It was a somber start to Friday morning as it marks one year since the Champlain Towers South collapsed. Families and friends of the 98 victims gathered to remember them. The somber ceremony honored the lives tragically lost on that fateful day.
Family, friends, the heroes who helped in the aftermath and the entire community gathered at the site of the collapse one year later.
They embraced each other and remembered the souls lost as they were before the tragedy.
A year to the exact moment, the building came collapsing down, trapping dozens inside.
A torch was lit for all 98 lives lost as family members try to find a way to move forward.
“It’s been a rough year,” said Charle Webb whose friend died in the collapse. “It’s been a year of just coming to the understanding that she’s no longer here, but understanding that she lived a beautiful, full life.”
“That’s been hard to hear and know that I couldn’t do anything as her mother,” said the mother of victim Cassandra Stratton. “That’s been very very very difficult, but I can tell you, the city here, the people here, she loved it here and I found out why. Everyone here is so loving, caring and generous.”
Stratton’s mother remembered the spark she once was as she held a picture of her daughter.
She wore a black shirt with the roman numerals 98 on them.
The Israeli Defense Force returned to the site from across the globe, a year after helping find the loved ones missing in the rubble.
Cassandra’s friends found one of the Israeli rescue crew members that helped them find closure.
“My best friend died in this collapse,” said a friend of Cassandra. “To see the IDF again and the people that really helped try to save him and rescue him from the rubble, it was really, it just brought it all back, not in a sad way. It was sort of a beautiful moment. He’s a symbol of hope for us.”
“He was there to comfort us every day, so to see him come back a whole year later doing the same thing, that really meant a lot for us,” said another friend of Cassandra’s.
The families of the victims want to honor them all while still grieving the tragic loss.
It was 1:22 a.m. when part of the Champlain Towers South building collapsed, taking 98 lives.
911 calls revealed the terrifying moments when the condo caved in.
“This is nothing, I mean, it almost resembles the trade centers,” one man said.
“He’s reporting a collapse in a garage,” one dispatcher said.
The survivors described what they saw when they escaped.
“All of a sudden I hear, like a [expletive] jet right through my [expletive] balcony,” one man said.
“I was sleeping and I heard a lot of noise,” said Julio Brener. “Then, I heard a big, big bang, and the bed moved. The whole house moved.”
“We opened up the door from our apartment and there was a huge pile of rubble and dust and just havoc,” said Barry Cohen.
Search and rescue teams pulled people out from the debris that morning.
Jonah Handler, now 16 years old, was carried from the rubble after a civilian heard his cries for help.
“I saw an arm sticking out from the wreckage,” said Nicholas Balboa. ” He was screaming, ‘Can you see me?’ We got fire and police over there so I was able to signal a police officer using the flashlight of my phone.”
Emergency response crews from South Florida and around the world worked together to find and rescue survivors.
The rescue would later turn into a recovery effort to find the missing.
“I never thought in a million years I’d be digging in my backyard for victims in a building collapse,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue firefighter David Varona, “but it’s been an honor to serve the community of Surfside.”
Those who lost loved ones are still grieving and healing.