One year after Surfside collapse, families of victims are still fighting for answers

Families of victims filed more than 20 lawsuits since the collapse; a judge on Thursday approved a compensation settlement topping $1 billion

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One year ago today, 98 lives were lost in one of the deadliest structural failures in U.S. history. On June 24th, 2021, a condominium building partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida. One year later, investigators and families are still struggling to understand why.

"It took over two weeks for my sister Nicky to be recovered," said Martin Langesfeld, who lost his sister in the building collapse. "Every day we would wake up, we wouldn't sleep much to start off. Every day, we would just hope and pray that we would get notification of anyone being alive just to have hope that our loved ones would be alive. That day never came for any families. It was weeks of agonizing pain and unanswered questions."

Martin Langesfeld lost his only big sister, Nicky, when the condo building suddenly collapsed. Nicky Langesfeld moved into the building just a few months before the disaster. The 26-year-old attorney moved to Surfside with her husband, Luis Sadovnic, in January 2021, shorty after their wedding. Just six months later, the couple died together in the building collapse.

"She was an attorney, and she lived her life for justice. She would want the truth," Martin said.

SURFSIDE CONDO COLLAPSE: BODY CAMERA VIDEO FROM INITIAL RESPONSE RELEASED:

The partially collapsed Champlain Towers South residential building is demolished in Surfside, Fla., July 4, 2021. 

The partially collapsed Champlain Towers South residential building is demolished in Surfside, Fla., July 4, 2021.  (REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo)

Martin Langesfeld has spent the last year fighting for answers alongside his father, Pablo Langesfeld. With so many unanswered questions, the Langesfeld family hasn't even begun the grieving process.

"It’s been a year … and I’ve never seen so many sunrises in my life. I don’t sleep. I lost my baby, and no father should go through what I'm going through," said Pablo Langesfeld.

"It's been one year since the country's first building collapsed, with no apparent reason. We have no answers to anything. The whole world needs to know what happened," Martin added.

People visit a makeshift memorial for victims of the building collapse near the site of the accident in Surfside, Fla., June 27, 2021

People visit a makeshift memorial for victims of the building collapse near the site of the accident in Surfside, Fla., June 27, 2021 (Getty Images)

To this day, first responders and rescue crews continue to struggle with the building collapse. Howie Lieberman served as a medical manager on Florida Task Force One. 

SURFSIDE COLLAPSE: VIDEO SHOWS WATER GUSHING INTO GARAGE BEFORE BUILDING FELL:

"It's hard to believe that a year has passed already," Lieberman said. "Obviously, it's still very vivid in my memory. And it's kind of mixed emotions. Looking back, there's always that sense of, could we have done more? Could we have done something different? 

"We pretty much all know the answer. But being the type of people and individuals that we are, and what we do, we kind of always want to save everyone or everyone that we possibly can."

The team searched the rubble for weeks but found very few survivors. 

Search and rescue personnel remove remains on a stretcher as they work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condominium building.

Search and rescue personnel remove remains on a stretcher as they work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condominium building. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

"We were working as fast as we could, and the amount of people and resources that came to bear on the site was just, you know, second to none," Lieberman added. "It was absolutely remarkable. I know, personally speaking, that was probably the hardest day to see family members literally screaming into the pile of rubble here, you know, at their loved ones, or their family members, friends, you know, not to give up hope that, you know, they're still thinking about them. That was pretty emotional. It still is to this day."

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Families of victims filed more than 20 lawsuits since the collapse, accusing building officials and the condo board of ignoring structural damage. Although the investigation is expected to take years, a judge approved a compensation settlement topping $1 billion Thursday for the victims.

 "We want answers. We want somebody liable. They need to find out why it happened because buildings, they do not collapse by themselves. There's something wrong," Pablo Langesfeld said.