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It's been 1 year since 98 people died in the Surfside condo collapse

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today marks one year since a condominium building collapsed in Surfside, Fla., killing 98 people. It was one of the worst building disasters in U.S. history. A memorial service was held today to remember those who lost their lives, and among those attending were first lady Jill Biden and Governor Ron DeSantis. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Surfside.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: A hole in the ground, twisted rebar and pillars of broken concrete are all that remain now on the site where the Champlain Towers South building stood. For many who attended today's memorial service, it was their first visit to the site since the collapse. First lady Jill Biden was at the scene with President Biden a week after the disaster, meeting with families of those who are missing and with first responders. She was there again today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JILL BIDEN: On behalf of my husband, President Biden, whose hearts and prayers have never left this community, we stand by you today and always.

ALLEN: It was at 1:22 in the morning, when most residents were in bed asleep, that a large portion of the 12-story building collapsed. Rescue crews quickly responded, taking dozens of people from balconies in the crumbling building. Three survivors were pulled from the rubble, but in weeks of searching, no others were found. Raquel Oliveira was traveling a year ago and not with her husband and 5-year-old son in their condo unit when the building collapsed. She talked about the white cardboard boxes in which their remains were cremated that she wrote final messages on. Then she tried to offer some words of hope for the other families struggling to go forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAQUEL OLIVEIRA: I am alive, and I have the chance to rediscover something that motivates me to smile again, to fight, to be a whole person.

ALLEN: The Champlain Towers South building had residents with diverse backgrounds. Some were Jewish. Others were originally from Latin America. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says they represented a cross-section of the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: You had young professionals that were just starting their lives. You had families with kids. You had grandparents who were retired. Some had been longtime residents. Others had been relatively new to the area.

ALLEN: DeSantis and many other officials here had been at the site every day for weeks, meeting with families while rescue crews continued the search. Back at the site today, it was a solemn event. The partisan politics that have roiled Florida on the national stage were put aside, perhaps just briefly, while elected officials offered words of comfort. State Senator Jason Pizzo, who represents Surfside in the state legislature, suggested the occasion might serve as a lesson for politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JASON PIZZO: Let's not make tragedy be the time that we get together and not have petty partisanship. Let's not make loss be the time that we come together and embrace and get things done. Let's just stick to the stuff that's important.

ALLEN: Following the Surfside tragedy, Florida took action to prevent future similar disasters. The legislature passed a law mandating inspections for condo buildings and requiring boards to hold enough funds in reserve to pay for needed repairs. The site where the building stood has been sold to a developer for $120 million, money that's being used to compensate people who owned units in the building. Lawmakers set aside funds for a memorial for the Surfside victims, but a site hasn't been chosen yet. Martin Langesfeld, whose sister Nicole died in the collapse, told officials gathered on the stage that he believes it should be somewhere on the site.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN LANGESFELD: It's where our loved ones took their last breath, and it's the least we can do as a country to honor and respect where they called home.

ALLEN: This week a Miami judge approved a settlement that resolves all claims related to the collapse. Families who lost loved ones will share more than a billion dollars in compensation paid by 20 defendants. Greg Allen, NPR News, Surfside.

(SOUNDBITE OF T C LONG'S "PEACEFUL SCENE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.