The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He wanted to head home to Champlain Towers. His girlfriend wanted him to stay. She may have saved his life.

Erick De Moura rarely slept at Fernanda Figueiredo's home on weeknights. But on Wednesday, his girlfriend convinced him to stay. The decision almost certainly saved his life. (Courtesy of Erick De Moura)
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Erick De Moura woke up at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday to use the bathroom. He was at his girlfriend’s house — a rare occurrence on a weeknight — and walked into the kitchen to get his phone.

That’s when he saw all the calls and text messages.

One text in particular stood out — it was from Rochelle, a doorman supervisor at his building on Collins Avenue in Surfside, Fla., asking if he was okay.

“Oh, my God, you’re alive,” Rochelle said to De Moura, 40, when she answered his call.

“What do you mean I’m alive?” he responded in a sleepy haze.

“The building collapsed,” she said.

Then came the sinking feeling, the confusion and denial. Maybe she meant a wall fell down or there was water in his unit, he thought.

“What do you mean the building collapsed?” De Moura said.

Rochelle then sent a picture of the rubble and debris that was once his home.

In what he describes as a miracle, De Moura was spared from the collapse of Champlain Towers South, which claimed the lives of nine of his neighbors, with roughly 150 still missing.

“That night was unusual. I was going to leave Fernanda’s house to go home and take a shower and die,” De Moura said, referring to his girlfriend, Fernanda Figueiredo, in an interview with The Washington Post.

‘They were on their balconies, screaming’: The final minutes at Champlain Towers South

De Moura, a native of Brazil, had been renting an apartment on the 10th floor for about three years. He would spend almost all day in the apartment, where he ran his sales business. He knew many of his neighbors, often exchanging pleasantries, smiles and the occasional gossip about a new resident.

On Wednesday, De Moura worked from home as usual, as a pot of feijoada, a Brazilian stew, simmered in the kitchen. Dressed in shorts and a Brazil soccer jersey, he left home with the dish at about 6:15 p.m. and went to Figueiredo’s house to watch the Brazil vs. Colombia game with two other couples and their kids.

Afterward, they went into the backyard to play soccer, but they knew the night was over when the ball fell into the canal in Figueiredo’s backyard. De Moura jumped in to retrieve it and went inside to walk the guests out.

“People were getting into their cars and I said, ‘I’m going to go home too,’” De Moura said.

As search-and-rescue crews continue looking for survivors, families are stuck awaiting any news on their loved ones. (Video: Drea Cornejo, Alice Li/The Washington Post, Photo: Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

He had a personal training session in the morning and didn’t have his clothes with him. But Figueiredo, 47, insisted he stay, and threw his soaked clothes in the dryer as he showered.

The couple stayed up for a bit, chatting and sipping on beers before turning in for the night after 1 a.m. De Moura estimates he fell asleep about 30 minutes later — about the same time his apartment building crumbled to the ground.

De Moura woke up a few hours later and went to find his phone, remembering to set an alarm for the morning.

He never went back to sleep.

Engineer warned of ‘major structural damage’ years before Florida condo building collapsed

After learning of the condo collapse, De Moura woke up Figueiredo and told her the news. She shook and cried as De Moura, still in shock, jumped in his car and drove home.

“I just couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing,” he said. “It was just unbelievable to see the place that you had been living in for the past three years and called home just, you know, on the floor like that.”

Since then, De Moura says he has felt numb, angry and confused. He hasn’t cried yet.

“I feel like I’m in a dream,” De Moura said. “I feel like I’m in a movie. I’m in a bad movie.”

He feels drawn to the site of the catastrophe. He’s been going twice a day, just standing there and expecting that at any moment someone will tell him it’s safe to go home. Except his home doesn’t exist anymore.

“I felt safe there,” De Moura said. “It’s the only place that I know in Miami.”

De Moura said he knows two of the named victims, one being Cassondra Stratton, whose husband heard her screams over the phone as the building crumbled above her. Another friend from the building survived, and they connected at the hotel where residents are staying. She had happened to stay with her family Wednesday night.

Surfside ramps up investigation into cause of building collapse, as four more bodies identified

De Moura is still trying to process how close he came to death. He noted that not a single person who lived in the units directly above and below has been found.

He says his thoughts are too unorganized to wrap his head around the sequence of events that night. How everything fit together perfectly to convince him to stay, including the Brazil soccer game that brought him to Figueiredo’s house and the soaked clothes.

“For me, for Fernanda, this is definitely a miracle,” De Moura said. “This is an act by God.”

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