Surfside building collapse: Amid grief, a community seeks solace

Surfside building collapse: Amid grief, a community seeks solace


The makeshift memorial wall on Harding Avenue is where people come to see the faces of the missing. Family members and friends have posted photos of the 140 still missing and the 18 confirmed dead on a chain-link fence two blocks from where Champlain Towers South collapsed.

But the memorial has seen faces, too. Like Jimmy Blair, the 103-year-old resident who came to pray for a dear friend from the collapsed tower. Or Alex Calarino, who drove his motorcycle here from an hour away. “I just had to be here,” he said. Or the rescue workers and support staff still pulling at the rubble two blocks away. “I never thought I’d see anything like this,” says one.

Why We Wrote This

The Surfside building collapse has brought people from across Florida and beyond to help, to mourn, and to support those grieving and in need.

The grief is like a black hole, President Joe Biden said Thursday as he visited with families. But the wall has also borne witness to the deeply human instinct to fill that hole.

For one entrepreneur who was about to open accommodations as an alternative to hotels for travelers, that has meant taking in 15 of the families that lost their homes. “We felt that we had a moral obligation to act,” he says, “and not sit on the sidelines and watch.”

Surfside, Fla.

Felicia Roll is nearing tears as she approaches the makeshift memorial wall on Harding Avenue. The chain-link fence ahead is where family members and friends have posted photos of the missing, just two blocks from where Champlain Towers South collapsed last week.

She’s the caregiver for Jimmy Blair, a 103-year-old resident in another high-rise building near the ocean on Miami Beach, and as she pushes his wheelchair along the sumptuous array of flowers, together they look for the photo of one of Mr. Blair’s dearest family friends. He knew the woman from their days living in Brooklyn as members of a tightknit Orthodox Jewish community. 

Mr. Blair hadn’t left his apartment for months, but even though it’s a cloudy, rainy day, he felt compelled to come. When they find the woman’s photo, Ms. Roll kneels next to him, takes his hand, and raises her other arm and begins to pray and weep.

Why We Wrote This

The Surfside building collapse has brought people from across Florida and beyond to help, to mourn, and to support those grieving and in need.

“I was praying for those workers over there,” says Ms. Roll, who travels an hour each way to care for Mr. Blair. “Please, let them find at least one survivor.” 

Mr. Blair, wearing a yarmulke, beckons a stranger near him. “What to do? What to do?” he says, his voice rasped with age and grief. “Everyone comes into this world, comes up against the world, and then leaves it. But God is great, and he blesses us, forever and ever. Amen.”





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