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Surfside's Memorial To Champlain Towers South Victims Will Come Down To Preserve Mementos

Soon after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside on June 24, 2021, people have filled a makeshift memorial with items that will be preserved by HistoryMiami until they find a permanent home.
Verónica Zaragovia
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Soon after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside on June 24, 2021, people have filled a makeshift memorial with items that will be preserved by HistoryMiami until they find a permanent home.

For weeks, people have filled a memorial along a tennis court fence in Surfside with items that honor the 98 victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse on June 24, 2021.

That memorial went up on Harding Avenue shortly after the collapse and, since then, rain, sunshine, smoke and vehicle emissions have deteriorated some of the mementos: Photos, drawings, shoes, books, votive candles, posters, and t-shirts, among many others, brought by loved ones. Even stuffed animals taken from the rubble by rescue workers.

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Sally Noriega knows well how much value they have. She lost her mother-in-law, Hilda, in the collapse. Hilda Noriega lived on the sixth floor of the building.

"Some of the things you see down there — like they had a bicycle and they had some other things — that was pieces, remnants of the life of the person that they found," she said.

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At an Aug. 24 vigil, Noriega joined others — including her son, Mike Noriega — who helped take fresh donated flowers out of their plastic wrapping and placed them along the fence.

Monks from the Wat Buddharangsi Buddhist Temple came to participate in the vigil, coming to Surfside from Homestead.

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Leo Soto created the memorial and told the crowd he hopes to help plan a permanent one.

"This entire thing was started to give family members a sense of comfort," said Soto. "My goal was to have a single person get back to me and say, 'Hey, this really helped me out while I was struggling.' I had multiple family members tell me how they were walking around aimlessly and really couldn't find answers and they walked upon the memorial and all of a sudden they had a place to go to every single day and say their prayers and have a moment with their loved ones that maybe they wouldn't have been afforded to before. I want to thank everyone who made this happen."

Mike Noriega talked about his grandmother's faith and her love for her family and friends. She was "fiercely independent," he recalled.

"We could barely keep up with her. An amazing sense of humor. So full of life," he said.

At the end of the night's event, Soto urged everyone to take a walk along the memorial because on Monday, Aug. 30, items will be removed. The HistoryMiami museum, a Smithsonian affiliate based in downtown, will care for the mementos until they find a permanent home.

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Friends of victims of the Champlain Towers South building collapse took photos of what's hung in their honor on Aug. 24, 2021, before HistoryMiami takes them down to preserve them until they find a permanent home.
Verónica Zaragovia /
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Friends of victims of the Champlain Towers South building collapse took photos of what's hung in their honor on Aug. 24, 2021, before HistoryMiami takes them down to preserve them until they find a permanent home.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care for the station. Verónica has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master's degree in journalism. For many years, Veronica lived out of a suitcase (or two) in New York City, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, D.C., San Antonio and Austin, where she worked as the statehouse and health care reporter with NPR member station KUT.