Surfside condo collapse

Building Demolition a Triggering Event for Survivors and Pet Owners

One attorney is hoping this event leads to stronger guidelines for officials and civilians on what to do when pets are left behind in a disaster.

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The sound, the rumble, the dust cloud. The demolition of the other building at Champlain Towers is a triggering event for the survivors. 

“It’s all over again, it’s reliving what happened on the 24th,” said Erick De Moura, who famously escaped death when his girlfriend persuaded him to stay at her house on the night of the collapse. “So many of the people, the survivors, if you talk to them, they gonna tell you a story out of a movie, these people had hopes they were going to be able to collect their belongings.”

And those who had hopes of retrieving their cats, dogs, and other pets are traumatized. 

“Sheer trauma, exhaustion, heartbreak, they don’t have the mental, physical or emotional energy to deal with any more trauma,” said Paula Phillips, an attorney who took up the cause of the pet owners, pro bono. 

On Sunday, Phillips filed a motion to stop the impending demolition, arguing that pet owners who were willing to assume the risk should be allowed to go inside and find their pets. The judge rejected it in part because of assurances that every measure had been taken to search for missing animals. 

“The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue team conducted multiple full sweeps of the building, in person, including searching in closets and under beds and other hiding places,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine-Cava today at a news conference, reiterating what she’s been saying for days. 

“They had tried on their own to get back in the building, were told no, we didn’t want to get their hopes up but if it had succeeded it would’ve been a wonderful thing,” Phillips said. “When it fails, it rubs salt in an already very raw wound.”

The plaintiff in Phillips’ motion was an animal rescue activist who lives in Broward. We did speak to a woman on the phone today who left her cat behind as she fled the building. She said since the building has been demolished, she’s too upset to talk about it. 

Phillips is hoping this event leads to stronger guidelines for officials and civilians on what to do when pets are left behind in a disaster.

Since the original building collapse, De Moura has lost all of his possessions, met with President Biden, and reassessed what’s important in life. 

“I am grateful to be alive, I’m in pain because of the lives that were lost, some of my friends, some of my neighbors, but I’m also angry at this point because who’s responsible for that?” De Moura said. 

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