The trip to Florida was supposed to be a last vacation together for best friends Michelle Pazos, 23, and Anastasia Gromova, 24, before Gromova left for Japan to teach English.
The young women — who met in their third year studying at McGill University in Montreal, where they both pursued business degrees — were staying at Pazos’s father’s condominium in Surfside, Fla., when it abruptly collapsed on June 24.
As an engineer, Elena Pazos said from the moment she saw the images of the Champlain Towers South wreckage, she knew her daughter likely hadn’t survived.
“When I saw the pile that was left there, that there was no structure … I knew pretty much then that it was pretty bad,” she said.
“That’s why I didn’t want to look anymore.”
The 12-storey tower near Miami killed 97 people when it partially collapsed. Authorities say rescue and recovery efforts required the removal of more than 12,000 tonnes of debris and concrete as search parties continue to identify the dead.
So far, Miami-Dade police have identified 95 victims, according to county officials.
Pazos’s estranged husband, Miguel Pazos, 55, and their daughter Michelle Pazos were the second and third Canadian victims identified in the condo collapse, according to Global Affairs Canada. Their bodies were recovered after three weeks.
Pazos says she’ll remember her daughter as a joyful person.
“Michelle was the sunshine of my life,” her mother said. “She was everything to me.”
Pazos says that while she is devastated by the sudden loss of her daughter, her body being identified was the only consolation.
“I was happy,” Pazos said. “I know it’s horrible [to say] … but when you go through this ordeal for your loved ones to be found, at the end, you hope to hear that they’ve been found.
“The bottom line is you lost your loved ones and you’ll never see them again.”
Looking for closure
Sergiy Gromov and Larysa Gromova flew to Florida from Toronto on June 27 after hearing about their daughter and her friend.
“They spent a lot of time together … they think the same way,” Larysa Gromova said. “They helped each other to make sound decisions in life.”
The couple say they have come to terms with their daughter’s probable death, but need her remains to be identified in order for them to find closure.
“We hope that they will recover at least something,” Gromov said. “Otherwise, you know, it’s unbearable.”
The last time Larysa Gromova heard from her daughter was through a text message, as she would often send updates about her travels.
“When you look at our WhatsApp messages, the last thing [Anastasia sent] was ‘I love you.’ It’s so hard,” she said.
Nearly a month has passed since the collapse and Gromov says he understands rescuers won’t find Anastasia “anytime soon.”
Given Florida’s humid climate, human remains deteriorate quickly, and he says detectives have told him DNA testing would take time.
Gromov says his daughter’s life was vibrant before it was cut short.
“She was very bright. She was the strongest in our family, and I understand it now,” he said. “She was very smart. She didn’t waste her time. She used every possibility in her life to travel, to learn some places, to meet friends, to meet people.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said Canada sends its deepest condolences and is providing direct support to the families of the deceased.