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A judge is weighing claims in the Surfside condo collapse


It's been more than three months since the condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., killed 98 people. In Miami, a judge is overseeing the sale of the property, and he's weighing hundreds of competing claims, including those of surviving condo owners and the families of people who died. In his first hearing just days after the collapse and several times since, the judge has identified a major problem - that there won't be enough money to satisfy all the claims. NPR's Greg Allen has been following the aftermath of the collapse and joins us now.

Hi, Greg.


CHANG: All right, can you just bring us up to date here? I mean, the site's been cleared. It sounds like it's been sold. Where are we now exactly?

ALLEN: Right. Well, all the rubble has been cleared for weeks now. Some of it's being stored in a warehouse where it will be examined forensically by investigators. The investigators include people from Miami-Dade County's state attorney's office, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Also, there's investigators who are working with families that are filing wrongful death claims. Miami-Dade's County Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman last week did approve the sale of the now vacant property. There was a sell - a bid was for $120 million. The buyer is a developer based in Dubai. That's not the final price, necessarily, it's just the opening bid. There's going to be an auction early next year for the property. And as expected, it's going to bring more than that. There's also been some $30 million in insurance coming in that will be part of the money available for settlements.

CHANG: OK - 120 plus 30, that's at least $150 million. How is that money going to be divided?

ALLEN: Well, that's the big question that's facing the court now. An appraisal that was done recently set the property's value at nearly $96 million, so that's how much the owners of the individual condo units would receive in total possibly, when all the money is doled out. That would leave 30- to $40 million left, though, to settle the claims of the 96 families of the 96 people who died in the collapse. And, you know, not all who died were owners. Some people were renters. Some were just overnight visitors who were just there for a day or two. Judge Hanzman says he hasn't made any decisions yet on how the money will be divided, but he warned condo owners not to expect more than their appraised value.

MICHAEL HANZMAN: That they would be satisfied with that economic recovery and not want to see a windfall at the expense of others who died in this tragedy.

CHANG: Well, on top of all of this, there was some discussion about placing a memorial to the victims on this site, right? Is that still feasible?

ALLEN: Well, it's hard to say. The judge has made clear that for the sake of all the victims, the property has to be sold for the highest amount possible - not donated to somebody that sets up a memorial. But some family members of those who died would like to see the site not built on for anything in the future, except for possibly a memorial.

CHANG: Yeah.

ALLEN: A few families proposed a land swap, where the town of Surfside would exchange the property for a beachfront location where they have a community center. But that idea was turned down by the town. There are discussions about other possible memorial sites nearby, but many families aren't happy with this. Here's Martin Langesfeld, who lost his sister and brother-in-law to the collapse.

MARTIN LANGESFELD: We ask for respect, and we ask for a memorial to be made on this site and not one inch away - here, because we do not build over dead bodies.

CHANG: Sounds like there are definitely a lot of competing interests here. That is NPR's Greg Allen in Miami.

Thank you so much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. 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.