Entire Families Were Lost in the Surfside Collapse. Here Is One of Their Stories.

Because the disaster happened in the middle of the night, many parents, children, grandparents and siblings were killed together.


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MIAMI — Just after dawn on that morning that now feels like forever ago, Annette Guara Hurst hurried to her computer. A high-rise condo building had collapsed in a Surfside, Fla., neighborhood familiar to her, and she needed to see the file where she keeps her family’s addresses. She scanned the list, looking for her youngest brother, praying that her gut was wrong.

But there it was: 8777 Collins Avenue, the same location of the oceanfront building that had buckled and fallen in the middle of night.

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” were the only words Ms. Hurst could muster.

Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, the youngest of the three siblings, lived on the eighth floor, in Unit 802. So did her sister-in-law, Anaely Rodriguez, 42. And her 11-year-old and 4-year-old nieces, Lucia and Emma. In that moment, Ms. Hurst had the devastating realization that her brother — and his family — might be gone.


Anaely Rodriguez, Marcus Guara and their daughters, Lucia, 11, and Emma, 4.Credit…via Peter Milian

On Tuesday, the family — found beneath the heap of rubble just days after the Champlain Towers South partially collapsed on June 24 — was buried together, the girls sharing a coffin adorned with a pink ribbon and a purple ribbon.

By Thursday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 64, with 40 victims identified. Seventy-six people were still classified as potentially missing.

The time of the disaster — when much of America was asleep — left a particularly cruel legacy: the entire loss of family units. Gone in an instant were parents and their young or adult children, sets of siblings, married couples, grandparents and their grandchildren — leaving their survivors grief-stricken and their family trees with gaping holes.

“The Surfside community will never be the same again,” said the Rev. Juan Sosa, who officiated the funeral for the Guara and Rodriguez family. Eight other families from his parish, St. Joseph Catholic Church, were among those killed in the structural collapse, among the deadliest in American history.


Members of St. Joseph Catholic Church prayed near the site of the collapse on Wednesday. Nine families who attended the parish lost loved ones in the tragedy.Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Those families, plus many others, represent several dozen lives and at least three generations.

There was the Cattarrosi family in Unit 501, which included Graciela, a photographer, her daughter Stella, 7, her parents, Graciela and Gino, and her sister, Andrea, who was visiting from their home country of Argentina.

There was the Velasquez family in Unit 304, which included Angela, 60, who owned a men’s boutique, and her husband, Julio, 67. Their daughter, Theresa, was visiting from Los Angeles.

On the same floor, down the hall in Unit 311, were the Patels: Vishal, 42, his 38-year-old wife, Bhavna, their 1-year-old daughter, Aishani. Relatives have said Ms. Patel was four months pregnant.

And on the seventh floor, in Units 702 and 712, the Kleimans, who had lived in the building for many years. Four members of the family, Nancy Kress Levin, her two sons, Frank and Jay Kleiman, and Frank’s wife, Ana Ortiz, were memorialized on Thursday at a Hollywood, Fla., synagogue.

In the early hours after the collapse, a stream of relatives, shellshocked, bewildered and confused — buildings do not just crumble, they said to one another, so how could this have happened — gathered near the ruins, where half the building was still standing.


Vishal Patel, Bhavna Patel and their 1-year-old daughter, Aishani.Credit…Patel family

At home, Ms. Hurst and her son, Tommy, who also was her niece Lucia’s godfather, studied the images of the building that were flashing across the television, searching for remnants of the eighth-floor apartment that had a partial view of the ocean. It was gone. She hoped for a miracle.

“I still had a sliver of hope,” she said, “that somehow my brother and Ana and the girls had been spared.”

Like many others who awoke to news of the collapse, Ms. Hurst and her family — her husband, Tom, her son, plus her other brother, Manuel, and his wife, Lola — eventually made their way to the reunification center, which was serving as a lifeline for relatives looking for information. She remembers the anxiety washing over her.

