Mother’s instinct sent family scrambling to safety, says Miami collapse survivor

Gavriel Nir describes building coming down in 3 stages over minutes, giving him, sister, and mom time to escape; relatives of those missing fume at slow pace of rescue effort

Gabriel Nir in an interview aired by Channel 13 news on June 27, 2021, after the deadly collapse of a residential building in Surfside, Florida. (Screen capture: Channel 13)
Gabriel Nir in an interview aired by Channel 13 news on June 27, 2021, after the deadly collapse of a residential building in Surfside, Florida. (Screen capture: Channel 13)

A survivor of the Miami building collapse has described how the condo came down in three stages, giving him and his family time to escape the deadly disaster after their mother told them to run for their lives.

Gavriel Nir said that the apartment complex in the town of Surfside near Miami, where over 150 people are still missing since Thursday, fell to pieces over a period of a few minutes.

“If it wasn’t for my mom, it would have been very bad,” Nir told Channel 13 News in an interview broadcast Sunday.

“My mom is very special,” said Nir, who offered a special prayer in a synagogue to give thanks for his escape. “Any time she senses something suspicious she automatically is always cautious. She always figures out that something is not right.”

Nir, the son of an Israeli father, described how his mother went to check what had happened when the first part of the building collapsed, apparently a parking area, and then raised the alert for him and his sister. All three survived the disaster.

“We heard a lot of noise going on in the ceiling,” he said. “Minute by minute it got worse, it got more intense.”

Search and Rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 27, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Photo by Giorgio Viera / AFP)

Moments later a rumble shook the building and “we all panicked a bit.”

The family at first thought it was an earthquake and left their home to exit the building. Outside, Nir said, dust was billowing about from the parts of the building that had already collapsed.

Wasting no more time, the family ran for their lives, escaping with just moments to spare as the main part of the building collapsed, throwing up clouds of dust that chased them down the street.

“We couldn’t breathe,” he said.

Nir estimated that the whole process was no more than a few minutes. He said the first sounds of the collapse were heard at around 1:15 a.m. Thursday and that the entire building came down by 1:19.

On Sunday, the death toll rose by just four people, to a total of nine confirmed dead. But after almost four full days of search-and-rescue efforts, more than 150 additional people were still missing in Surfside. No one has been pulled alive from the pile since Thursday, hours after the collapse.

Other families were left waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones who were inside and have not been heard from since.

Kevin Spigel told Channel 13 that his wife, Judy, was still missing.

Spigel said that Judy “loves Israel and supports it any way shape or form” and that the family would often visit the Jewish state.

Crews work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. One hundred fifty-nine people were still unaccounted for two days after Thursday’s collapse. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The family, along with many others waiting as the rescue continues, were determined to not give up hope.

According to the report, there are 34 Jewish people missing in the rubble.

Odelia Weiss, who is active in a local synagogue, told the station that among those who are missing were the family and friends of a woman from the community who had died before the collapse. The visitors had arrived to stay in an apartment in the building.

“They have not yet been found,” she said.

There was growing anger from some families who accuse rescue authorities of not conducting a speedy enough operation to find missing people.

Kan showed a clip from a meeting apparently between concerned families and rescue officials in which a woman could be heard saying that “I was promised that the Israelis would be allowed in, and that they are here,” she said.

“It is impossible that in four days no one has emerged dead or alive,” the woman said. “You gave us a promise and you’re not fulfilling it, and you can fulfill it.”

“My daughter is dying,” another woman implored.

Later Sunday, a team of Israeli search-and-rescue IDF reserve specialists, flown to the US to help with the rescue operation, joined American workers at the site.

An IDF search-and-rescue team arrives at the site of the deadly high-rise residential building collapse in Surfside, Florida, June 27, 2021. (Giorgio Viera/ AFP)

Members of the Rosenberg family were among those urging authorities in Florida to speed up search efforts for those missing.

Harold Rosenberg, whose daughter and son-in-law were missing at the time of the collapse, owned a condo in the building. Rosenberg, his daughter Malka Weiss and son-in-law Benny all remain missing.

“If it was your father, your sister, and your brother-in-law, would you send four firemen under a tunnel,” Shuly Rosenberg, one of Harold Rosenberg’s sons, said in an interview with CBS.

Yehuda Rosenberg, another son, said that the family has rescue teams willing to enter the site if local authorities will not do so themselves. “We have begged the authorities if you’re not willing to go in, let us go in. Please send someone in,” he said.

Screen capture from video of Jake Samuelson, whose grandparents were caught in the collapse of the Surfside building, in Miami. (Channel 13 News)

For one family, the waiting for news has taken a haunting twist.

Jake Samuelson told local outlet WBLG his mother’s phone has received over a dozen phone calls from his grandparents, Arnie and Myriam Notki, who are missing in the building.

Samuelson said his grandparents’ phone was next to their bed and since the collapse, there have been 16 calls to his mother’s phone from that number.

But when they answer there is no sound except static on the line.

The first call arrived at around 9:50 p.m. Thursday evening, hours after the building came down.

“We were all sitting there in the living room, my whole family, Diane, my mother, and we were just shocked and we kind of thought nothing of it because we answered, and it was static,” he said.

But the next day, Friday, the calls keep coming.

“We are trying to rationalize what is happening here, we are trying to get answers,” Samuelson said.

By Saturday, the calls had stopped. When Local 10 News tried calling the number there was only a busy signal.

The 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South pancaked in the middle of the night Thursday as residents slept. Surveillance video of the collapse showed it coming down in just a few seconds.

Many members of the local Jewish community were among those affected by the tragedy in Surfside, near Miami Beach.

Magen David Adom’s international unit and paramedics and EMTs with the South Florida Hatzalah have been working around the clock at the disaster site.

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