‘A gaping hole of rubble:’ Thankful survivor recounts rescue after Miami-area condo collapses

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This aerial photo shows part of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo that collapsed early Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla. (Amy Beth Bennett /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Barry Cohen and his wife were sound asleep in their beachside condominium outside Miami when he heard what he thought was a crack of thunder early Thursday. They got up, opened the door leading to their hallway and faced a pile of rubble and billowing smoke.

“I couldn’t walk out past my doorway,” said Cohen, 63, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”

The couple survived the collapse of Champlain Towers South Condo, just yards from the Atlantic surf, but at least one person was killed and rescuers were still combing the building’s rubble for others.

Trying to get out, Cohen said he and his wife tried to take stairs down to the pool area, only to find that door wouldn’t open. They descended to the basement and found rising water there.

The couple returned upstairs, screaming for help. They were eventually brought to safety on a cherry-picker that firefighters used to lower people to the ground, he said.

“I thank them,” Cohen said. “They had such a hard job. It’s amazing what they do. I’m always happy to be alive, but I’m even happier today.”

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