Hopes have dimmed for the survival of an Indian-American family who lived in the Champlain Towers South apartment that collapsed on June 24 in Surfside, Florida.
Vishal Patel and Bhavna Patel and their one-year-old daughter Aishani (seen in photograph above, sourced by indica News) are among the 145 people missing since the tragedy as of June 30. Officially, 18 people have been confirmed as dead.
Rishi Goolcharran, priest, president and founder of the Sri Mariamman Temple in Florida, told indica News that Vishal and Bhavna were expecting their second child.
“We met last Saturday, June 19,” Goolcharran said. “They came around during the evening puja, there was a function and then had dinner. We talked for long and both were smiling, a lovely couple, and they left around 1am.”
Vishal, 42, and Bhavna, 38, lived on the third floor of the apartment. The priest said the temple was like a second home for the couple.
“We were like family,” said Goolcharran, who visited the couple many times. “Last Thursday, Bhavna brought food she had cooked — veg Thai with tofu. She was a good cook and would often bring dinner.”
When he learned of the apartment collapsing, the priest tried to frantically call Bhavna and Vishal; no one responded.
Goolcharran first met the couple in 2016 when they visited his temple.
“They were in search of a spiritual journey and they had contacted many spiritual leaders with different forms of worship,” Goolcharran said. “There was a vacuum in their life and they felt connected with the temple on their first visit. I was in India when they first visited the temple. When I returned, they came to see me.”
The priest said that Vishal and Bhavna were married for a long time but did not have a child.
“I told them to have faith and did a few prayers. She became pregnant but there was a miscarriage,” Goolcharran said. “They were disheartened but I told them not to lose hope; she became pregnant again and had their first child.”
He added: “And she was four months pregnant last week when we lost them.”
He said that they were not just ordinary devotees but they wanted to actively take the temple to the next level. Vishal worked as a team leader of the temple.
“They did not see me as a priest but as their family,” Goolcharran said. “I visited their family in London.”
The priest remembered something he said Bhavna told her on June 19. She was stringing up 108 lemons together to offer to the goddess, and she asked him to string couple — for the first time in so many years that she had been visiting the temple.
Goolcharran said: “Bhavna told me, ‘I will never leave you and I will always be with you, and the lemon represents togetherness in the form of spirit. I did not take it seriously then though I felt a little strange.”
The priest said Vishal’s mother and “we have been praying since June 24 for the couple, and there is a prayer service on July 2.”
According to Facebook, ISKCON Miami temple and friends of the family too are hosting prayer for the missing family from the collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside Florida.