The Police Believe 98 People Died in the Condo Collapse. One Hasn’t Been Found.

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The hunt astatine the illness tract successful Surfside, Fla., was declared implicit connected Friday, but the authorities are continuing to look done the relocated rubble for the remains of Estelle Hedaya, 54.

The household  of Estelle Hedaya is inactive  waiting for closure arsenic  she remains missing pursuing  the Champlain Towers South illness  successful  Surfside, Fla.
Credit...Liz Segel, via Associated Press

Published July 23, 2021Updated July 24, 2021, 4:38 p.m. ET

MIAMI BEACH — The archetypal unfortunate was recovered successful the heap of wreckage conscionable hours aft the abrupt illness of a 13-story oceanside condo building. The 2nd assemblage was pulled retired a abbreviated portion later. One aft the next, 97 successful all, they were located implicit the past period amid the millions of pounds of mangled alloy and concrete.

But connected Day 30, the authorities were inactive searching for 1 last victim.

For weeks, Linda Hedaya has anxiously awaited quality of her firstborn daughter, Estelle Hedaya, 54, who had moved from New York to Florida to statesman a caller section and who is believed to beryllium the 98th victim. She has waited arsenic the database of those killed got longer and longer by the day. She has waited arsenic her lad traveled to Florida to springiness DNA that mightiness assistance place his older sister, and arsenic funerals were held for the dozens of radical who lived successful the Champlain Towers South building.

And she has waited arsenic the tract was yet cleared, leaving conscionable a bare factual foundation.

“Torture is the lone connection I tin deliberation of to picture what our lives person been similar since this happened,” Ms. Hedaya, 74, said connected Friday. “This has been heartbreaking and heart-wrenching.”

As the hunt for bodies astatine the illness tract was officially declared implicit connected Friday, Estelle Hedaya is the past believed — and inactive unaccounted for — casualty.

For astir a month, workers scaled and chipped distant astatine the upland of debris created by the partial collapse of the gathering connected June 24. Within 2 weeks, the frantic hunt for survivors shifted to the task of removing bodies oregon remains, a grim ngo to springiness families immoderate consciousness of closure.


Credit...Maria Alejandra Cardona for The New York Times

Among the past of those missing was Linda March, a adjacent person of Ms. Hedaya’s who was recovered respective weeks agone but not identified until Wednesday. A chap New Yorker, Ms. March, 58, lived six floors supra Ms. Hedaya successful 1 of the penthouses.

Challenges analyzable the search from the beginning. First, determination was the sheer standard of the destruction, with the contents of condos and the collapsed floors amounting to millions of pounds of debris. Already tedious and painstaking, the enactment was past threatened by fires, thigh-high groundwater, summertime storms and Florida’s relentless heat, which deteriorated the remains and made recognition peculiarly difficult.

Still, nationalist officials promised to marque each effort to find each of the victims.

“From the precise beginning, my presumption was: We’re not leaving anyone behind,” Charles Burkett, the politician of the tiny coastal municipality of Surfside, said aft visiting the illness tract connected Friday.

Mr. Burkett said that “99.9 percent” of the debris had been relocated to unafraid areas and that it would beryllium wholly reprocessed. “They are going done everything with a fine-tooth comb,” helium said.

The hunt for the last remains — believed to beryllium Ms. Hedaya’s — would beryllium done off-site, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County, which includes Surfside, said successful a connection this week. The rubble was separated into 2 piles, with pieces deemed cardinal grounds stored successful a locked warehouse, and everything other astatine an outdoor tract adjacent Miami International Airport.


Credit...State Senator Jason Pizzo, via Twitter

Police teams connected Friday were conducting different hunt for quality remains successful the relocated rubble, arsenic good arsenic different grounds and idiosyncratic items belonging to residents, said Alvaro Zabaleta, a detective with the Miami-Dade Police Department. No timeline was fixed for erstwhile it mightiness beryllium completed.

It has been a precise agelong period for the hunt teams, certainly, but the weeks person been agonizing for Linda Hedaya.

On the greeting of June 24, she had conscionable finished making her furniture erstwhile she saw a quality clip of a condo gathering crumbling. She instantly recognized it arsenic the location of her daughter, who had moved to Surfside astir six years agone for a occupation successful the jewelry business.

Life was going precise good for Estelle Hedaya. In caller months, she had mislaid weight, bought a caller reddish car to observe her successes and, her member said, strengthened her spirituality. She was known arsenic overmuch for her vibrant property arsenic for her emotion of travel, adventures that took her to Las Vegas, Mexico and Israel.