“There was a kind of desperation that you can’t even describe,” she said. “We waited and waited and waited. But there just wasn’t any information at that point. We finally went to wait at home.

“I was just focused on making sure I had hope from the beginning to whenever would be the end.”

There would be more visits to the reunification center, and more somber briefings in which Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, revealed the daily totals of the dead and the widening scale of the tragedy.

Hours gave way to days.

Eventually, the families were escorted to what remained of the high-rise building, which had once soared 13 stories. Ms. Hurst watched as a search dog stopped in one area and began barking. She wanted to believe in that moment that the dog had found her little brother and his family, that they were under the rubble but alive. She did not know at the time that his body had already been recovered.


Rescue personnel searching the rubble this week.Credit…Eva Marie Uzcategui/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In some ways, Ms. Hurst had been a motherlike figure to Mr. Guara, who was 12 years younger. She and her brother Manuel were born in Cuba before coming to Miami, where their father was a professional jai alai player. In a rare moment of levity, she described Mr. Guara as “the annoying little brother.”

Mr. Guara’s childhood, she said, was filled with outdoor sports and competitive dirt biking. Once, Ms. Hurst ran into her brother while she was on a boat in one of Miami’s waterways. There he was, waving to her while kayaking across the water. He was a fan of the rock band Kiss and a die-hard supporter of the University of Miami Hurricanes — even teaching his daughters how to do the “U” hand sign.

He met his wife at work about 20 years ago, and the couple was married in 2008 on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They lived in another condo in Surfside before moving to the Champlain Towers, where they had been renting an apartment for about four years.

“His family was his world,” Ms. Hurst said.

Ms. Rodriguez, Mr. Guara’s wife, moved to Miami from Cuba when she was 13. She attended Miami Dade College and years later took a position at Florida International University, where she was a career counselor for one of the graduate programs. She later earned a bachelor of business administration degree from F.I.U. Her last position was as a career development analyst at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.


A sign for the Guara family at a memorial for the dead and missing.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Her younger sister, Digna Rodriguez, said Ms. Rodriguez loved tango and salsa dancing and practiced yoga and meditation every day. Because Lucia had a peanut allergy, Ms. Rodriguez had also worked to spread awareness of food allergies and had become a fierce health care advocate.

“Anaely was very outgoing, an extrovert,” said Ms. Rodriguez, 40, who talked to her nieces almost daily. “She was very charismatic and she lived for her daughters.”

The Guaras attended St. Joseph Catholic Church, home to about 1,300 families, three blocks from their condo. One of the deacons, Roberto Pineda, baptized Emma in 2017. Two years later, Father Sosa celebrated Lucia’s First Communion Mass. And then this week, he presided over their funerals, where he offered a message of hope in the face of tragedy and of appreciating the “quality of life over the quantity of goods.”

Mr. Guara, a regional sales manager for a textile company, filled his Facebook page with photos of the family at the beach, on a hayride, at a Hurricanes football game.


Lucia and Emma GuaraCredit…via Peter Milian

Late last year, he shared a story on Facebook about Lucia, who had asked him to mail a letter for her. It was addressed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a charity the couple regularly donated to. He wrote: “She had stuffed the envelope with her piggy bank savings from birthdays and tooth fairy because ‘they need it more than I do.'”

“As a Dad,” he added, “my sense of pride was overwhelming.”

In the days after the family was found, relatives from both sides gathered in Ms. Hurst’s Miami Shores home to discuss the funeral. There was some comfort in how quickly the foursome had been found, in knowing they would be buried together. “Our peace comes from knowing they will be together forever,” Ms. Hurst said.

Because the sisters had been inseparable, the family decided to place the girls beside each other in a single white coffin. Lucia, who loved astronomy and outer space, was buried in an astronaut costume. Emma, who loved the world of princesses, was dressed in a pink gown befitting royalty.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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