Miami building collapse: Relatives of British mum who lived in tower block struggle through uncertain grief

There is little solace to be found in a tragedy like this, but in the temple that British woman Bhavna Patel calls her second home there is, at least, togetherness.

Her mother-in-law Pretima was at home in New Jersey when she received a call to say that the tower block where her son Vishal lived, with Bhavna and their one-year-old daughter Aishani, had partially collapsed.

Three days later, she is inside the Shri Mariamman Temple praying for a miracle, tears streaming down her face.

The Patels' surviving relatives are praying for a miracle
Bhavna Patel with her husband Vishal and their daughter Aishani. Pic: Patel family

If the collapse had happened two days previously, Bhavna, who is four months pregnant, would have been here for a ritual ceremony. The lottery of circumstance is agonising.

Priest Rishi Goolcharran, a close friend of the couple, says: “They are more than family to me, they are loved ones, more than family, because they lived in this temple for a long time.

“I still cannot believe that they leave us, but we just have to have a very strong bond of the memory of what they actually were to us.”

Vishal Patel and his daughter Aishani
Vishal Patel and his daughter Aishani. Pic: Patel family
Bhavna and Vishal Patel
Bhavna and Vishal Patel. Pic: Patel family

Incense is burned and candles are lit as a Hindu chant fills the room.

Vishal’s sister Pooja and his cousin, Robin, have also travelled across the country to wait for news about the family.

At 8.30pm the night before the building collapse, Robin had a video call with them.

Baby Aishani
Baby Aishani. Pic: Patel family

“I hadn’t seen Aishani in a couple of weeks, so for almost 45 minutes we spoke,” he says.

“Vishal had just begun a new employment opportunity so I was speaking to him about how that was going.

“Aishani had just started to grow her first set of bottom teeth, her preference for teething was actually the stick from a xylophone toy. And Bhavna was pregnant so we were talking about that and arranging a family reunion.”

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‘It gets harder and harder as time goes on’

It is a strange type of grief when there is no certainty. This is the Patel family’s way of coping.

Across Miami and beyond, others are forging their own way through the heartache.

These aerial images show search and rescue workers working the site of an oceanfront condo building that partially collapsed, with at least one dead and over 100 persons unaccounted for, in Surfside, Fla., Friday, June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
An aerial image shows the extent of the devastation

Some families requested to visit the collapse site, either to pray or to see the rescue efforts at close quarters, so authorities arranged a convoy of buses to take them from the reunification centre to the vicinity of the wreckage.

Underneath the debris, a trench has been dug, 125ft long and 20ft wide, to act as a firebreak and to allow better access for teams.

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‘We’re gonna keep searching as long as we can’

Alan Cominsky, the fire chief for Miami-Dade county, where Surfside is situated, says this remains a search and rescue effort, rather than a search and recovery operation.

But more than three days since the Champlain Towers South came down, hopes of finding anyone alive are now fading.

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