SURFSIDE, Fla. — Kostas Giannitsopoulos, a 55-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas knows his son Andreas, a student at Vanderbilt University, is in the Miami condominium high rise that collapsed, among more than 150 missing.
He just doesn't know if he's alive in the rubble, or gone. He told The Wall Street Journal that's he's holding out that his son, an athlete, and a family friend, wit whom he was staying there, survived. But he's girding for the worst news.
“I’m waiting on my two best friends—one of them is my 21-year-old son,” he said. “I’m crushed.”
His son was supposed to fly home the same day the building pancaked to the ground, sending rescue crews scrambling to try to find anyone alive inside the massive mix of concrete and steel and glass and debris.
“It’s like a roller coaster,” said Giannitsopoulos of the emotions roiling inside him, three days after the tragedy and reports that there was major structural damage under a swimming pool at the complex that was never fixed. Τhe family, originally hailed from the northern Greek region of Xanthi.
Andreas specialized in the decathlon and in his personal statement for his NCAA recruiting profile wrote that: “With my collegiate opportunities, I plan to first better and enrich myself in my education to better prepare for the onset of my life and what occupation I will pursue after my college years are over in the field of medicine, business, or engineering, and, second, plan to give my coaches and myself the benefit of competing at the next level as well as betterment for myself in rigorous training”.
Dozens of anguished families are awaiting word on the fate of loved ones. The wait has been agonizing.
The atmosphere inside a hotel ballroom where around 200 family members were being briefed by authorities was tense, two people present told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.
The two said families frustrated with the slow pace of recovery efforts had demanded they be allowed to go to the scene and attempt a collective shout – an attempt as much to find survivors as a cathartic farewell to those who had died.
The confirmed death toll rose to five June 26 as rescuers battled fire and smoke deep inside the heap in a race against time. With a sulfur-like stench hanging in the air, they used everything from trained dogs and sonar equipment to buckets and drones.
“Our top priority continues to be search-and-rescue and saving any lives that we can,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.
He said the identification of three bodies had dropped the number of people unaccounted for down to 156, and crews also discovered other unspecified human remains.
The remains are being sent to the medical examiner, and authorities are gathering DNA samples from family members to aid in identification.
A video posted online showed an official briefing families. When he said they had found remains among the rubble, people began sobbing.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said a city official had led a cursory review of the nearby Champlain Towers North and Champlain Towers East buildings but “didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.”
The news came after word of a 2018 engineering report that showed the building, which was built in 1981, had “major structural damage” to a concrete slab below its pool deck that needed extensive repairs, part of a series of documents that were released by the city of Surfside.
Further documentation showed the estimated cost of the repairs would total over $9 million. That included more than $3.8 million for garage, entrance and pool remediation and nearly $3.2 million for fixes to the exterior façade.
While officials said no cause for the collapse has been determined, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said a “definitive answer” was needed in a timely manner.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)