Last victim of Florida building collapse identified

Except for a teenager rescued hours after the tower crumbled, firefighters have found no survivors

Authorities in Florida's Surfside have identified the last missing person from the partial collapse of a residential building that killed 98 people last month.

Estelle Hedaya, an outgoing 54-year-old woman with a love of travel, was the last to be identified, ending what her relatives described as a torturous four-week wait. Her younger brother, Ikey Hedaya, confirmed the news to the Associated Press. A funeral was scheduled for Tuesday.

“She always mentioned God anytime she was struggling with anything,” he said.

Mr Hedaya said he was drawing strength from God, just as he had seen his sister do in troubling times.

The 12-storey Champlain Towers South building, facing the ocean in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, partially collapsed in the early morning of June 24.

Linda March, a 58-year-old attorney and fellow former New Yorker, was close friends with Hedaya. The two were the last three victims to be identified, along with 24-year-old Anastasia Gromova of Canada.

Leah Sutton, who knew Hedaya since birth and considered herself a second mother to her, said she and March were both “forces to be reckoned with”.

“My two beautiful amazing fearless friends saved for last, have to believe there was a reason for them to be last,” she said on Monday. “Estelle’s love of God was unbelievable and unwavering.”

Rescuers officially concluded the painstaking and emotionally heavy task of removing layers of dangerous debris and pulling out dozens of bodies last Friday.

"Today, I can report that because of these sustained heroic efforts, the last remaining missing person has now been accounted for and identified," said Daniella Levine-Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade county, where the tragedy occurred.

"Ninety-eight victims have now been identified, including 97 victims who were recovered in the collapse and one person that passed away in the hospital."

Even though all the unidentified victims have been found, Levine-Cava said police were continuing to search for evidence and human remains among the tonnes of debris from the building, which were transferred to a warehouse.

Except for a teenager rescued hours after the tower collapsed, they found no survivors in the rubble of the building and soon focused on recovering human remains.

Just over a month after the disaster, the exact reason for the collapse remains unknown, although preliminary findings have shown that some of the building's structure appeared degraded.

The rest of the building had to be evacuated after the disaster, and authorities demolished it on July 4, considering it to be a danger to the search and rescue teams.

The tragedy that befell the tiny town of Surfside prompted an outpouring of love from far and wide. People opened their homes and apartments to victims, children made thank you cards for rescuers, food was donated and tens of millions of dollars raised for the victims.

The dead included members of the area’s large Orthodox Jewish community, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady, her family and their nanny, along with an entire family of four that included a local salesman, his wife and their two young daughters, 4 and 11, who were buried in the same coffin.

Updated: May 12, 2022, 5:30 PM