Deconstruction

The last day of Menes Danielís life ...

There were plenty of good memories, but plenty of pain to recall too, Eduardo says when reached by phone recently. When their mother died, the two brothers, five and six years old, and their little sister had gone to live with their aunt. Struggling to support nine of her own children, the aunt could offer little, and Toribio's three-year-old sister soon died from illness. "He cried all the time, for two, three months," Eduardo recalls. Then Eduardo begins to cry, remembering how hard his little brother had worked farming avocados, rice, and mangoes until a dam reservoir wiped out the river valley they lived in and relocated their town to barren high desert.

Like most men of the now-fallow town, Toribio left to find work elsewhere. He sent money to help with bills and visited once every few years. When Eduardo last spoke with his brother, this past April, Toribio hinted he might return in July for the baptism of Eduardo's daughter.

Edny Guirand, a 34-year-old practical joker, lived in the Pinewood area of unincorporated Northwest Miami-Dade with his nephew Louis Pamphile, one of his four sisters, and a stepbrother. He left his home in the seaside town of Aquin, Haiti, for Miami in 2004. Like Daniel, Guirand left behind family — his five-year-old son Jonathan and 35-year-old wife Nerlande — to make a better life for them.

Jacqueline Betts, a day laborer who made a habit of chatting with Guirand at the work site, remembers riding up the buck hoist with him the morning of May 6. The two exchanged jokes and smoked Middleton's Black & Mild cigars. "We just talked and teased like always," Betts says.

Ruiz, the graybeard of the crew, is 64. He left behind a wife and three children in Ecuador to work construction in Miami.


9:50 a.m.

Something is wrong. The concrete-forming frame buckles.

"There was a strong noise and everything went down," recalls Donaldo Garay, a welder watching the pour from up on the roof.

Their tool belts slapping their legs, Garay and the other workers on the roof rush down. Amid the debris and a nearly three-foot-deep pile of concrete, Garay can make out a hardhat and what looks like a leg. Frantically he and the others pull wood and steel beams off the pile. The concrete will harden in about fifteen minutes. Garay finds Acevedo first and wipes the concrete from his face. The force of the falling debris had knocked Acevedo to his knees and then doubled him over backward. He's dead.

Grasping part of the steel frame, Ruiz somehow pulls himself from the pile. He goes into shock and has a heart attack, but he will survive. For the next week or so, he will recover on the eighth floor of Mount Sinai hospital as Daniel's niece Wilnite, a nurse, works her twelve-hour shifts one floor below.

Anwarul Huq, a 59-year-old day laborer from Bangladesh, is sweeping sawdust four floors below the penthouse when he hears the collapse. He looks at the other laborers for an answer. Work stops. Within minutes, the order comes to evacuate the building.

Bal Harbour Police are on the scene within minutes. Helpless to do anything else, the first officer to arrive joins the effort to dig out the men. Fire department crews and technical rescue teams arrive soon with heavy extraction equipment and three search dogs. While most workers are told to leave, Garay stays behind to operate a gas-powered circular saw, cutting into the now-hardened concrete. Nightmares from this day will pollute his dreams in the weeks to come.

By 10:20 a.m., rescue workers have found Daniel's body in much the same position as Acevedo's. Daniel had died from the initial impact, his skull and spine fractured by the falling debris. A few minutes later, one of the dogs finds Guirand's body, the only one completely encased in concrete.

Like crude archaeologists, firefighters tethered to building columns bang away at the solidified but not yet rock-hard concrete. They use claw hammers and welding torches to cut metal rebar, taking turns shoveling concrete and debris out of the way.

After almost four hours, they remove all three of the bodies. Daniel, Acevedo, and Guirand are laid out in a cordoned-off temporary morgue on the penthouse's south side. By 7:15 p.m., the bodies of the three workers have been removed from the scene.

Watching the news later that evening, Daniel's niece Andreu Marie Daniel-Joseph sees a story about a construction accident in Bal Harbour. Is that the site where Menes is working? Neither her sisters nor her mother knows. It is not unheard of for Daniel to stay out late after work, especially on a Saturday night. Daniel doesn't answer his cell phone when Solange calls, but that is not unheard of either. "Where are you? Where are you?" Solange asks after the beep.

On Sunday, soon after Solange, Dahifna, Wilnite, Fafane, and Andreu return from church, two police officers knock on the door — is this the home of Menes Daniel?

Work on One Bal Harbour resumes the next morning.

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