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Regional Interests

'She Didn't See The Sunrise': Condo Collapsed On Victim's 1st Trip Outside Paraguay

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been two weeks since the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla. And for those two weeks, many families have waited desperately for news about their loved ones swallowed by the rubble when the building came down.

NPR's Adrian Florido brings us the story of Leidy Luna and her family.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Leidy Luna had never seen the ocean because in her 23 years, she'd never left Paraguay, her landlocked South American country. Her cousin, Lourdes Luna, says traveling abroad had always been a goal of Leidy's.

LOURDES LUNA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Last month, Leidy finally got the chance to travel. To pay for nursing school, she worked as a weekend nanny for the family of the sister of Paraguay's first lady. When the family planned a five-week vacation to Miami, they asked if Leidy would come along to watch the three kids. Leidy was ecstatic.

Here's a voice message she sent her cousin, mixing Spanish with Guarani, the traditional language of Paraguay.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEIDY LUNA: (Speaking Spanish and Guarani).

FLORIDO: Before leaving for her trip, she asked her mother to give her a blessing. Her cousin Lourdes says that when Leidy arrived in Miami, she was in awe. It was Wednesday, June 23, and one of the first things she did that evening was walk the children down to the beach. But the waves were too strong, so they went back to the Champlain Tower's swimming pool.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEIDY LUNA: (Speaking Guarani).

FLORIDO: She didn't have a bathing suit yet, she told her cousin, but she was going to buy one the next morning. She couldn't wait to jump into the ocean. A little later, Leidy texted her family back in Paraguay the first photo from her trip - just one - a gorgeous seaside view from the balcony. A few hours later, the building collapsed.

Lourdes Luna says that the next morning, when it hit the news in Paraguay, her family recognized the building from that photo.

LOURDES LUNA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: They called and texted, but nothing. Still, they were hopeful.

LOURDES LUNA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Lourdes says the family heard initial reports of people hospitalized and thought Leidy might be one of them. Lourdes and Leidy's mother, Juana Villalba, agonized over whether to come to Miami. They had never left their country before either. But after a week, Leidy's mother couldn't take it, and so they came, still full of hope.

LOURDES LUNA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: But here, Lourdes says, Leidy's mother was met by a different reality - by that massive mound of pulverized concrete and mangled steel, by the interminable wait for news. Two weeks after the collapse, Leidy and the entire Pettengill Lopez family are still missing.

LOURDES LUNA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: As the hours and days holed up in their hotel rooms have passed, that hope they had - it's almost gone, Lourdes says. But she stops to correct herself. Leidy's mother, distraught in the next room, she is still hanging on to hope.

LOURDES LUNA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Like any mother," Lourdes says, "she hasn't lost all hope." On the wall, Lourdes has draped a large, elegantly stitched Paraguayan flag to remind her, she says, that Leidy represents all Paraguayans who dream of seeing the world. She says it is painful to think that Leidy never got to swim in the ocean or to see the sunrise in Miami, not even once.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, Surfside, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADRIANNE LENKER'S "MUSIC FOR INDIGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.