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'I wish I hugged her harder': Families of those missing in condo collapse cling to faith

For the first time, loved ones of those missing in the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse were bused to the scene on Sunday.
/ Source: TODAY

Families of those who went missing when a residential building collapsed on Thursday in Surfside, Florida, are holding onto hope that they might be reunited with their loved ones again.

Many were able to visit the scene at Champlain Towers South, outside Miami, on Sunday, with several buses taking family members and friends to get a first-hand look at the ongoing search efforts.

"I was praying, 'God please let her be alive, I will spend more time with her, I will spend more time with her,'" one person told reporters. "I saw her last month, I wish I hugged her harder."

On Sunday, the death toll in the collapse rose to nine, with eight of the victims identified as: Stacie Dawn Fang, 54; Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; Manuel LaFont, 54; Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermudez, 26; Anna Ortiz, 46; and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 76, NBC News reported.

Another 10 people were injured, and more than 150 are still unaccounted for.

"That burden, that heart is a little bit heavier, your throat, the feeling of I couldn't eat anything or look at anything, that sort of feeling," Maggie Ramsey, whose mother, Magaly, is still missing, told TODAY.

A friend of LaFont, before he was confirmed dead, recalled, "He's a great dad, has two children, a boy and a girl, and these kids are missing their father."

Gladys and Antonio Lozano, originally from Cuba, were married for 59 years and knew each other for 68 before they died.

Michelle Noriega, who's still hoping to see her 92-year-old grandmother, Hilda, again, told TODAY that she and her family found a photograph and birthday card of her grandma's on top of the rubble shortly after the collapse.

"I just feel like it's really God's way of comforting us, to say, either way, whatever happened with your grandmother, she's OK," Noriega said.

A growing memorial with photos and messages at the site also provided some comfort to those waiting for answers.

"What I found in the memorial was a bit of solace, there was a bit of familiarity," Leo Soto, who's friends with a newlywed couple still missing, told TODAY. "It was just like everybody understood each other. We might be strangers, we might not know each other, but we're going to hug each other, we're going to cry with each other."

A woman looks at photos at the makeshift memorial for the victims of the building collapse in Surfside, Florida, north of Miami Beach, on Sunday. Chandan Khanna / AFP - Getty Images

The reason behind the collapse is still unknown, but recently surfaced documents from 2018 found evidence of "major structural damage" below the pool deck of the building that collapsed.

The mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, said Sunday that search efforts will continue until "we pull every resident out of that rubble."

"We have two objectives now,” he added. "That is to support the family and to stay focused, to keep those rescue crews on that pile of debris bringing out residents. We have waves and waves of rescue teams that are ready to step up."