A Miami firefighter was present when the body of his seven-year-old daughter was recovered from the rubble of the Surfside condo catastrophe in Florida.
Officials said the body of Stella Cattarossi was found Tursday, seven days after the collapse of Champlain South Tower which has left 22 confirmed dead and 126 still missing.
Friends posting online said the girl was found sleeping alongside her mother Graciela, although authorities have not confirmed whether the mother’s body has been found.
Miami Fire Rescue Captain Ignatius Carroll confirmed Stella’s father – a ten-year veteran of the department – was present when the girl’s body was recovered.
‘When he was made aware that we were close to where his loved one may have been, then he stood side by side with some of his other fellow firefighters,’ he told WPLG.
‘We were able to bring her and then at least give him an opportunity to say his farewells.’
The father, who has not been named by officials, and draped his jacket over the child’s body and placed a small American flag on the gurney, a witness said.
Friends posting online said Stella Cattarossi’s body was found alongside her mother Graciela
Stella’s father – a ten-year veteran of the department – was present when the girl’s body was recovered
Stella shared a room with her photographer mother Graciela in apartment 501 of the tower
The child’s body was escorted through a group of police and other firefighters who lined up on the roadway beside the destroyed tower.
Stella lived with her family in apartment 501, and shared a room with her photographer mother Graciela, according to WPLG.
Her grandparents Graciela and Gino Cattarossi shared another room, and her aunt Andrea was also staying with them on a visit from Argentina.
Officials have not confirmed whether the adults from the family have been found.
A friend posted online: ‘RIP my beautiful friend Graciela Cattarossi and precious little Stella. I just learned that the two of you were recovered last night sleeping together. You were inseparable.’
A GoFundMe for the family explained that Graciela and Stella moved in with the girl’s grandparents Graciela and Gino soon after she was born.
Her aunt Andrea – who remains missing – has three sons in Argentina.
Photographer mother Graciela Cattarossi and daughter Stella had lived in the building since the girl was born
The seven-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter supporting recovery efforts at the Surfside condo collapse site was discovered in the rubble on Thursday
An aerial view of the site during a rescue operation of the Champlain Tower partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, pictured on Thursday
At an emotional briefing near the site Friday, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez confirmed the discovery of Stella’s body.
‘The City of Miami Fire Department has lost a seven-year-old daughter of one of our own firefighters,’ he said.
‘She was recovered last night by members of our search and rescue team in Florida Task Force Two.
‘Our chief is asking that all of you respect the privacy of the immediate family as well as our fire department, which is understandably grieving.’
The mayor put a personal note into the tragic discovery, adding: ‘I am the father of two children and I have a seven-year-old son and the thought of losing him in this way is unimaginable.
‘This tragedy has haunted so many of us because so many of us know someone who has been in the building or affected by this tragedy … now it is a member of our fire service, our family.’
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the girl was among two new victims found at the site on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 22, with 126 still unaccounted for.
‘Tragically one of those victims was the seven-year-old daughter of a City of Miami firefighter,’ she said on Friday.
‘It goes without saying that every night since this last Wednesday has been immensely difficult for everybody and particularly the families that have been impacted.
‘But last night was completely different. It was truly different, different and more difficult for our first responders.
‘These men and women are paying an enormous human toll every day. They truly represent the very best in all of us. We need to be there for them, as they are here for us.’
Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story condo tower Wednesday
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed the tragic discovery and also warned of possible dangers to the continuing rescue operation and remaining building by a tropical storm that has now become a category 1 hurricane.
‘It is emotionally draining. They were able to identify a child whose father worked for the City of Miami Fire Department and these are tough days,’ he said.
‘Tropical storm Elsa has now become Hurricane Elsa and I have ordered our Department of Emergency Management to start preparing a potential state of emergency.
‘We don’t know exactly the track it’s going to take. It is possible that we could see tropical force winds as early as Sunday night in southern Florida.
‘Our Department of Emergency Management is assuming that will happen and making the necessary preparation to be able to protect a lot of the equipment. You could potentially have an event out at the building as well.’
Miami’s WPLG Local 10 initially reported that the firefighter was actually among the rescuers who found his daughter.
Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky later confirmed the Miami firefighter was not part of the rescue crew who recovered the girl’s body, ‘but obviously was notified’ and called over when she was found.
The victim and her father were not identified. The first responder who spoke to the news outlet was also not named.
The tragic discovery came as rescue efforts resumed after Florida officials temporarily halted operations earlier on Thursday out of fear the remaining tower at the site could cause further collapse.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told NBC News Thursday officials are also considering carrying out a controlled demolition of the part of Champlain Towers South that is still standing ahead of a tropical storm heading to the area.
