SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Authorities have identified four of the nine people confirmed to have died after the collapse of a 12-story beachfront condominium in Florida. About 150 others remained missing Sunday as rescuers painstakingly searched through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South.
The Associated Press has been reporting brief descriptions of the victims.
The Miami-Dade Police Department said the dead include Stacie Dawn Fang, Manuel LaFont and Antonio and Gladys Lozano. The missing include three members of the Mora family, and Linda March, a New York lawyer who came to Florida for the fresh air after surviving a COVID infection.
THE MORA FAMILY
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.
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 rented Penthouse 4, whose interior was exposed, with bunk beds and an office chair still intact, just inside the broken edge where the rest of the 12-story building crumbled into a pile of debris.
March had been using the second bedroom of the furnished apartment as her office, best friend Rochelle Laufer told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Another friend, Dawn Falco, said they had been talking on the phone until just two hours before the disaster, and 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.
STACIE DAWN FANG
Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, was with her son Jonah Handler, a teenager, when the building collapsed. They lived on the tenth floor. The boy’s small hand waved through the wreckage as a man out walking his dog hurried to the site, climbed through a pile of glass and rebar and promised to get help right away.
Rescuers helped the boy out from under a pile of cement and carried him away on a stretcher to a hospital.
“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” members of her family said in a statement. “Many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time.”
Asked about the boy’s condition, a family friend, Lisa Mozloom told the AP “He will be fine. He’s a miracle.”
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a proud father, a baseball fan and a business consultant who lived on the building’s eighth floor. He had a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter with his ex-wife Adriana LaFont, the Miami Herald reported.
Adriana asked her friends on Facebook to pray the rosary for Manny before his body was found. “So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart,” she wrote.
LaFont, a Houston native, coached his son’s baseball team, the Astros, at North Shore Park, just a mile away from the Champlain. He was a parishioner at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach. The parish’s school parents gathered Saturday afternoon to pray for LaFont and his neighbors who were still missing.
An alumnus of Sharpstown High School in Houston, LaFont had worked across Latin America and the Caribbean for a manufacturing firm, leading a division focusing on roadway safety that built crash cushions and moveable barriers, the Herald reported.
“I got into this industry specifically because I don’t want to sell widgets. I want to help people. I want to do something good in this world,” he said at an industry conference in 2016. “When I die, I want to say that my life meant something.”
ANTONIO AND GLADYS LOZANO
Antonio and Gladys Lozano lived on the ninth floor. The two had known each other over 60 years and would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on July 21.
Their sons told WPLG-TV that the couple had joked neither wanted to die before the other, because neither wanted to live without the other. Their one solace, the brothers said, was that they were together when they died.
Authorities confirmed on Saturday that Antonio, 83, and Gladys, 79, were among the dead.
Sergio Lozano said he had dinner with his parents hours before the collapse. He lived in one of the towers of the complex and could see his parents’ apartment across the way from his. That night, he said the heard a loud noise they thought could be a storm.
“The building is not there,” he said he told his wife. “My parents’ apartment is not there. It’s gone.”
Michael Tarm reported from Chicago.