Argentine family among missing in Florida building collapse
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.
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.
ANA ORTIZ and LUIS BERMUDEZ
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 and CRISTINA OLIWKOWICZ
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.
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.
This story has been corrected to remove a reference in the text and summary to Ana Otero. Her name was Ana Ortiz.
Associated Press writers Gisela Salomon in Miami, Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela, and Luis Andres Henao in Princeton, N.J. contributed to this report.