Burkett said the impending adverse weather was raising further concerns about the structural integrity of the remains of the 12-story tower.
‘If the [remaining] building is going to fall, we should make sure it falls the right way,’ he said.
Rescue efforts were halted and the area around the building was cleared just after 2am Thursday – almost exactly one week to the minute on from the collapse at 1.25am on June 24.
Photos taken less than 48 hours before the collapse in the pool equipment room located in the basement parking garage, show extensive concrete spalling and corroded rebar
The 2020 report details how at five sites, paving stones were lifted, concrete demolished and landscaping was removed in order to access what lie underneath
Officials said the site had become unstable and could topple on search and rescue teams, with technology used to monitor cracks sounding alarms about the dangers and on-site experts warning of movements in the structure.
Structural engineer Scott Nacheman, who is working at the site with FEMA, told the families desperately waiting for news about their loved ones that demolition was an option.
‘One of our concepts of operations is exactly what you’re talking about,’ Nacheman said, according to Miami New Times.
‘And the reason it hasn’t been possibly pursued further at this point is we didn’t want to cause any more damage or destruction to the individuals who are trapped in the low portion.
‘We’re now getting to a point in the operation where we’re exploring the next phase. One of those possibilities, a very highly likely possibility, is what you just discussed.’
However, demolishing the building could hamper the search further by adding more rubble for teams to wade through and posing a greater risk to anyone who may still be alive in the rubble, the engineer said.
Drilling took place up to a foot down in order to determine the structure of the concrete below. The work ‘yielded some curious results as it pertained to the structural slab’s depth’ – but the reason as to why the results were ‘curious’ was not explained, the report showed
The Champlain Towers South collapse started from the bottom of the central building, with that part of the tower falling from its base down.
Seconds later, the section behind the center collapsed, followed by the east section moments later.
The west section of the building is still standing and has been closely monitored during the search as rescue teams have combed through the rubble round the clock.
A bombshell report released just last fall emerged on Thursday revealing extensive concrete deterioration and corrosion of steel reinforcements had been found at the site of the condo.
The damage had grown so bad that repair work was put on hold over fears that even performing it could endanger the stability of surrounding buildings.
That ominous assessment was carried out in October 2020 by the firm Concrete Protection and Restoration and Morabito Consultants.
It was led by structural engineer Frank Morabito, who both found several issues including a potentially deep deterioration of concrete near the pool area, and who performed prior inspections on the same building as far back as 2018, which yielded similarly worrying results.
But the repair and restoration work ‘could not be performed’ because the pool ‘was to remain in service for the duration of the work’ and because bringing in necessary equipment required to conduct the excavation of concrete at the pool ‘could affect the stability of the remaining adjacent concrete constructions.’
Although the report may not specifically identify what caused last weeks collapse of the north Miami condo, the documents highlight the state of disrepair the building had been allowed to languish, and may have played some part.
At the very least, issues appear to have been downplayed, ignored or put off from being addressed and rectified.
The report from last October, which was seen by USA Today, was reported to the condo board and building owners in phases rather than comprehensively which may have had the unfortunate affect of obscuring just how serious the problem was.
Buildings in Miami-Dade County need to be recertified every 40 years. Morabito Consultants were hired by the Champlain Tower South Condominium Association to perform an inspection and conduct repairs which were to be completed by this year.
THE MIAMI CONDO COLLAPSE VICTIMS IDENTIFIED SO FAR
54-year-old Stacie Fang
STACIE DAWN FANG
Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, was with her son Jonah Handler, a teenager, when the building collapsed. They lived on the tenth floor. The boy’s small hand waved through the wreckage as a man out walking his dog hurried to the site, climbed through a pile of glass and rebar and promised to get help right away.
Rescuers helped the boy out from under a pile of cement and carried him away on a stretcher to a hospital.
‘There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,’ members of her family said in a statement. ‘Many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time.’
Asked about the boy’s condition, a family friend, Lisa Mozloom told the AP ‘He will be fine. He’s a miracle.’
Manuel LaFont, 54
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a proud father, a baseball fan and a business consultant who lived on the building’s eighth floor.
He had a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter with his ex-wife Adriana LaFont, the Miami Herald reported.
Adriana asked her friends on Facebook to pray the rosary for Manny before his body was found. ‘So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart,’ she wrote.
LaFont, a Houston native, coached his son’s baseball team, the Astros, at North Shore Park, just a mile away from the Champlain. He was a parishioner at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach. The parish’s school parents gathered Saturday afternoon to pray for LaFont and his neighbors who were still missing.
An alumnus of Sharpstown High School in Houston, LaFont had worked across Latin America and the Caribbean for a manufacturing firm, leading a division focusing on roadway safety that built crash cushions and moveable barriers, the Herald reported.
