Two days after the high-rise outside of Miami collapsed, there are more connections to the tri-state being made among those who are still unaccounted for, as well as the first identified fatality from the catastrophe.
Stacie Fang, was the first person officials confirmed to have died in the Surfside collapse. She was the mother of 15-year-old Jonah Handler, the teen boy who was rescued from the rubble of the building the same day. Dramatic video footage showed firefighters helping Handler out of the wreckage and placing him on a stretcher before he was taken to a local hospital.
"There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie. The members of the Fang and Handler family would like to express our deepest appreciation for the outpouring of sympathy, compassion and support we have received," the family said in a statement. "The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time. On behalf of Stacie’s son, Jonah, we ask you now to please respect our privacy to grieve and to try to help each other heal.”
Fang, 54, passed away shortly after arriving at Aventura Hospital Thursday, records from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner showed. She was flown up to New Jersey on Friday, and will be buried in New Brunswick.
CONDO COLLAPSE COVERAGE
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says 159 people are still unaccounted for. Rescue crews, which include some 130 firefighters working in teams, are approaching the pile from above and below as they search for any signs of life in what had been a wing of the Champlain Towers South.
A number of those unaccounted for have ties to the tri-state as well — including Linda March, a New Yorker who had just moved to Surfside a few months ago amid the pandemic. A longtime friend said they were supposed to see each other for a birthday dinner Thursday night, but that was the last text conversation they had, hours before the collapse.
March had been calling a 12th-floor unit home the past few months, although her friend said she had been trying to move out.
"She could hear all that banging on the roof. She was not made aware there was going to be a certification job, and it bothered her very much," said Shoshana Bizouati, who has known March for 27 years. She described her friend as vibrant and strong.
"You can take this girl out of New York, but you can't take New York out of her," Bizouati said, adding that March lived through 9/11 and can survive this, too.
A haunting image of light pink bunk beds precariously dangling high above a mountain of debris is all that remains to mark where the penthouse unit March had been living once was. Bizouati said she hopes that being on the top floor may help her friend.
"The people who managed to escape were on the 10th floor, 11th floor," she said. "Time is ticking, yes it's very slim, slim hope. But still hope."
The Spiegel family who relocated to Surfside from Long Island continues to cling to similar hope as well. They are praying to hear from their Judy, a loving mother and grandmother.
"We are praying every minute. We are hopeful that she's there alive and we're going to see her soon, be able to hold her hand and kiss her," said Joshua Spiegel, Judy's son. "And we love her so much, and we're going to see her very soon."
With such a large number of people still unaccounted for, hope and belief is all some of the family members, friends and loved ones can hold on to. That's why Bizouati is choosing to believe, and says she can already hear March's voice, in that unmistakable New York accent.
"The first thing she's going to say: 'What took you so long?'"