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'Always Serving': Colombian Family Says Goodbye To Community-Minded Brother Missing In Surfside

 'FIGURA PATERNA' Sergio Barth (left) and his older brother Luis Fernando Barth, who is among the missing in the Surfside condo collapse
Courtesy Sergio Barth
'FIGURA PATERNA' Sergio Barth (left) and his older brother Luis Fernando Barth, who is among the missing in the Surfside condo collapse

Relatives of those missing in the Surfside condo collapse visited the site Sunday — and many mourned, including the family of Colombian Luis Fernando Barth.

Four more bodies were found in the rubble of the collapsed condo building in Surfside on Sunday, raising the confirmed death toll to nine. Many of the relatives of the 152 still missing have now concluded their loved ones too are gone — and said goodbye — including the family of a Colombian lawyer best known for his community service-minded practice.

Those who attended a Sunday morning meeting between government officials and the relatives of those missing in the Champlain Towers South collapse tell WLRN a more frank message was conveyed: It's unlikely now that anyone else will be found alive in the ruins of the 12-story building. Some relatives refused to give up hope; most accepted the counsel.

So in the afternoon they boarded buses to visit the disaster site — not to hold vigil, but to mourn. Colombia native Sergio Barth said farewell to his older brother, Luis Fernando Barth, who is one of the missing along with his wife and teenage daughter.

“Ah, I’m really sad," Barth said after visiting the partially destroyed condo complex at 88th Street and Collins Avenue. "I just want to say thanks to him for everything he did for me, for my mom.

"He took care of me when my father died. And he was a figura paterna — a father figure for me.”

Sergio Barth, 41, is from Medellín, Colombia, and owns a soccer academy in Kendall. Luis Fernando, 51, and his family were visiting from Medellín for vacation and COVID-19 vaccinations. They were staying in a second-floor Champlain Towers condominium owned by a close friend who’s also from Medellín.

As an attorney, Luis Fernando perhaps could have purchased his own condo in Miami. But Sergio said his brother was more dedicated to law practice that helped the community.

“He was always, always ready to serve," said Sergio.

"The last conversation we had, he was working for an NGO [non-governmental organization] in Colombia which involves the community. And he was telling me, ‘You know what, I could be working for a private company and earning a lot of money, but this is what I love, and I prefer to stay here with less money.”

Luis Fernando Barth, his wife Catalina and daughter Valeria are among dozens of South Americans who are missing in the Surfside disaster. Latin Americans, especially from South America, are among the most avid purchasers of condominiums in Miami-Dade County.

Sergio Barth said another older brother of his died years ago in a car crash.
Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.