Nicole Mejias said five of her family members were in the Champlain Towers South building when it collapsed.
Mejias told CNN that Stella Cattarossi, 7, was found deceased in the rubble along with her mother, Graciela Cattarossi. Stella’s father is a City of Miami firefighter.
Three more family members are still missing: Stella’s grandparents Gino and Graciela Cattarossi, and Stella’s aunt, Andrea Cattarossi. Mejias said that Andrea was visiting the family from Argentina, where she has three sons. Stella and her mother had been living with Gino and Graciela Cattarossi for about seven years, according to Mejias.
Mejias is the niece of Andrea and the younger Graciela, Stella’s mother.
“We just miss them so much already, we wish this tragedy didn’t happen, and will always remember them,” Mejias said.
The developer behind a high-rise recently erected next door to the Champlain Towers South building had offered the Surfside tower’s condominium board $400,000 amid complaints over the construction.
Under the agreement sent by the group behind the luxury building known as Eighty Seven Park, residents of Champlain Towers South would have had to release the developer from liability and the condominium board would have had to publicly support the development in letters sent to the town of Surfside and Miami Beach, where Eighty Seven Park was being built, in exchange for the payment, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The agreement was presented in 2019, according to the Washington Post, who first reported on it.
It was never signed by the Champlain Towers South condominium board, Max Marcucci, a spokesperson for the board, told CNN.
In the days since the collapse, the construction on the neighboring building has generated scrutiny as experts work to determine the cause of the tragedy. Champlain residents have said that the construction would regularly cause their units to shake, and in a series of emails released by the town of Surfside, residents complained of debris from the project littering their building.
On Friday, Robert McKee, an attorney for one of the Champlain Towers South residents suing the condominium board, suggested in a court hearing that the civil plaintiffs should investigate the neighboring building, calling the developer “a potential significant possible defendant.”
CNN has reached out to the developer behind Eighty Seven Park for comment on the proposed agreement.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that there is no exact timeframe for the demolition of the building that is still standing to start in a press conference on Saturday.
“Engineers are on-site and they’re still conducting their due diligence, so we don’t have an exact time frame at this time,” the mayor said.
Levine Cava said that CDI Control Demolition, Inc. would be the company in charge of the demolition and that they have done other large demolitions.
Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said that they were finalizing the demolition plan.
“We’ll have them go through the site to determine exactly the process that they want,” Cominsky said. “It will be a several-hour process in regards to setting up for what needs to occur and then we’ll be able to regain the search and rescue efforts.”
Cominsky also said that areas that have already been searched will be covered before the demolition so rescue teams can know what was searched and what other new debris that would possibly fall in that direction could be removed.
“This is the difficult challenges and obstacles that we face and decision that myself, that mayor have to make in regards to overall how we deploy, how we look at things….it’s been difficult and challenging,” Cominsky said.
More details: Levine Cava said that she’s personally spoken to some surviving family members about the impending demolition, and says the people she has spoken to are understanding of the need to demolish the building ahead of potential severe weather.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said that the collapsed Champlain Towers South could be taken down “I think as early as tomorrow.”
“The fear was that the hurricane may take down the building for us, and take it down in the wrong direction, on top of the pile where we have victims” Burkett said, referring to the potential threat from now-Tropical Storm Elsa, which could threaten Florida early next week.
Demolition of the building “will allow our rescue workers to pour all over the entire site without fear of any danger from falling debris or falling buildings,” he said.
Burkett lauded Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava for “decisive leadership” with the demolition plans.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said officials are finalizing the plan.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Saturday that two more victims were pulled from the Surfside rubble Friday night.
“The number of confirmed victims now stands at 24,” Levine Cava said.
There are 188 people accounted for and 124 unaccounted for, according to the mayor.
“The numbers are fluid and will continue to change,” she said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will pay the full cost to demolish the Surfside condo that collapsed.
As Tropical Storm Elsa could impact Florida next week, DeSantis said he supports the building’s demolition, calling it “the prudent thing to do.”
“If the building is taken down, this will protect our search and rescue teams because we don’t know when it could fall over, and of course, with these gusts, potentially, that would create a really severe hazard,” DeSantis said.
“Our mission is to expedite it as soon as possible,” DeSantis added, as officials monitor the possible storm.
DeSantis said that Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie told him that demolition could be done within 36 hours, so it will entail “minimal work stoppage” for search and rescue teams.
The governor did not give a specific date of when he thinks demolition could take place.
After DeSantis spoke during the press conference, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the contract had been signed for demolition to begin.
A memo from a source close to the Champlain Tower East building sought to reassure residents concerned about the stability of their building following the collapse of the south tower on June 24.
The memo says a construction company has “added shoring to the post that had concrete spalling” in the building’s garage that day, noting the post “showed [spalling] after CTS [Champlain Towers South] collapsed.”
For reference, Champlain Tower East (built in 1994) is located between the partially collapsed Champlain Tower South (built in 1981)and its sister building, Champlain Tower North (built in 1982).
Concrete spalling is the breakdown or flaking of a concrete surface, which can expose what’s underneath. It often happens when steel reinforcements underneath the concrete begin to rust.
