HONOLULU (KHON2) — Five days after a condo building collapsed in Florida, the search continues for survivors, including a Hawaii high school graduate.
Eleven people have been confirmed dead as of Monday evening and 150 are still unaccounted for.
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Ilan Naibryf, 21, is one of them. The Hawaii Prep Academy graduate was believed to be on the eighth floor of the building with his girlfriend where they were staying for one night so they could attend a funeral.
Ilan’s parents, Carlos and Ronit, said Ilan was staying with them in Florida for the summer, about 30 minutes away from Surfside.
Ilan’s girlfriend, Deborah, had been with Ilan and his parents in Florida but had to fly back to New York on Monday, June 21. Once she arrived, she got word that her friend’s father had passed away from COVID-19. Deborah flew back to Florida on Wednesday, June 23.
“Ilan picked her up Wednesday at 1 p.m.,” explained his mother Ronit Felszer. “My son asked me, ‘Should I come home? Should I stay here [Surfside]?’ I said wherever the funeral and burial is closer to, so he decided to stay at the apartment, and that’s the last we really know.”
On Sunday, families of the missing were offered to visit the scene. Ilan’s father, Carlos Naibryf, had already gone to the site after the collapse. He didn’t think his wife and daughters should go, but Felszer said she felt like she had to.
“And they realize now what I already knew, the building was totally destroyed,” said Naibryf. “It’s heart wrenching, it’s heart wrenching,” Felszer added.
“When you have a volcano eruption, you know it’s nature, and this is a human failure, so we are really upset about it because it could have been prevented,” Naibryf said.
Felszer, who is also an HPA alum, said messages of support from Hawaii have been a helpful distraction.
On Thursday, KHON2 spoke to some of Ilan’s closest friends. His parents saw the story from 4,500 miles away.
“It’s amazing you guys were able to put together the best of him,” Ilan’s father said.
“I’m just learning things about my son in Hawaii and in Chicago and everywhere he was,” he continued.
Felszer said her son loved track and field, skiing, surfing, soccer, and was good at any new activity he tried.
“I always listen to the news, and when you see some tragedy happen and you hear all these people say, Oh, this child was perfect.’ Well, he was perfect. He is one of them,” she said.
“The messages [from Hawaii and friends] are helpful. I read them at night, the tears, our nights are very, very long, and our mornings are very, very difficult,” Felszer explained.
“When we come back we have dinner, both my daughters are with their boyfriends, which is their support, back bone, we have dinner, we spend a few minutes together, we laugh, we joke, we do whatever we have to do to continue the distraction and then we take a sleeping pill and try and get some rest.”
“The outpour from Hawaii has been beyond, and Ilan’s heart definitely remains in Hawaii. I have to say that he was planning to go. He had a ticket for the 11th of July to visit friends,” she said while crying.
Ronit said she’s staying strong, but the family has been preparing for the worst.
“We’re of Jewish faith. We’re not religious, but there’s a period after someone passes that we call Shiva, which counts for the seven days where you have to mourn for your lost one, and we feel our Shiva started before we have some kind of closing,” Felszer said. “So four days we’ve been sitting home mourning. We know as parents that there isn’t a grieving period, it will be forever, and we understand we will come out of this. We are a family. We have two amazing daughters. We have their boyfriends supporting them. We have one another. We have the ohana and people here, but we will grieve forever.”
The family admits they’ve felt frustrated with the search and rescue and were hoping the Israeli search and rescue teams arrived sooner.
“I’m not happy they came 72 hours after, but I’m happy they are here today,” said Naibryf.
The family said the Israelis started their investigation by interviewing families of each floor to understand what the floorplan was like, what furniture was in the rooms, if their loved ones might have been sleeping or out on their lanai.
“With that picture, their engineers start to analyze all that information and then I believe they’re drilling one hole down, and one tunnel across, so they’re doing an excellent job, I have to say, so is Florida,” Ilan’s parents said.
“We’re in good hands. We tend to get frustrated. At the beginning we were like, no one is coming in, but then we understood first they have to investigate if it was safe to go in and if the other building was going to collapse, but at the beginning you’re like, it’s been 12 hours and they haven’t done anything and finally they go in and you see them and they’re not moving anything, and as the hours pass, and we’re over 100 hours now, every minute counts,” Felszer said.
“Now we feel they are doing their best as well just to get it going and hopefully we can have some news, but honestly the news is grim and the process is very long. It will not be done in a week, two weeks, it could take months,” she continued.
KHON2 asked what people in Hawaii can do to help their family.
“You’re doing everything you should,” said Naibryf. “We are talking about him. We are remembering who he was. We know his friends were expecting him there in two or three weeks. I mean that’s what counts because even though the whole island was not aware, the people that knew him and vice versa, that’s why he wanted to go back.”
“That’s the best way is to remember him; he may come back tomorrow, I don’t think so, because it’s very slim possibilities, but a miracle can happen, but honestly, it’s a nightmare that we cannot understand, nobody can. I mean a building does not fall on its own, it’s crazy,” Naibryf said.