Surfside condo collapse

As Remains of Surfside Victims Are Identified, Families Grieve and Demand Accountability

Pablo Rodriguez wants to push for reform and accountability after his mom and grandmother were found in the rubble

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The recovery crews are relentless. They work non-stop on the Champlain Towers site, tirelessly, knowing there are families counting on them to find their loved ones. 

“They were larger than life and still feel like a part of my heart’s missing,” said Pablo Rodriguez, who lost his mom and grandmother in the collapse. They were found on Friday. 

Firefighters told his family they didn’t think Elena Blasser, Rodriguez’s mom, and Elena Chavez, his grandmother, suffered. They say the end came quickly. 

“Honestly, the only hope that we had, that was the best news out of this horrible situation that we could have received after we found them,” Rodriguez said. 

Throughout the past 19 days, Rachel Siegel and her family never stopped praying for a miracle. It did not happen. Her mom, Judy Spiegel, was found and identified over the weekend. 

“I don’t know if it gives me comfort but I know she wasn’t in pain, at least not for a long time, it was very quick,” Spiegel said. “We wanted to be reunited with her, whatever that meant, so we started having fears, what if they can’t find her at all? Obviously, all of those scenarios went through our mind, so we were happy that she was recovered and they were able to find her.”

Rodriguez says at this point, the perspectives are changing.  

“My goal is to continue to push for investigations and continue to push for reform because I know that’s what my mom would’ve wanted,” Rodriguez said. 

Those most impacted by the tragedy want accountability, but it’s hard to tell where that will come from.

“It seems like there’s more and more uncertainty as to where it started and it looks at least to me from what I’ve been able to see, there’s a lot of negligence to go around here,” Rodriguez said. 

“While I hope that policies and procedures are put in place, I can’t even believe that this happened to begin with,” Spiegel said. 

Rodriguez has specifics in mind.

“So I’m hoping actual reform happens, more frequent inspections, more frequent recertifications, bring buildings up to code, the code changes for a reason,” he explained. “I think that would truly honor their memory because, at the end of the day, they’re gone, we’re not getting them back and if any good can come out of it that would honor their memory.”

It would compound the tragedy, Rodriguez says, if nothing changes and then another building collapse disaster happens. 

Spiegel said over the past 19 days, she has dialed her mom’s cellphone several times by habit. It just shows how hard it is to accept that the unfathomable actually happened. 

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