SURFSIDE, Fla. — Elena Blasser had her Thursday all planned out. First, she would leave to pick up her 6-year-old grandson for lunch and later buy him a new bicycle.
She never had the chance to do either.
Pablo Rodriguez, 40, said his 64-year-old mother, Blasser, and his 88-year-old grandmother, Elena Chavez, are among the 159 unaccounted for in the high-rise building collapse near Miami Beach.
Blasser and Chavez live in Miami but were spending the week at the unit they owned in Surfside.
“Everyone is praying for a miracle but with every passing hour, it gets less,” said Rodriguez, a Miami resident.
Authorities have not determined what caused the building to collapse, leaving four people dead, so far, and 11 injured. President Joe Biden approved federal aid to help support state and local rescue efforts.
“I’m staying strong for my son and living day by day,” Rodriguez said Friday afternoon about 6-year-old John Paul Rodriguez.
He said his mother, who is retired, and grandmother, who still works as a travel agent, were in the tower that collapsed, and the second building toppled onto it.
“We came over here because there was complete chaos. Nobody knew what was going on or what we needed to do,” Rodriguez said about gathering information about his loved ones.
Walking back to the Grand Beach Hotel in Surfside, where many family members and friends of those missing had gathered, he spoke about their mother-and-son bond.
They spoke daily, including the night before she went missing, about life, spending time with loved ones and travel.
“You can’t process this. It’s devastating, and then you have brief periods of disbelief,” Rodriguez said, adding that his brother is flying down from Washington, D.C., to join him. “We’re extremely close. Family means everything.”
Just last weekend, they were all vacationing in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
During the trip, the family ate Philly cheesesteaks from Geno’s Steaks and took in the Benjamin Franklin Museum.
“Tomorrow is going to be hard when she doesn’t come pick up my son,” said Rodriguez’s wife, Vivian Lasaga, 40.
She said her mother-in-law is someone she can depend on, and the two often cook dinner for each other.
Lasaga said at least three other families from her church were in the building.
Earlier Friday, Rodriguez and others were at the Surfside community center registering personal information and providing DNA swabs in case authorities need to identify remains.
At least 100 volunteers passed out food and water. Some people cried and hugged, worried about the unknown.
“I’m trying to keep hope,” Rodriguez said.
Deon J. Hampton is a national reporter for NBC News, based in Cincinnati.