Relatives of Surfside victims anxiously await news of loved ones at reunification center (includes video story)

On Thursday morning, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue set up a reunification center at 9301 Collins Ave. for those who were looking for missing relatives as a result of the Champlain Towers South building collapse. Today, families continue to hold onto hope, desperately searching for answers and awaiting updates from authorities.

The center was occupied by people who were evacuated from the part of the building that was left standing as well as the guests at the BlueGreen Hotel next door who were evacuated as a precaution. There were also relatives experiencing a heavy mixture of emotions.

See first-day coverage of the collapse here.

Yuby Cartes says she was told to go to the reunification center after she tried to call her nephew Luis Pettegill, his wife Sophia Lopez Moreira, and their three small children. According to Cartes, they were on vacation in Miami from Paraguay and were on the 10th floor of the building that collapsed.

“I came to see if they can give me information,” she said in Spanish. “If I have to stay here, I’ll stay until I know something.”

Cartes expressed her frustration, explaining that she wanted to do so much but couldn’t. She said she would rely on her faith in God to see this through.

“Only God is the one who could save them. So, you never lose hope. And I am not losing my hope,” she said.

Like Cartes, Yancy Ranalli was in desperate need of answers. She remained optimistic as she searched for her long-time friends — Julio, Angela and Theresa Vasquez — who lived on the third floor of the Champlain Towers.

Ranalli said she lives across the street from the building and that she had a relationship of over 20 years with the tenants. She described what had happened as a nightmare.

“We have been trying to locate them since 4 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “I have not been able to reach them, we have a group trying to find them, posting on Facebook and everything, and we have not been able to find them yet. So we are hopeful that they will turn up soon.”

The Red Cross, along with other agencies, have provided the people at the family reunification center with water, food, blankets, pillows– anything that they need to make this difficult time a little easier.

The Coral Gables Community Foundation, The Key Biscayne Community Foundation, The Knight Foundation, The Miami Foundation, the Miami Heat and the Miami Heat Charitable Fund are standing together to build a hardship fund for those impacted. If you’d like to donate, visit

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is asking that those who live at Champlain Towers complete a wellness check form as part of their efforts to ensure that all tenants of the building are located. If you cannot make it to the family reunification center or would like updates on your relatives, contact the family reunification hotline at (305) 614-1918.

Helen Acevedo is an FIU student majoring in broadcast media with a minor in political science and international relations. She is passionate about giving people a platform to tell their truths.