The memo said although seven different engineers have ensured the board that the building “is safe and in good shape,” the post should be repaired “immediately to relieve and doubts anyone might have.” The repair needs to be approved by the city, the memo says, but the board has requested the approval process be expedited.
In addition to the shoring of that particular pillar in the garage, the memo explained that a structural firm has added 13 sensors to monitor for any movement in the building.
“They use precise laser readings to determine the precise location of each post and then monitor that target to determine if there is any movement. We have been told that this activity is more that we need to do, but again in an abundance of caution we will implement this monitoring program,” the memo reads.
More details: The memo said engineers will return in two weeks to see if there has been any movement of the building.
The memo says the board “will continue to do what is necessary to keep our people and building safe. It is our highest priority. Much has been said about the forty-year certification program. Many buildings wait until 40 years to do maintenance to their building. This is not our approach. We will continue to do any maintenance as we experience it.”
Based on a late recertification report submitted to the City of North Miami Beach on Friday, the city determined a Crestview Towers Condominium building is unsafe and has ordered the immediate evacuation and closure of the building, Arthur H. Sorey, city manager, announced yesterday.
The city ordered the immediate closure for unsafe structural and electrical conditions following the tragic collapse of Champlain Towers in Surfside last week, which launched a review by North Miami Beach of all high-rise condo buildings above five stories.
Crestview Towers submitted a recertification report dated Jan. 11, 2021, in which an engineer attained by the condo association concluded that the 156 unit building was structurally and electrically unsafe.
Crestview Towers was built in 1972, according to Sorey. According to Sorey, the building should have been in its 40-year recertification process, but they hadn’t been in compliance.
“And that’s what pushed us to push the issue of their compliance and then that’s when they submitted their report,” the city manager said, adding a 30-day notice of closure was posted by the city yesterday and the condo’s report was submitted to the city around 2 p.m. Friday.
According to the city manager, the report mentions concrete and electrical problems.
As families mourn and worry for their loved ones, some Surfside residents and officials are criticizing the management of the building, saying more should have been done to prevent the structure from crashing down in the middle of the night last week.
Officials say they still haven’t found what triggered the collapse.
From an early construction halt to assurances that the building was fine, here is what we know so far about the damage and repairs the condo underwent:
- Early halts to construction: Before Champlain Towers South and its sister building opened, there was controversy around its construction, which violated local regulations, documents show. The Surfside acting town manager at the time, George Curti, told the building complex’s contractor in a Dec. 2, 1980, letter that “you are instructed to immediately cease any further construction on any penthouses” at either of the Champlain Towers buildings. The town attorney had determined that the penthouses were “a violation of the Code of the Town of Surfside,” Curti wrote. The following week, the town council passed an ordinance granting the buildings an exception, allowing the penthouse construction to go forward, Curti wrote in a follow-up letter on Dec. 11. The decades-old controversy was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Monday. The issue was over the buildings’ height: The penthouses had not been in the original plans and they brought both buildings above the town’s 12-story height limit, the Journal reported.
- The 2018 report: Maryland-based Morabito Consultants performed a structural analysis of the building as part of Champlain Towers South’s 40-year recertification effort — a stringent process for updates and improvements enacted after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Morabito Consultants’ structural field survey had noted “abundant cracking and spalling” in concrete columns and walls, “exposed, deteriorating rebar” and failing waterproofing beneath the pool deck and entrance drive that was causing “major structural damage.”
- 2020 letter highlights extensive damage and attempted repairs: A nine-page October letter from Morabito Consultants to association board president Jean Wodnicki provided the scope of some of the damage in the pool area and the work being done to address it. Loose concrete around the perimeter of the pool pump room that showed signs of cracking, spalling and deterioration — presenting a “fall hazard” — had been removed, the summary said. Morabito Consultants noted it could not perform all of the repair work in the pool area because of concerns about stability. The firm also needed access to the inside of the pool but had been told it needed to remain open during the work, the letter delivered last year said. There is currently no indication that the concrete deterioration was a contributing factor to the collapse, but it does highlight major repair work needed at the Champlain Towers South condominium complex.
- “The concrete deterioration is accelerating”: After inspecting the building in 2018, Morabito wrote in his report that “failed waterproofing” below the pool deck was “causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas” and warned that failure to replace it in the near future would cause “concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.” A 2021 letter to the building residents from the condominium association’s president confirmed that the exponential deterioration had indeed taken place in the interim years. “The concrete deterioration is accelerating,” wrote Jean Wodnicki, the association president. “The observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial  inspection.”
- An estimated $15 million in repairs needed: The condo association debated an estimated $9 million in repairs to the building in 2018, and disputes over the lackluster response in tackling the repairs led to five of the seven board members resigning that year, the Washington Post reported, citing board meeting minutes and association president Anette Goldstein’s resignation letter. The estimated cost for repairs had grown to about $15 million by the time the work was approved by the board in 2021, according to an assessment letter obtained by CNN. Those costs were to be paid by the residents.
Read more about the building’s damage and repairs here.