Gabriela Camou and Miguel Kaufmann die in Surfside condo collapse

Miguel Kaufmann and Gabriela Camou, a married couple from Uruguay, at their niece's wedding.  They are among those who died in the Surfside building collapse.

Miguel Kaufmann and Gabriela Camou, a married couple from Uruguay, at their niece’s wedding. They are among those who died in the Surfside building collapse.

A week after the collapse of Champlain Towers South, Bernardo Camou was determined to go to Surfside. After days of waiting for news, he wanted to be close to his missing older sister, Maria Gabriela Camou, 64, and her partner, Miguel Kaufmann, 65, as first responders searched for them in the rubble.

“I couldn’t just sit here with my arms folded. That’s when I made the decision to go, ”said Bernardo, who flew to Miami with his older sister, María Inés.

The couple decorated the Memorial Wall on Harding Avenue, attaching an Uruguayan flag – blue and white stripes and a golden sun – to the chain-link fence. A cascade of pale pink roses, white baby’s breath, and dark green leaves framed photographs by Gabriela and Miguel. In one image, the couple smile from the pews of a niece’s wedding. In a black and white shot, a young Gabriela beams between the ears of a horse. A yellow handwritten note with “GABRIELA” in black letters at the top is attached to the flag.

Gabriela Camou and Miguel Kaufmann travel to Miami about three times a year from their native Uruguay to see their son, wife and two grandchildren who live in South Florida. They often stayed long periods in the city.

But the married couple disappeared into darkness and rubble when their Champlain Towers South condo collapsed on June 24. A lifeless Gabriela was found on July 8. Her husband, Miguel Kaufmann, 65, was found a day later.

Maria Gabriela Camou was born from Jorge Camou Jerónima and Maria Inés Font Sarasola, according to genealogical records. She had three other siblings: Mauricio, Maria Inés and Bernardo. Mauricio, the older brother, died in a plane crash decades ago.

She grew up in Montevideo, the coastal capital of Uruguay, and attended Colegio Jesus María, where she was taught by nuns. She finished her high school years at an Italian school in the city.

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In summer and winter, Gabriela and her siblings vacationed in the family country house. She was a skilled jockey, Bernardo recalls, and rode a horse through the picturesque rural landscapes. Sometimes the family would travel to Punta del Este, one of Uruguay’s most famous seaside towns on the Atlantic Ocean.

After graduating from high school, she took a secretarial course and started working as an administrative assistant. This is how she meets her future husband Miguel Leonardo Kaufmann, a hardworking businessman who lost his father as a teenager.

“He took on his shoulders the responsibility of providing for his family, his mother and his brother,” Bernardo said. “And he must have started adult life, at 16, without having finished his studies.”

But his brother-in-law was hardworking, lively and intelligent, and made a career in different companies. At one point, he owned land and cultivated silver eucalyptus trees. He bought and managed parking lots in coveted areas of the city. He was also a great conversationalist who could talk about any topic, Bernardo said.

“He had very firm and determined ideas,” he said.

After about two years of dating, the young couple got married. Gabriela was a Christian and Miguel was a Jew. A priest and a rabbi blessed the start of their marriage.

Miguel and Gabriela had three children together: Mauricio, Sofia and Bruno. The couple raised them in Christianity and Judaism, giving them space to follow the religious beliefs that resonated the most with them. They invited their family and friends for birthdays and games to the house they built together.

After having children, Gabriela became a devoted stay-at-home mom to her children. Together with her husband, she encouraged them to continue their studies and find professional and educational opportunities outside of Uruguay.

Gabriela and Miguel were members of the Nautilus Yachting Club, a water sports club in Montevideo, and occasionally cycled around town. She danced the ballet and made a fantastic apple strudel. She always visited other people’s homes with a cake or dessert in her hand and took long walks around Carrasco, the seaside district where they lived. Bernardo sometimes came to swim in the pool and chat.

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“Most of the time she greeted me with a big smile from ear to ear,” he said. “She showed me with a smile that she loved me, that I was important to her. It was as if she was caressing my soul.

Miguel and Gabriela got along well, he says, and had been married for forty years when the Champlain Towers collapsed. The couple had recently moved into a beachfront apartment in Punta Carretas, another seaside district in the south of the capital filled with condominiums with ocean views, he added.

Gabriela spoke daily with their children, spread between the United States and Europe. He missed her three children and five grandchildren deeply.

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Bernardo visited the memorial almost every day of his visit, bringing fresh flowers to the photographs of his sister and husband. Before returning home, he bought two rosaries from the Saint Joseph Catholic Church, which lost worshipers in the collapse. The one he attached to the memorial.

“And I have one,” he said, taking the rosary out of his chest pocket at his home in Uruguay.

“She was a great and wonderful person outside and inside. She was beautiful, divine and I miss her, ”he said.

Gabriela Camou and Miguel Kaufmann were buried together, side by side, the same way they slept for forty years.

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Syra Ortiz-Blanes is a Puerto Rican journalist who covers Puerto Rico and Latin America for El Nuevo Herald and Miami Herald via Report for America. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in May 2020. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and others. Syra Ortiz-Blanes is a Puerto Rican periodista. Cubre Puerto Rico y Latinoamérica para El Nuevo Herald y Miami Herald a través de Report for America. Graduated con una maestría de la Escuela de Periodismo de Columbia in May of 2020. Su trabajo ha aparecido en The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, y otros.

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