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Makeshift memorial honours missing in Florida building tragedy as death toll rises to five

The scores of people missing in the collapse of the beachfront condo building in Florida are no longer just a dry number but have names and faces thanks to a makeshift memorial erected nearby.

On a chain link fence at a site serving as a staging ground for rescue teams and equipment, photos of some of the missing illustrate the desperation of their loved ones, waiting for news after the sudden and still unexplained tragedy in the wee hours of Thursday.

Behind the fence, a block away, smoke drifts up from the rubble of the Champlain Tower South building, half of which fell like a house of cards, while cranes and other heavy machinery groan with the work of moving concrete and steel rubble.

As of Saturday night, five people are confirmed dead and 156 who may have been in the building when it came tumbling down in the middle of the night in this beach town near Miami are unaccounted for.

One photo on the fence shows a father and his adolescent son – Alfredo, in glasses and bearded, and young Lorenzo – with the word “MISSING” and this note: “A family friend tells me they were in unit 512.”

Other photos show an older couple seated at a restaurant, a young man in suit and bow tie, and a couple standing on a beach – identified as Ilan Naibryf and Deborah Berezdivin.

A memorial honouring those unaccounted for after a 12-storey building in Surfside, Florida.

A memorial honouring those unaccounted for after a 12-storey building in Surfside, Florida.

AAP

Passages from the Bible are written on Post-its attached to some of the pictures.

Beside the photos, well-wishers have stuck flowers in the fence and set candles on the ground.

“You can see the smoke off in the distance, and here the faces of the missing. Now they are unforgettable,” said Olivia Ostrow, a French woman who has lived in Surfside for 20 years.

“These parents, these children. They are people just like us,” Ostrow told AFP, her eyes filling with tears.

Gina Berlin, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years, said she came to the memorial to pray for the missing.

“I am still in shock,” said the 54-year-old, who has two friends who live in the part of the building that remained standing and were able to get out safely.

Peace and meditation

The memorial went up in a noisy and bustling spot as electrical generators from the rescue effort hum and trucks come and go. At one point police even barred people from stopping at the memorial fence.

A few blocks away, a quiet park has also become a memorial for the missing.

On the corner of a street with small houses, people have posted more photos and flowers on the fence of a dog park, again with names of missing people, their apartment numbers and messages of support.

Dana Culvin, 53, said she had the idea to do this on Friday. “I just want to send thoughts and prayers and love to the whole community and specifically those waiting for answers,” she said.

Daniela Calzadilla, 48, sits on a bench as her dog Paco plays nearby.

Rescue crews continue to search for signs of life in the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Florida.

Rescue crews continue to search for signs of life in the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Florida.

AAP

 

“It’s a place where you can find peace,” she said. “I know a lot of families from the area that are missing, meditation is always good to feel calm in your mind and body.”

As he walks past the park, Raphael Amar, a 63-year-old Jew who was born in Morocco and has lived in Surfside for 20 years, pauses at the memorial.

He is returning from synagogue, where he says the atmosphere is quiet and sad because of all the people still unaccounted for. Many of them are from the local Jewish community.

The memorial at the park, he said, “shows that we are one community in a small town. We are all neighbors. That creates an extraordinary sense of unity.”

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