SURFSIDE, Fla. (Reuters) – When Miami-based businessman Andreas King-Geovanis heard that a condominium building in nearby Surfside had collapsed, he knew from experience the disaster would lead to displacement.
The 31-year-old New York native, who runs a vacation rental property company, was still a child living with his family near the World Trade Center when it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
After news of the disaster at Champlain Towers South on June 24, King-Geovanis called his 165 staff members to a meeting to say his firm, Sextant Stays, would offer a month of rent-free housing to survivors and families of the people who are still missing.
“They just don’t have anywhere to go,” said King-Geovanis, recalling his own family’s evacuation from their high-rise after the 2001 hijacked plane attacks.
To secure an apartment in the area, survivors have to have the cash for at least three months rent available, he said.
“We’re really giving people a month to help find their footing,” King-Geovanis said.
King-Geovanis put his offer out on social media, and now 15 families who lived in or had relatives in Champlain Towers South occupy 17 apartments in a Sextant building about 5 miles (8 km) from the disaster site.
Other groups helping with housing and other support include the American Red Cross, the county’s social service agency and Jewish and other faith organizations, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
More than a week after the collapse, the confirmed death toll stood at 18 on Thursday, following the discovery of six more bodies in the ruins of the condo, including two children, aged 4 and 10. Another 145 people are missing and feared dead.
King-Geovanis and his team were able to outfit apartments in a building that had been due to open in August with beds, Wi-Fi hotspots and artwork within 48 hours. More than a dozen individuals and other companies donated food and toiletries.
Among the people who took advantage of the offer was Maggie Ramsey, a Jupiter-based marketing executive whose 80-year-old mother Magaly Delgado lived in the collapsed building.
Ramsey said her mother was going to visit Napa Valley in California with her grandsons, Matthew and Christopher, later this year.
“‘Get up, work hard and don’t forget to go to church,'” was what her mother always told them, she said.
Ramsey and her husband had been shuttling between their Sextant apartment and daily briefings, hoping against hope for good news. But late on Thursday, the Ramsey family said Delgado’s remains had been found in the rubble.
King-Geovanis said the collapse had been hard to get his head around.
“I really didn’t think that an occupied building would collapse, maybe something that’s been abandoned or derelict,” he said. “But when I saw the photos of furniture on the collapsed balcony, and kids’ bunk beds atop what was the roof, I knew we were facing a tragedy.”
(Reporting by Katanga Johnson, Arlene Eiras and Julio-Cesar Chavez; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Grant McCool)