Esther Gorfinkel told CNN affiliate WPLG that she had been living in Champlain Towers for over 40 years when her fifth floor apartment began to shake in the early hours of June 24.
“Who would think that something like this would happen at 1:30 in the morning? In your life? In my old age that I would see something so horrible like this?” Gorfinkel said.
The death toll for the Surfside, Florida, building collapse rose to 12, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Tuesday. The total number of people unaccounted for is now 149 and the number of people accounted for is 125.
Gorfinkel said she was in her nightgown the night of the building’s collapse when she went to see what was going on. She slipped on a house coat and slowly made her way down to the garage, when her neighbors provided some much needed relief.
“They push me out and we got into water,” Gorfinkel said. “And then they push me, push me and push me. There was a lot of debris and we saw a hole that you can see outside. They push me. They pick me up. I saw the sky. I knew I will be safe.”
One of those neighbors was Justin Willis, who told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that helping Gorfinkel took his mind off the situation.
“(We) tried to help her get out as quickly as possible, because if she doesn’t get out, we don’t get out,” Willis said.
Willis and his dad helped Gorfinkel get over a wall that collapsed in the garage and then onto the pool deck to safety.
“Once we got to that, we all started to take a sigh of relief,” he said. “You feel safe, once you see the beach and get on the sand, you count your blessings.”
Gorfinkel said she remembered the entire encounter and is very grateful for her neighbors’ help, but she is devastated about what she left behind.
“My heart is broken,” she said. “Let me tell you. I have (a) friend on the third floor with her husband. I don’t see them anymore.”
“My wedding pictures … My mother’s wedding pictures … My children’s wedding pictures. You know how many albums of pictures I have? Everything is in there.”