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Death toll now 97 in Surfside collapse. Some families still wait for news of missing

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 7/16/2021 Martin Vassolo, Miami Herald

It’s been six days since authorities found the body of Maria Gabriela Camou in the rubble of the Surfside condo collapse, but her family says funeral plans must wait until the search crew finds her husband of 40 years, Miguel Kaufman.

“We thought the next day they would find Miguel,” said Maria Ines Camous, whose sister died in the collapse. “God willing, soon. I thought it would be immediately.”

Standing in front of a makeshift memorial set up for her sister and playing “Ave Maria” from one of their cellphones, Maria Ines and her brother Bernardo Camou said they traveled from Uruguay to be with their nephews and to tend to the memorial on Harding Avenue a block away from where the Champlain Towers South Condo once stood.

With obligations back home, they said they must return to Uruguay soon, with or without official word about their brother-in-law.

As search teams began their 21st day looking for victims of the Surfside building collapse — and the process of identifying bodies has grown more challenging — some families are still waiting to be reunited with their loved ones even as the search-and-recovery effort appears to be approaching its final stages.

Two new victims were identified Wednesday, increasing the death toll from the collapse to at least 97, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. A total of eight people remain potentially unaccounted for in the collapse, she noted in a statement. All eight of those feared missing have open missing persons reports with Miami-Dade police, she added.

A total of 90 victims have been identified so far and 88 of their families have been notified.

Levine Cava had previously said there are people who are deceased who may be on the list of the missing but have not been identified yet. Police on Wednesday identified Luis Barth Tobar, 51, as a victim who died in the collapse. His body was recovered Saturday.


Video: Death Toll From Surfside Condo Collapse Up To 11 (CBS Miami)

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Officials have cautioned that there’s no timeline for when the recovery effort is expected to conclude.

“It will conclude sooner than we expected,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told the Miami Herald on Wednesday. “My hope and my most strident desire is that we can get everybody out.”

He said the process of identifying bodies recovered from the collapse is taking longer than it once did due to their degradation over time. Burkett said families still waiting to hear about their loved ones — like the family of Dr. Brad Cohen — have been texting him for updates but he must ask them to hold on just a little longer until the work is completed.

Soraya Cohen, Brad Cohen’s wife, told the Miami Herald that she isn’t sure if search teams are any closer to finding her husband. Gary Cohen, the older brother of Brad Cohen, was recovered from the rubble July 7. He had been staying at his younger brother’s condo on the 11th floor of the Champlain Towers South on the night of the collapse.

Soraya Cohen said Wednesday that her family is trying to get more information about any unidentified victims.

“We really have to stay on top of this,” she wrote in a text message.

Burkett said it is “heartbreaking” he does not have answers for Cohen’s 12-year-old daughter, Elisheva, who Burkett said he met the weekend after the tragedy praying at the collapse site.

“That is the cruelest irony that her dad is one of the last to be sort of found and identified after she’s at the site from the very beginning saying prayers...” Burkett said. “That’s heartbreaking to me. What’s further heartbreaking is that I can’t give her the answer that she wants.”

He said he has reminded families that search teams are working 24 hours a day to find their loved ones.

“My message to the families is the same that it was on day one: We will not stop working until we get everybody out of that pile of rubble and return them to their families,” he said.

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