Surfside condo collapse

Tale of Rescue for Teenager, Mom After Falling Several Floors in Condo Collapse

16-year-old Deven Gonzalez and her mother, Andrea, fell several stories before being rescued on the fifth floor

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When 16-year-old rising volleyball star Deven Gonzalez was pulled from the rubble of her Surfside condo building, her initial reaction amid the shock was to tell firefighters that she had to compete in a major tournament in a few days.

The teen's entire world revolved around volleyball. She played beach volleyball, on her high school team and with a competitive travel club team. From her hospital bed where she's undergone multiple surgeries for a broken femur, she apologized profusely to her coach for missing their final practice.

“I said, ‘Let’s focus on you right now and not volleyball,'” said club coach Amy Morgan, who described the teen as extremely determined, passionate and unrelenting in pursuing her goals.

Gonzalez lived with her parents on the ninth floor of Champlain Towers South. She and her mother, Andrea Gonzalez, fell several stories before being rescued on the fifth floor, she told her coach. Her mother was among the survivors pulled from the rubble and is still hospitalized with serious injuries, Morgan told The Associated Press.

"Their neighbors were able to run out. They were able to save themselves." Bettina Obias has not heard news of her aunt and uncle missing after the building collapse in Surfside, Florida, but she is preparing for the worst. She spoke with neighbors felt the building shaking and evacuated before the collapse, and met with President Joe Biden to discuss grief and make a point about climate change.

At least two dozen were killed in the building's partial collapse on June 24. Deven's father, attorney Edgar Gonzalez, is among the more than 120 still missing. The family’s eldest daughter, Taylor, who was not in the building at the time of the collapse, has been a source of strength for her mom and sister, according to Morgan and Joslyn Varona, a family friend who has posted frequent updates on Facebook.

“This is a strong and wonderful family,” Varona said. “They have a lot of faith.”

Deven still hasn't been able to see her mother because they are in separate parts of the hospital, but she briefly video chatted with her a few days ago on her mother's birthday when Andrea Gonzalez's intubation tube was removed, Morgan said.

Deven Gonzalez was conscious when the building collapsed and throughout her traumatic rescue, her coach said. She remembers the details vividly and is having trouble sleeping, haunted by nightmares.

President Joe Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, travelled to Florida on Thursday to comfort families affected by the recent condo collapse.

“I don’t know if she’s completely come to terms with everything. She has and she hasn’t,” said Morgan, who added that Deven was unaware of the extent of the tragedy and the worldwide attention it's received.

“She says, ‘My dad’s still missing. My dad’s still missing,'” Morgan said. “She gets really choked up about it.”

The teen even took her first few steps recently.

“It’s going to be a nasty, hard, painful road, but I think she can do it,” Morgan said.

Andrea Gonzalez will undergo surgery for her extensive injuries this week, but has been responsive when asked questions, Varona said in her Facebook posts.

“There has not been any news on Edgar,” Varona wrote. “We are still praying and hoping for a miracle.”

Varona said she has set up a letter-writing campaign to encourage the family.

Edgar and Andrea Gonzalez were extremely involved with Deven's volleyball goals, the coach said. Her mom was like the team therapist, always listening and encouraging the girls.

Edgar is a kind, gentle and jolly father, Morgan said. After one tournament, he helped prepare a massive BBQ feast for the team. The family was about to leave for Orlando when the building collapsed. Edgar was so excited he'd been packed for two weeks.

Mike Stratton was on the phone with his wife, Cassondra “Cassie” Billedeau-Stratton, when the Surfside condo she was in collapsed. Friends and family say they are holding onto hope that the missing 40-year-old will be found under the rubble.

“They're so loving, so supportive,” Morgan said. “I see a lot of (Deven's) strength coming from her parents.”

The tragedy has been difficult on the close-knit volleyball team, which met for practice Thursday night and allowed parents to participate. Everyone sat in a circle and held hands as they prayed. Many cried.

“Deven is such a hardworking and loving person,” her teammate Liyah Deveaux said Sunday. “We can’t wait for her to get back on her feet. We love and miss her so much.”

A GoFundMe site has raised more than $100,000 for the family.

“We’re really trying to help and be supportive, but we feel absolutely helpless that we can’t make it better,” Morgan said. “Every single one of us would be in there digging through the rubble. If we could be there, we'd be doing it.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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