
“All options will be considered,” the judge said, adding that any memorials must be paid for with public dollars. “It has to be funded by the general public, not these particular victims.”
Associated Press writer Kelly Kennedy contributed to this report from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.