‘I got into this industry specifically because I don’t want to sell widgets. I want to help people. I want to do something good in this world,’ he said at an industry conference in 2016. ‘When I die, I want to say that my life meant something.’
ANTONIO AND GLADYS LOZANO
Antonio and Gladys Lozano
Antonio and Gladys Lozano lived on the ninth floor. The two had known each other over 60 years and would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on July 21.
Their sons told WPLG-TV that the couple had joked neither wanted to die before the other, because neither wanted to live without the other. Their one solace, the brothers said, was that they were together when they died.
Authorities confirmed on Saturday that Antonio, 83, and Gladys, 79, were among the dead.
Sergio Lozano said he had dinner with his parents hours before the collapse. He lived in one of the towers of the complex and could see his parents’ apartment across the way from his. That night, he said the heard a loud noise they thought could be a storm.
‘The building is not there,’ he said he told his wife. ‘My parents’ apartment is not there. It’s gone.’
ANA ORTIZ, HER HUSBAND FRANK AND HER SON LUIZ
Ana Ortiz, left, and her son Luis Bermudez and Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina (right)
Luis Bermudez, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, had battled with muscular dystrophy for years and used a wheelchair. The 26-year-old man lived with his mother Ana Ortiz on the seventh floor of the Champlain Towers South.
His father, also named Luis Bermudez, texted the AP saying ‘my son is a hero.’ He also wrote on Facebook that he could not believe he’s gone.
‘Now rest in peace and without any obstacles in heaven,’ he wrote. ‘I will see you soon my Luiyo.’
Ortiz, 46, had just gotten married with Frankie Kleiman. Alex Garcia, the couple’s close friend, told The Miami Herald he had set them up on a blind date. Kleiman lived with his wife and stepson on the same floor as his brother Jay Kleiman, who was in town for a funeral, and their mother Nancy Kress Levin. The Kleimans and their mother are still missing.
50-year-old Frank Kleiman, left, was found on Monday. He was Ana’s husband
Ortiz was described as a woman who was committed to giving her son the best possible life.
‘She´s a rock star. And gorgeous,” Garcia told the Herald. “And on top of that a super mom.
Kleiman, 50, was the husband of Ana Ortiz, whose body was found alongside that of her disabled son, Luiz, over the weekend.
LEON AND CHRISTINA OLIWKOWICZ
Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina were also identified as victims of the tower collapse on Sunday evening
The couple lived on the 8th floor of the condo tower for several years, according to Venezuelan journalist Shirley Varnagy, a close friend of their family.
They were among six Venezuelan natives caught in the building’s collapse. Still missing Monday were Moisés Rodán, 28; Andrés Levine, 27; Luis Sadovnik, 28, and his wife, Nicole Langesfeld, Varnagy said.
Varnagy said the Oliwkowicz’s daughter had been outside the building waiting for some information about their fate. Her husband answered their phone and asked to be left alone.
The couple’s daughter, Mrs. Leah Fouhal, works as a secretary at a Jewish school in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, where the couple donated a Torah in 2019 in a procession that included a vintage fire truck, music and a giant velvet and gold crown, according to COLlive.com, an Orthodox Jewish news outlet that covers Chabad-Lubavitch communities around the world.
Meanwhile, the parents of Rodán, Levine and Sadovnik live in Venezuela and traveled to the U.S. Friday. ‘Some did not have a visa, others had an expired passport, but with diplomatic collaboration they were able to arrive,’ Varnagy said.
MICHAEL DAVID ALTMAN
The body of 52-year-old Marcus Joseph Guara was recovered on Saturday
Hilda Noriega (pictured) was named by her family Wednesday as the 12th confirmed victim of the tragedy
Hilda Noriega, who lived in Apt. 602 in the 12-story tower, was the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega.
She had only recently celebrated her 92nd birthday.
Her body was discovered among the remains of the condo tower Tuesday.
Her family paid tribute to the ‘matriarch of the family’ in a statement Wednesday.
Noriega’s son had traveled to the collapse site Thursday to look for his mother, who had only recently celebrated her 92nd birthday.
Among the rubble, the police chief found a birthday card a relative had given to Noriega at a brunch, reported Local10.
Emma Guara, 4, Lucia Guara, 10, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and Marcus Guara, 52
THE GUARA FAMILY
Miami-Dade police identified 10-year-old Lucia Guara and 4-year-old Emma Guara as victims in the condo collapse on Wednesday, June 30.
The remains of their father, Marcus Guara, 52, were pulled from the rubble Saturday and identified Monday. The girls and their mother, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, were recovered Wednesday.
The family lived on the eighth floor of the condo.