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Florida condo collapse survivor thankful for rescue from ‘gaping hole of rubble’

They were awoken by what they at first thought was the crack of thunder. But the building was collapsing.
Household items and debris dangle from Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed Thursday in Surfside.
Household items and debris dangle from Champlain Towers South Condo after the multistory building partially collapsed Thursday in Surfside. [ DAVID SANTIAGO | AP ]
Published Jun. 24

SURFSIDE — 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.”

Related: Miami condo collapse: Live updates from South Florida

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. There 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.”