Florida Condo Collapse Search Ends After 98th & Final Victim's Remains Recovered & Identified

Florida Condo Collapse Search Ends After 98th & Final Victim's Remains Recovered & Identified

On Monday, July 26, the painstaking search for missing people finally came to end after the recovery and identification of the 98th victim at the collapse site.

Image source: Getty Images

After the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo complex in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed last month, a crew of dedicated rescue workers was deployed from all around the country to help in the recovery process. On Monday, July 26, the painstaking search for missing people finally came to end after the recovery and identification of the 98th victim at the collapse site. Appearing at a news conference on the same day, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava formally announced the end of the search noting that the final missing person had been identified from their remains and their family had been notified. 

According to a statement from the Miami-Dade Police, the last victim was identified as 54-year-old Estelle Hedaya. She was the only individual who was left uncovered when the search for bodies was concluded on Friday, almost a month after the devastating collapse. Per NBC News, the debris from the unprecedented destruction was stories-high and the pile was ultimately cleared leaving the building's entire foundation completely exposed. As rescue teams retreat, officers from Miami-Dade Police Department continue searching for remains and personal belongings. 



Mayor Cava also assured that Miami-Dade police will continue looking through the evidentiary pile just to "be sure that all identifiable human remains are recovered." She added that the search and rescue officials have done everything possible to bring closure to the grieving families. "Nothing we can say or do can bring back these 98 angels who left behind grieving families, beloved friends, and loved ones across this community and across the world," she said. "I'm especially proud that through these efforts, we were able to bring closure to all those that reported missing loved ones."

The original data said that there were as many as 159 people who were unaccounted for in the collapse. But after checking for weeks, detectives reported that there may have been multiple missing reports of the same person. Miami-Dade County officials revealed that 97 people were eventually reported missing in the collapse by investigators. But an additional victim, who passed away in the hospital, was never reported missing. Even though the final count had dropped the death toll was mortifying. 



For almost two weeks following the collapse, rescue workers searched for victims hoping that they were alive. However, as days went by the hope of finding a survivor diminished. On July 4, officials called for demolishing the other half of the building to allow crews to sear efficiently and safely By July 7, they announced that the chances of finding anyone alive were "no longer possible," leaving families heartbroken. 



Although the search has come to an end, Levine Cava's deputy communications director, Natalia Jaramillo, told NBC News that it's possible for the death toll to rise. "There might be someone who was there that no one reported," she explained. The oldest victim of the incident was a 92-year-old woman named Hilda Noriega and the youngest was 1-year-old Aishani Gia Patel. Aishani was among 10 kids who lost their lives in the collapse. 



Currently, local and federal investigators are toiling to ascertain what caused 55 of the 136 units to crumble. Officials released documents that raised concerns about the structural integrity of Champlain Towers South. Following Frank Morabito, an engineering consultant's finding, it was revealed that the building had "abundant cracking" and crumbling in the underground parking garage, per a 2018 report. Morabito had recommended the concrete slabs by the entrance and the pool deck "be removed and replaced in their entirety" as they were "showing distress." He also advised that the concrete deterioration should "be repaired in a timely fashion."



Apparently, the residents were not informed about the 2018 report. Instead, they claimed that they were told the building was in good shape at the time. However, it also came to light that in April the Champlain Towers South Board President Jean Wodnicki revealed the building's "concrete deterioration is accelerating" in a letter to the residents. Just weeks before the collapse, a commercial contractor inspecting the pool told Miami Herald that there "was standing water all over the parking garage," and the that the biggest puddle was formed by parking spot 78, right under the pool deck, which was the same spot that Morabito reported had "major structural damage."



Soon after the distressing collapse, Cava ordered an audit of buildings in the county that were five stories or higher and at or near 40 years old as a precautionary measure. Five building in Florida has since been evacuated. Cava also encouraged municipalities to do the same and even offered the support of the county. As for the collapse site, both Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett and Cava said that the spot would house a memorial eventually. While they aren't sure what it would look like, Burkett described it as a "holy site" where at least 98 people took their last breaths. 

Recommended for you