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What's Next At The Site Of The Surfside Condo Collapse


Survivors of last month's condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., are trying to figure out what should become of the site now that the firefighters' search and recovery efforts have ended. Some want a memorial to the nearly 100 people who died there. Some want to rebuild and live there again. A judge in Miami-Dade County is considering options. From member station WLRN, Veronica Zaragovia has more.

VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: Amid the tension over who's at fault for the building collapse and what should happen with the property, there is one block in Surfside where nobody argues. That's where the memorial is, along a fence of the town's tennis court.


LEO SOTO: Just to finalize everything that's gone on here tonight, I want to thank again everybody for coming here tonight.

ZARAGOVIA: Leo Soto created the memorial full of photos and flowers and toys that belong to victims. He hosted a candlelight vigil there a week ago.


SOTO: I saw the community come together in love, even when you're experiencing unimaginable pain. That sort of lit a fire under me. It gave me energy. It took me from feeling sad, depressed, helpless, to feeling like there's a mission for me.

ZARAGOVIA: Soto says he'd welcome a chance to help plan a permanent memorial, wherever it will go. A judge in Miami-Dade County, Michael Hanzman, says a memorial may go on the property, but not for free. At a court hearing on Wednesday, he pointed out that victims and their families lost homes, personal things and, in some cases, the primary breadwinner in the collapse.


MICHAEL HANZMAN: All options are on the table, so long as those options compensate the victims by paying fair value for the real estate.

ZARAGOVIA: He appointed a receiver who is helping to distribute some funds like insurance proceeds. He's also figuring out how to value the condos. A developer might buy the land. Hanzman said government authorities from the federal level down to local may want to buy it and then build a memorial, if that's what everyone agreed on. But he said one thing's clear about the victims.


HANZMAN: Certainly, they're not going to be compelled by this court to donate their real estate to the public.

ZARAGOVIA: Yadira Santos told the judge she paid off her apartment and wants a place to live.

YADIRA SANTOS: I had no mortgage, and I had the sense of peace of mind, knowing that I had a safe home for my son, and I didn't have to worry about that. I'm in the health care field, and I have worked my whole life to get where I was.

ZARAGOVIA: Oren Cytrynbaum had a condo in the building. He's somewhere in the middle.

OREN CYTRYNBAUM: We have to speak to the developers directly that are interested in purchasing the property and see, is there a method that could maybe get some of the owners back property that want to stay in, pay out the people that don't want to stay in and get them paid out as soon as possible?

ZARAGOVIA: But he's open to living in a new building on the site.

RAYSA RODRIGUEZ: That is a gravesite.

ZARAGOVIA: Raysa Rodriguez said she would never live on that land again.

RODRIGUEZ: I saw with my two eyes the pancake.

ZARAGOVIA: That's when floors of a building fall straight down on top of each other.

RODRIGUEZ: I opened the stairwell door, and I heard a woman crying for help that I couldn't help in pitch darkness.

ZARAGOVIA: Lawyers representing victims could not confirm who will have the ultimate say and how soon that decision will be made. The judge said another hearing will take place within the next two weeks. For NPR News, I'm Veronica Zaragovia in Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care for the station. Verónica has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master's degree in journalism. For many years, Veronica lived out of a suitcase (or two) in New York City, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, D.C., San Antonio and Austin, where she worked as the statehouse and health care reporter with NPR member station KUT.

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