One year later, Surfside survivors recall collapse and healing journey

·3 min read

It was one year ago, when the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed—killing 98 people and becoming one of the deadliest collapses in U.S. history.

From the pile of crumbled concrete and steel, only three people emerged alive—among them 16-year-old Deven Gonzales.

She told CBS News station WFOR-TV that she only has brief memories of what happened.

"I remember falling for a brief second. And then I just blacked out," Gonzales said.

The past months have been filled with physical and emotional pain as Gonzales works to rebuild her life along with her mother, Angela Gonzales, who was also rescued from the rubble that night.

"When I see videos of the collapse, it's shocking to me because my mind always goes to, 'How did we even survive that?'" Angela said.

Waking up to the building's rumbling, Angela grabbed Deven and believes to have run towards the unit's front door when the floor split in half, causing them to fall more than 60 feet onto the debris. Deven's father Edgar, who was also in the home at the time of the collapse, did not survive.

Deven thinks her father would have comforted her throughout her rehabilitation if he was here today.

Step by step, Deven Gonzales grows closer to returning to play volleyball. / Credit: WFOR
Step by step, Deven Gonzales grows closer to returning to play volleyball. / Credit: WFOR

"I'm pretty sure he'd give me words of encouragement, but I don't know. I don't know," she tearfully said.

Deven's injuries included a compound leg fracture—which has stopped her from playing volleyball, a sport she loves.

But step by step, Deven grows closer to her return to the court, a place she considers her second home.

"From a traumatic perspective, it's like I didn't lose everything," she said.

It's a bright spot in what has otherwise been a painful year for victims' families.

There are a series of public events scheduled to mark the one year of the collapse. First Lady Jill Biden is expected to attend a ceremony in Surfside on Friday.

Andrea Langesfeld, center, and her husband Pablo, right rear, parents of Nicole
Andrea Langesfeld, center, and her husband Pablo, right rear, parents of Nicole

Loved ones of Surfside victims held a private vigil in the early morning to mark the moment the building came down.

They are still waiting to find out exactly what caused the collapse. A final conclusion on the cause is likely years away.

After initially failing to pass a condo safety law, Florida lawmakers did so during a special session last month.  The law requires condo associations to set aside money for repairs and certain condo buildings to be inspected and recertified at 30 years old or 25 years if they are within three miles of the coast.

State Senator Jason Pizzo, who represents the area, pushed for the law but says the state must now devote resources and funding to make it work.

"A lot of my colleagues are not gonna get any votes out of this. There really is no intrinsic value to other than being the right thing to do for life safety," Pizzo said.

The site where the Champlain Towers South collapsed killing 98 people is shown on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. / Credit: Wilfredo Lee / AP
The site where the Champlain Towers South collapsed killing 98 people is shown on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Surfside, Fla. / Credit: Wilfredo Lee / AP

A judge gave final approval Thursday to a settlement topping $1 billion for victims of the collapse.

There are still disagreements about where a permanent memorial would go and what should be built on the property.

A billionaire developer from Dubai is set to purchase the site for $120 million.

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