Waiting and watching for a miracle in Surfside, Florida: Reporter’s notebook

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — As rescue efforts continue in the search for survivors after the Surfside, Florida, residential building collapse that left five people dead and 156 still missing, families of the missing are telling me they are waiting for a miracle, but the situation is dark and dire.

Bettina Obias said her aunt, Maria Bonnefoy, and her uncle, Claudio Bonnefoy, are likely in the rubble.

At a family reunification center set up after the fatal collapse Thursday night, Obias said that when she checked the survivors’ list “my aunt and uncle weren’t there” and weren’t on the hospital list.

Obias said it was fate that brought her to Miami. She landed at 6 a.m. Thursday morning from D.C. mere hours after the collapse. She took the last-minute trip to visit her aunt and uncle just to spend time with them. She said she didn’t think they’d just … be gone.

But a text early that morning informed her that her aunt’s building had collapsed, she said.

“I screamed and cried,” Obias said.

She said her aunt and uncle have lived on the 10th floor of the Champlain Towers South for 16 years. They are an accomplished couple; her uncle a lawyer for the United Nations and her aunt, a budget officer for the International Monetary Fund. The family is originally from the Philippines and her aunt, Obias said, is like her second mom.

Obias said she knows in her heart they are both gone.

She said her uncle spent the last year avoiding COVID-19 in the same apartment involved in the collapse.

Obias said she also feels for the other families experiencing loss in this tragedy. She is emotional when we talk about the kids that may be trapped or may have perished.

“If the kids are gone they didn’t have a chance at life, my aunt and uncle did. My aunt is 69 and uncle, 81. They traveled the world, had careers. Younger people had no chance at life,” she said.

Asked about her thoughts for her aunt and uncle trapped under the rubble of the fallen building, Obias said their family doesn’t want them “hurt or be in pain, at the same time if they want to be alive and are fighting for their lives I hope God lets them live.”

And while she said she “hopes and prays” for a miracle, Obias’ message to families is: “Hug your loved ones like it’s their last day.”

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