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Judge says all options open as families debate future of Surfside collapse site

Families grapple with difficult decisions of personal and financial loss, with some wanting to rebuild while others say property, where so many died, needs to become a memorial

A wooden heart at a makeshift memorial remembers the family of Vishal and Bhavna Patel, who died along with their 1-year-old daughter Aishani, in the collapse of the nearby Champlain Towers South building, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building, Wednesday, in Surfside. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
A wooden heart at a makeshift memorial remembers the family of Vishal and Bhavna Patel, who died along with their 1-year-old daughter Aishani, in the collapse of the nearby Champlain Towers South building, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building, Wednesday, in Surfside. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

SURFSIDE, Florida  — A South Florida courtroom observed a moment of silence Friday to remember the dozens of people who died in the collapse of 12-story condominium complex near Miami. Then it returned to the business of considering what should become of the property.

That decision may be weeks or months from being made as families grapple with difficult decisions over personal and financial losses, including whether to rebuild, place a memorial on the site or accommodate both.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said he was open to all options, but no decision came at a hearing Friday. The judge appeared pleased that discussions were underway to raise the financing necessary, perhaps from the government, to buy the property for a memorial.

“All options are being explored,” Hanzman said, according to the Miami Herald. “No options are being removed from the table.”

On Wednesday, Hanzman ordered that the process begin to sell the site of Champlain Towers South, which could fetch $100 million to $110 million, according to court records.

The news of the financing effort came from the court-appointed receiver, Michael Goldberg, who also shared that the property’s insurer would be paying out $31 million in insurance money, according to WPLG.

Crews work in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Goldberg acknowledged the differing opinions over what to do with the property in Surfside.

“Some people want it sold and the proceeds immediately distributed, some want to rebuild on the property. And some believe this is hallowed ground and that it should be forever a memorial,” Goldberg said, according to WPLG.

Miami-Dade County authorities said at least 97 people died from the June 24 collapse of a portion of the condominium complex. As of Friday, 93 of those victims have been identified, with potentially at least one more person buried in the rubble.

Shortly after Friday’s hearing began, a resident of the complex asked the judge for a moment of silence. Afterward, the resident, Oren Cytrynbaum, reflected on the tragedy.

“Each day gets a bit easier. You are not sure what’s gonna happen but everyone is helping each other,” he told Miami’s CBS4 News. “We’ve been getting close with our neighbors and the community and everyone’s been helping each other. It just seems like you’re going from a very dark place to a bright light of hope down the end of the road.”

Molly MacDonald, with Mercy Chefs, hangs a sign on behalf of Princeton Church at a makeshift memorial remembering the victims of the nearby collapsed Champlain Towers South building, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Mercy Chefs has set up a mobile kitchen to feed search and rescue teams working at the site three meals a day. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

That pain has opened debate among grieving families over the matter of whether it is appropriate to rebuild on the site or whether it should be turned into a memorial.

Some family members have suggested the government buy the property for use as a memorial, saying the blood spilled on the site made it inappropriate for commercial development. But others survivors want the structure rebuilt so they can move back in.

On Thursday, the mayor of Miami Beach proposed setting aside an area of a park in his city to erect a memorial for the victims of the Surfside tragedy.

“So many in my community knew or were one degree of separation from the victims of this unthinkable tragedy,” Mayor Dan Gelber wrote in a letter to the judge.

The judge has fast-tracked the lawsuits that have been filed as a result of the disaster and has authorized Goldberg to begin disbursing insurance money to the victims and families.

Much of Friday’s hearing focused on an establishing an organizational structure to help guide future proceedings.

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