Surfside Resident on Close Call: 'I Should Have Been There'

Jay Miller, who traveled to Philly before Florida condo collapse, talks about his survivor's guilt
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2021 9:12 AM CDT
He Should've Been in His Condo, but Left Early for a Trip
A makeshift memorial is seen near the site of the collapsed condominium in Surfside, Fla., on Monday.   (Jose A Iglesias/Miami Herald via AP)

As a risky search for 150 missing people continues in Surfside, Fla., where the Champlain Towers South condo building collapsed Thursday, killing at least 11, one of the complex's residents is 1,200 miles away in Pennsylvania, grateful he left for his annual trip up north before the building collapsed, but also now wracked with "pangs of survivor's guilt," per the Washington Post. Jay Miller, 75, still owns a home in Philadelphia and spends summers there, and he'd taken a train up in mid-June, though there was a point as his trip neared when he considered delaying the journey to stay in Florida a little longer. He stuck to his original plans, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision, but he's now "distraught" over all the friends and neighbors still missing. "You lose a friend, somebody dies—it's a normal cycle of life," Miller says. "But when you've got all these people and you see people are dead ... you think, 'By all rights, I should have been there.'"

The retired college professor—who says he initially heard about the collapse via news reports, though he didn't know at first it was his building—tells USA Today that residents in the complex knew of a 2018 report that indicated "major structural damage" to the building, and had voted to remedy the issues—but that about a year was lost over arguments on the cost, until new board members came in whom Miller describes as "extremely dedicated and conscientious." Miller, a regular at the building's homeowners association meetings, tells Orlando Weekly the complex's owners had recently commissioned an engineering firm to closely examine the building, as it was 40 years old and undergoing several overhauls, including repairing the roof and waterproofing the garage. He tells the paper that from what he's seen in the media so far, nearly every one of the neighbors on his floor is said to be missing. "I think I'm extraordinarily lucky that I happened to not be there," he tells the Post. (Read more Florida condo collapse stories.)

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