Gov. DeSantis: Surfside condo deaths are ‘heartbreaking,’ but victims’ life stories are also ‘inspiring’

By: - June 29, 2021 2:56 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the press on June 29, 2021, in Surfside. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Update: The number of dead in the building collapse has risen to 12, with 125 residents accounted for and 149 not accounted for, Miami Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during an evening news conference.

Gov. Ron DeSantis met Tuesday with search and rescue workers and family members of residents in the fallen Champlain Towers South condominium building, including survivors of Hilda Noriega, 92, one of 11 dead who have been identified thus far.

Hilda’s son is Carlos Noriega, police chief in North Bay Village.

“It was, on the one hand, heartbreaking, because this is somebody that he had just dropped off back to her home just I think two days before the collapse,” DeSantis said of his meeting with the family during a news conference.

“But it was also inspiring, because I could see the difference that she made in his life, in his wife’s life, and in her grandkids’ life. I think that the life that she led for all these years — and, obviously, no one’s giving up hope — but you see those type of stories replicated throughout with these families,” he said.

“None of these tragedies are ever easy. It’s very difficult to see somebody who’s just asleep in their bed and then you get news that their building just collapsed, and then you’re waiting to see what is the resolution, can they be saved, can they be identified,” the governor continued.

“Man, I was inspired just talking with him. And you could tell, what he’s been able to do, what his kids have been able to do, very successful family, and it all traced back to that matriarch.”

The governor also vowed:

“The way I look at it as an old Navy guy, you know, when somebody’s missing in action in the military, you’re missing until you’re found. And we don’t stop the search.”

DeSantis’ daily schedule included other such meetings, including survivors of Margarita Vasquez Bello and Marcus Guara, plus conferences with local and federal officials and a visit to a “community feeding” before he was to fly back to Tallahassee to meet with aides.

The governor spoke on Day 6 of the collapse’s aftermath as search and rescue workers continued to probe the rubble for signs of life or bodies to recover. The White has announced that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will visit the site on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Miami Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she fully supports State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s plan to ask a grand jury to investigate what caused the collapse of the 12-story structure.

Rundle announced her plans to the Miami Herald.

“I have pledged my full cooperation as she moves forward,” Cava said during the news conference.

“I have worked closely with grand juries in the past; I’m very familiar with the process and I will do and my team will do everything possible to aid them in their efforts to continue that investigation.”

Cava has ordered inspections of buildings near their mandatory 40-year safety reviews and said inspectors ordered one building in Northeast Dade to close four balconies as unsafe.

She plans to convene a panel of experts — including engineers, geologists, and lawyers — to investigate “every possible angle on this issue, related to building safety,” she said, preparatory to possible updates of building regulations.

Cava said there are 210 team members working at the site in 12-hour shifts and undergoing periodic health monitoring, with workers in other states and for the federal government on standby.

Additionally, 440 employees of state agencies are rendering assistance, including support for family members, according to Kevin Guthrie, director of the state Division of Emergency Management.

The teams have already removed 3 million pounds of concrete, officials said.

An overnight debris fall in one area of the ruins forced officials to close off that area to rescue workers, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said. Thunderstorms have also complicated the work.

But Burkett stressed: “Nobody’s giving up hope here. Nobody’s stopping. The work goes on full force. We’re dedicated to get everyone out of that pile of rubble and reunite them with their families.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.