It’s been nearly 48 hours since the sudden overnight collapse of a Surfside, Florida, condo building with hundreds of people inside, and Sergio Lozano has lost hope.
His mind is on the final meal his 80-year-old Cuban mother cooked for him: rice, beans, and pork with a sweet, homemade natilla for dessert. He’s trying to hold on to the memory of the scotch he shared with his 82-year-old father, Chivas Regal on the rocks, like always.
He’s fighting to push back the darkest thoughts—that he’d rather they died instantly in their sleep, crushed in the cascade of crumbling concrete, rather than bleeding out slowly trapped in the rubble.
The couple resided in Champlain Towers South, the 40-year-old, 12-story waterfront condo whose partial collapse transformed a residential neighborhood just north of Miami Beach into a disaster zone this week. The entire eastern half of the L-shaped building severed at 1:25 a.m. on Thursday, trapping dozens inside. Four people were pronounced dead. As of Friday evening, rescuers had saved 37 but another 159 people remained missing—including Tony and Gladys Lozano.
“There is no hope for my parents,” Sergio said.
As the evening progressed, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue teams continued to search through the huge mound of dismembered building materials, using dogs and special microphones to search for signs of survivors. The pulverized dust still hung in the air, forcing most people nearby to wear the cloth masks they’d gathered for the pandemic.
Sergio Lozano told The Daily Beast he’s “only slept three hours and 22 minutes since the event,” when he was shaken awake by the violence of the crash. After dinner with his parents on Thursday, he retired to his apartment at Champlain Towers East, a block away. He and his wife awoke to what sounded like a tornado passing between the buildings. Worried about the wind, Sergio rushed to his 11th-floor balcony to bring in the patio furniture. But when he opened the glass door, his voice began to tremble.
“Lola, the building isn’t there,” he recalled telling her.
“What do you mean?” she’d replied.
“My parent’s apartment isn’t there. My god,” he said, already sure they were dead.
As he recounted that moment during an interview, Sergio broke down sobbing.
“If your dad and mom die in a car, you get to go clean out their house and go through the memories… you’re supposed to grab his nicest suit and your mother’s nicest dress and take it to a funeral home,” he said. “I don’t have that. There’s nothing to go to.”
“Have you ever bought clothes for a dead person?” he cried.
The Lozano couple met in Cuba when they were kids, where they would ride their bicycles through the streets of Havana. Tony Lozano fled to South Florida shortly after Fidel Castro’s communist takeover of the island, and despite having the meager means of an immigrant in 1962, he paid for Gladys to join him. He rose through the ranks from teller to vice president at what was then known as Sun Bank, while she worked in a photography darkroom developing prints. Tony Lozano made a second career as an accountant at his son’s customs broker business, and continued to work until now. They purchased their apartment at the condo in 1994 and have been there ever since.
Sergio Lozano and another resident, who asked not to be identified publicly, told The Daily Beast they had long noticed problems with the structural integrity of the building. According to them, steel reinforcing bars were protruding from the walls, cracks were forming on supporting beams, chunks of concrete were falling from one balcony to another, and the condo’s pool was starting to leak into the parking garage below—evidenced by the white stains on cars left by dripping water that had mixed with concrete powder.
Residents confirmed to The Daily Beast what several others had already told The Miami Herald and the local CBS4 station: that the building was due later this year for its mandatory 40-year inspection and was showing multiple signs of deterioration.
However, one person told The Daily Beast that years of attempts to have the building’s condo board take on expensive repairs was met with stiff resistance from unit owners who were reluctant to spend the funds.
It’s still unclear what caused the sudden splintering of the structure, and it could be months before any determination is made. But at least one witness account that the condo’s pool had disappeared into a sinkhole is generating theories that the building was pulled down into disintegrating limestone, a natural occurrence that has long plagued Florida.