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Family describes harrowing race against time to flee collapsing building


By Keith Allen and Susannah Cullinane, CNN

A family in Florida said they used their survival instincts to escape the 11th floor of the Champlain Towers South condo complex as it collapsed around them on Thursday.

“All I was thinking was, we need to get out of here before this building completely comes down on us,” Janette Aguero, who was vacationing in the Surfside, Florida, condo, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Sunday afternoon.

“After seeing the walls and how badly and violently they swayed, I honestly don’t know how it didn’t come down when we were startled basically out of our sleep. That was the only thing on my mind — let’s get down and let’s get down as quickly as possible and away from the building.”

At least 9 people have died from the Florida condo collapse, as rescuers keep digging in search of survivors. A total of 134 people have been accounted for and 152 remain unaccounted for, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news briefing Sunday evening.

Albert Aguero, Janette’s husband, said the couple and their two children jolted into action after the walls of the apartment — which belongs to his parents — began shaking.

When the fire department arrived to the ground floor, they told the family to evacuate. But Albert Aguero said he opened the front door to find their escape route partially destroyed.

“I looked to the left, and the apartment is half sheared off. I looked right ahead, which is where the elevators are supposed to be, it was just two empty elevator shafts,” Albert Aguero told Blitzer.

“Thankfully, the emergency exit light to the staircase was lit up, so we sprinted to the staircase and opened that door, only to realize that the wall had partially collapsed there. At that moment, it really hit me that we were racing against time to get to the bottom of the building before the entire thing came down.”

Justin Willis, the Aguero’s son, said they helped an elderly woman escape on their way down, which helped take the family’s minds off what was happening around them.

They worked quickly, to get her out, he said, “because if she doesn’t get out, we don’t get out.”

“I think she was kind of a blessing in disguise, when you think about the whole situation because it takes your mind off of it, kind of going towards her and finding a way to get out collectively,” he said.

After helping her down — including effectively throwing her over a collapsed wall — the family managed to get the woman up onto a pool deck, Willis said.

“Once we got up to that, we all started to take a sigh of relief. You feel a little bit safe, once you see the beach and you get on the sand, you count your blessings.”

Albert Aguero told CNN that fleeing the apartment that he once considered a safe getaway spot for his family was a jarring and surreal experience.

“It’s a building on the beach,” he said. “It shouldn’t collapse when you go to sleep, right?”

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