What happened adjacent connected that unspeakable greeting is present an achingly tragic and acquainted series experienced by families from Texas to Paraguay: Panicked relatives alerted to the quality frantically called their loved ones lone to get nary answer.

Linda Hedaya could not scope her daughter, and truthful she called a beloved person from precocious schoolhouse who lived successful South Florida and had go a “second mom” to her child.

Frequently Asked Questions

It could instrumentality months for investigators to find precisely wherefore a important information of the Surfside, Fla., gathering collapsed. But determination are already immoderate clues astir imaginable reasons for the disaster, including plan oregon operation flaws. Three years earlier the collapse, a advisor recovered evidence of “major structural damage” to the factual slab beneath the excavation platform and “abundant” cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage. Engineers who person visited the wreckage oregon viewed photos of it accidental that damaged columns astatine the building’s basal may person little alloy reinforcement than was primitively planned.

Condo boards and homeowners’ associations often struggle to person residents to wage for needed repairs, and astir of Champlain Towers South’s committee members resigned successful 2019 due to the fact that of their frustrations. In April, the caller committee seat wrote to residents that conditions successful the gathering had “gotten importantly worse” successful the past respective years and that the operation would present outgo $15 cardinal alternatively of $9 million. There had besides been complaints from residents that the operation of a massive, Renzo Piano-designed residential operation adjacent doorway was shaking Champlain Towers South.

Entire household units died because the illness happened successful the mediate of the night, erstwhile radical were sleeping. The parents and children killed successful Unit 802, for example, were Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, a instrumentality of the stone set Kiss and the University of Miami Hurricanes; Anaely Rodriguez, 42, who embraced tango and salsa dancing; Lucia Guara, 11, who recovered astronomy and outer abstraction fascinating; and Emma Guara, 4, who loved the satellite of princesses. A floor-by-floor look astatine the victims shows the grade of the devastation.

A 15-year-old lad and his parent were rescued from the rubble soon aft the gathering fell. She died successful a hospital, however, and nary much survivors were recovered during two weeks of a search-and-rescue mission. There had been anticipation that demolishing the remaining structure would let rescuers to safely research voids wherever idiosyncratic could perchance person survived. But lone bodies were found. There were 97 confirmed victims done July 14.

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

“Yes,” Ms. Sutton replied.

It was the opening of what Ms. Hedaya described arsenic an ordeal lone made bearable by her beardown Jewish religion and a adjacent ellipse of friends and relatives.


Credit...Leah Sutton, via Associated Press

“How bash you spell to slumber 1 nighttime and aftermath up the adjacent greeting and your girl is gone similar this?” asked Ms. Hedaya, who lives successful Brooklyn with her husband, Abe Hedaya. “Our beliefs support america grounded arsenic overmuch arsenic we tin beryllium successful a concern similar this.”

Even arsenic they watched the quality footage of the collapsed gathering successful horror, Ms. Hedaya and Ms. Sutton were definite that greeting that Estelle Hedaya and her adjacent friend, Ms. March, had made it retired alive.

“We were truthful sure, they were specified spectacular women — they weren’t going to beryllium 1 of the victims,” Ms. Sutton said.

A fewer days aft the collapse, Ms. Hedaya’s son, Ikey, went to Florida to springiness the authorities a DNA illustration but besides to amended recognize what had happened.

“I yet went to the site,” helium said. “I took 1 look astatine the debris and I thought astir that information that my sister was successful each that rubble. I turned astir and left.”

Mr. Hedaya, 1 of 3 siblings, said helium besides had to see that his sister mightiness ne'er beryllium found. A subordinate of the Syrian-Jewish community, Mr. Hedaya said the circumstances of the illness person upended their ceremonial traditions.

Though helium and his sister were 7 years apart, they texted each different astir each day. He taught her however to play backgammon and they often jostled for the affection of his dog, Sonny. Family members sometimes called her “cha-cha” due to the fact that of her emotion of dancing.

He takes comfortableness successful the thought that she was dormant erstwhile the illness happened — and that she was successful a bully spot successful her life.

“My outlook is we person to mourn the person, amusement respect, woody with our feelings, but if you recognize that God lone does good, past you person amended position and it strengthens you and you volition beryllium unfastened to blessings,” helium said. “Of people I privation my sister backmost much than anything, but I judge that this was her time.”

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.

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