'It was a race against time:' New Jersey family recounts surviving Florida condo collapse

SURFSIDE, Florida (WPVI) -- The Aguero family from West New York, New Jersey, was vacationing in Florida when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by rubble and amidst a tragedy.

Their condo in Surfside had collapsed, and they had just narrowly survived.

"It was like a really loud clap of thunder. Justin was awake so he heard multiple sounds. It was like three different distinct sounds," said Albert Aguero, the father.

Albert, his wife Janette, and children, Justin, 22, and Athena, 14, were all inside the condo at the time of the collapse on Thursday.

After a few seconds, they knew there was a problem.

RELATED: Security camera video shows moment of condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida

"It kind of felt like a jet took off above the building and being around Sandy (Superstorm Sandy) I knew that it was a lot different," Justin Willis said.

"The chandeliers and the pendant lights just swaying completely and that was not normal," Albert said. "It was not a clap of thunder, there wasn't a storm, it was something else. Really, until we opened the door, we didn't know anything happened in the building. The unit was intact."

When Albert opened the door, the sight was unimaginable.

RELATED: Florida building collapse: As search & rescue effort continues, expert weighs in on possible cause

"I looked to the left, and the apartment to the left was half sheared off. I looked forward, which is where the elevator shaft was and it was just a hole. So at that point, we knew it was a race against time because I didn't know if the rest of the building was coming," Albert said.

They family said they are just thankful to be alive.



"I don't know, it was just fate," Justin said. "It's unfortunate. But there's nothing we could have done to change it. Thankfully, our actions, our side of the building is still standing up. Me and my sister wouldn't have been alive had it collapsed and we saw it go out."

The Aguero family vacations at the condo and had been to Surfside many times.

Jeanette said the whole thing has been hard to process. She is left wondering why her family got so lucky.

"I just don't know why we're here and the rest of the people aren't," Janette said through tears. "That's what's hard. And knowing how violently the building shook...my husband and I woke up to that, him grabbing me and saying, 'What was that?' And the whole bedroom was just shaking so violently, honestly, I was prepared that the whole building was coming down because it wasn't something stable."

Their vacation was supposed to go on a bit longer, but the family now just wants to get back home to New Jersey.

Rescue and emergency crews at the scene continue to search for survivors but efforts have been hampered, as they've had to put out fires that keep breaking out in the rubble.
Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.