Police believe 98 people died in the condo collapse. One was not found.

MIAMI BEACH – The first victim was found in a pile of wreckage just hours after a 13-story oceanfront condominium collapsed suddenly. T...


MIAMI BEACH – The first victim was found in a pile of wreckage just hours after a 13-story oceanfront condominium collapsed suddenly. The second body was removed soon after. One after another, 97 in all, they were located last month amid millions of pounds of mutilated steel and concrete.

But on day 30, the authorities were still looking for a final victim.

For weeks, Linda Hedaya had been eagerly awaiting news of her eldest daughter, Estelle Hedaya, 54, who had moved from New York to Florida to start a new chapter and would be the 98th victim. She waited as the list of those killed grew longer by the day. She waited for her son to travel to Florida to donate DNA that could help identify his older sister, and a funeral was held for the dozens of people who lived in the Champlain Towers South building.

And she waited until the site was finally cleared, leaving only a bare concrete foundation.

“Torture is the only word I can think of to describe what our lives have been like since this happened,” Ms. Hedaya, 74, said on Friday. “It has been heartbreaking and heartbreaking. “

While the search for the bodies at the site of the collapse was officially declared late Friday, Estelle Hedaya is the latest alleged victim – and still nowhere to be found.

For nearly a month, workers scaled and chipped the mountain of debris created by the partial collapse of the building on June 24. Within two weeks, the frantic search for survivors has shifted to the task of removing bodies or remains, a grim mission to give families a sense of closure.

Among the last missing was Linda March, a close friend of Ms Hedaya who was found several weeks ago but was not identified until Wednesday. Fellow New Yorker Ms March, 58, lived six floors above Ms Hedaya in one of the penthouses.

The challenges complicated the search From the beginning. First, there was the scale of the destruction, with the contents of the condos and the collapsed floors amounting to millions of pounds of debris. Already tedious and meticulous, the work was threatened by fires, groundwater up to the thighs, summer storms and the relentless heat of Florida, which deteriorated the remains and made identification particularly difficult.

However, public officials have promised to do everything possible to find all the victims.

“From the start my position was this: We are leaving no one behind,” said Charles Burkett, mayor of the small coastal town of Surfside, after visiting the site of the collapse on Friday.

Mr Burkett said “99.9%” of the debris had been moved to secure areas and would be completely retired. “They go through everything with a fine tooth comb,” he said.

The search for the last remains – believed to be Ms Hedaya’s – would be carried out off-site, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who includes Surfside, said in a statement this week. The rubble was separated into two piles, with parts considered key evidence stored in a locked warehouse, and everything else at an outside site near Miami International Airport.

Police teams were searching again on Friday for human remains in the displaced rubble, as well as other evidence and personal items belonging to residents, said Alvaro Zabaleta, a Miami-Dade Police Department detective. No timeline has been given for when it could be completed.

It has been a very long month for the research teams, yes, but the weeks have been stressful for Linda Hedaya.

On the morning of June 24, she had just finished making her bed when she saw an extract from a collapsing condominium. She immediately recognized that it was the home of her daughter, who had moved to Surfside about six years ago for a job in the jewelry store.

Life was going very well for Estelle Hedaya. In recent months, she had lost weight, bought a new red car to celebrate her successes and, according to her brother, strengthened her spirituality. She was known as much for her vibrant personality as for her love of travel, adventures that took her to Las Vegas, Mexico and Israel.

What happened next on that terrible morning is now a painfully tragic and familiar streak experienced by families from Texas to Paraguay: Panicked parents alerted to the news frantically called their loved ones for no response.

Linda Hedaya couldn’t reach her daughter, so she called a dear friend from high school who lived in South Florida and had become her child’s “second mom”.

Frequently Asked Questions

It could take months for investigators to determine precisely why a significant portion of the building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. But there are already clues to the potential reasons for the disaster, including design or construction flaws. Three years before the collapse, a consultant discovered evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab under the pool deck and to the “heavy” cracking and chipping of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage. Engineers who have visited the wreckage or viewed photos say damaged columns at the base of the building may have less steel reinforcement than originally planned.

Co-ownership councils and owners associations struggle to convince residents to pay for necessary repairs, and most of the Champlain Towers South board members resigned in 2019 due to their frustrations. In April, the new chairman of the board written to the inhabitants that conditions in the building had “deteriorated considerably” in recent years and that construction would now cost $ 15 million instead of $ 9 million. Residents also complained that the construction of a massive residential tower designed by Renzo Piano next door shook the South Champlain towers.

Entire family units have died because the collapse happened in the middle of the night when people were sleeping. The parents and children killed in Unit 802, for example, were Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, a fan of the rock band Kiss and the University of Miami Hurricanes; Anaely Rodriguez, 42, who has embraced tango and salsa; Lucia Guara, 11, who found astronomy and outer space fascinating; and Emma Guara, 4, who loved the princess world. A floor-by-floor look at the victims shows the extent of the devastation.

A 15-year-old boy and his mother were rescued from the rubble shortly after the building fell. She died in a hospital, however, and no other survivors were found during two weeks of a search and rescue mission. There had been hope that demolish the remaining structure would allow rescuers to safely explore voids where someone might have survived. But only bodies were found. There were 97 confirmed casualties up to July 14.

“Is it true?” Ms. Hedaya asked her friend, Leah Sutton.

“Yes,” replied Ms. Sutton.

It was the start of what Ms. Hedaya described as an ordeal made bearable only by her strong Jewish faith and a close circle of friends and relatives.

“How are you going to sleep one night and wake up the next morning and your daughter left like that?” asked Ms Hedaya, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Abe Hedaya. “Our beliefs keep us as rooted as possible in a situation like this.”

Even as they gazed in horror at the footage of the collapsed building, Ms Hedaya and Ms Sutton were certain that morning that Estelle Hedaya and her close friend, Ms March, had made it out alive.

“We were so sure they were such spectacular women – they weren’t going to be one of the victims,” Ms. Sutton said.

A few days after the collapse, Ms Hedaya’s son, Ikey, traveled to Florida to hand over a DNA sample to authorities but also to better understand what had happened.

“I finally went to the site,” he said. “I took a look at the debris and thought about how my sister was in all this rubble. I turned around and left.

Mr Hedaya, one of the three siblings, said he also had to consider that his sister might never be found. A member of the Syrian Jewish community, Mr Hedaya said the circumstances of the collapse have upended their funeral traditions.

Although he and his sister are seven years apart, they text each other almost every day. He taught her how to play backgammon and they often scrambled for the affection of his dog, Sonny. Family members sometimes called him “cha-cha” because of his love of dancing.

He takes comfort in the idea that she was asleep when the collapse happened – and that she was in a good place in his life.

“My point is that we have to mourn the person, show respect, deal with our feelings, but if you realize that God only does good then you have a better perspective and it strengthens you and you will be open to blessings. “, did he declare. “Of course I want my sister back more than anything, but I think it was her time.”

Patricia mazzei contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Police believe 98 people died in the condo collapse. One was not found.
Police believe 98 people died in the condo collapse. One was not found.
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