Many missing in Latin America after collapse of residential building

By Hanan Redwan Published on June 25, 2021
Many missing in Latin America after collapse of residential building

At least 24 people from Latin American countries—including Colombia, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and Argentina—are among those reported missing by friends and family following the partial collapse of a residential building in Surfside on Thursday night, highlighting the international reach of the tragedy in a region that serves as a link between the United States and Latin America.

Sophia López Moreira Bó, the younger sister of First Lady of Paraguay Silvana López Moreira Bó, along with her husband Luis Pettengill and their three young children, were among the missing. Lady Villalba, a domestic worker, accompanied them. The family-owned units 703 and 1010 at the Champlain Towers, according to public records reviewed by the Miami Herald.

“You feel like you are nothing. You want to do so much, but you can’t do it; you have no strength,” said Ruby Cartes, an aunt of Pettingill’s. “I’m staying here until I learn something,” Cartes said. Their relatives are coming on a private plane to Miami as they await news.

Paraguay’s foreign affairs minister, Euclieds Acevedo and Federico Campos Lopez Moreira, a lawyer and uncle of the first lady and her sister, confirmed to Paraguayan media that López Moreira Bó and her family were unaccounted for. But the Paraguayan consulate in Miami said they are waiting for more details from the authorities, including a list of missing persons. They were still in the process of searching hospitals, added Emilio Mateu, a consular officer.

The family was in Miami to receive vacation against coronavirus, according to Paraguayan radio station La Unión. That was also the case for the family of Doral resident Sergio Barth, who awaited news at the family reunification centre.

Barth said his brother, Luis Fernando Barth, was visiting South Florida from Colombia with his wife and 14-year-old daughter. They stayed in the Champlain Towers apartment of a close friend for about a month before the collapse.

“Early this morning, I heard on Colombian radio that a building had collapsed in Surfside, and I knew the area,” said Barth. “And I started putting the dots together.”

Barth said the family had received their two vaccine doses and were set to leave the Surfside apartment Thursday afternoon.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, no useful information right now,” said Barth.

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged that many of the missings came from outside the United States and said his office was available at the scene to assist the relatives of the missing.

“Our office is on-site at the family reunification centre to help assist with obtaining humanitarian visas for their loved ones who need to travel to the U.S.,” he said on Twitter.

According to Argentina's foreign ministry sources, at least 9 Argentinians were also missing following the building’s collapse. Rodrigo Salem, a 50-year-old Dania Beach resident, had not heard from his friends and their young daughter, who visited from Argentina and stayed at his Champlain Towers condo. Salem identified them as 55-year-old Andres Galfrascoli, 45-year-old Fabián Nuñez, and 6-year-old Sophia Nuñez.

They settled into Unit 308 on Wednesday night. Salem never heard from them again.

A friend called him early Thursday morning to alert him to the collapse, and he provided their names to the police. So far, he has not heard any word about them.

“We will wait and pray that they come back,” he said, later adding: “Hopefully, they are alive.”

In Puerto Rico and across the island’s diaspora, people held their breath as they waited to hear from loved ones.

Carlos Pou, a 54-year-old man from Puerto Rico who resides in Boca Ratón, said he knew of at least 6 Puerto Ricans living or visiting the building at the time of the collapse.

He identified them as brothers Jay and Frankie Kleinman, their mother Nancy Kress Levin, Annie Ortiz and her son Luis, and Deborah Berezdivin.

Frankie Kleinman and his mother lived on the same floor, and his brother Jay visited town this week for a funeral, said, Pou. Jay had been staying with their mother, Nancy.

Pou said he had hosted a Father’s Day get-together of about 30 people for Father’s Day. Kleinman and his wife, Annie, had been there, and they had been talking about a new business they had set up.

“They were having a good time,” Pou said.

He said he had called the Kleinman's several times on Thursday after finding out about the collapse but that the calls led to voicemail.

“They are young people with kids. Frankie’s daughter is pregnant,” said the friend of the family.

Hanan Redwan

Hanan Redwan

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