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'I'm a mess.' Surfside survivors struggle to reclaim their lives after tower collapsed

Linda Robertson, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

He was lucky he had a sports coat at the dry cleaners. He’s renting downtown but jokes he’ll have to move to the Everglades or “West Hialeah.” “Think of all your belongings, including your car, your TV, your favorite coffee mug — not to mention your family mementos. We’ve had to restock every single thing, down to salt and pepper shakers. Rainy season starts and I realize I need to buy a rain jacket.”

Her spirit vanquished

By far, the greatest loss has been sense of self.

Iliana Monteagudo used to think her best asset was her friendly, outgoing nature. But her joie de vivre was crushed in the Surfside disaster.

“With me, among my friends, my joy was a sure thing. At parties, I made people laugh,” she said. “Now I don’t talk to anybody. I don’t socialize. I don’t go out. I don’t use Facebook. Because I am a sad person. And I don’t want to make my friends sad or feel sorry for me.

“I am looking desperately for my happiness and I can’t find it. My personality is missing. I don’t know how to get it back.”


Monteagudo does not even feel up to attending the annual Miami reunion for natives of Ciego de Avila, her hometown in Cuba.

“I will cry,” she said, wiping away tears. “I cry too much.”

Split-second decision saved her life

Monteagudo’s survival story is perhaps the most miraculous one. She is the only person who escaped under her own power from one of the obliterated upper-floor units. She scrambled down six flights of stairs as the building fell behind her.


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