Last victim of building collapse identified, officials say, more than a month after the catastrophe that ultimately claimed 98 lives and became the largest non-hurricane related emergency response in US state history.
Remains of the last person still listed as missing in the collapse of a Florida condominium tower on June 24 have been recovered and identified, bringing the final confirmed death toll to 98, Miami-Dade County officials said.
Remains of the latest victim, Estelle Hedaya, 54, were found by search teams on July 20, and medical examiners had been working since then to positively identify her before making Monday's announcement, authorities said at a news conference.
The Miami-Dade fire department's round-the-clock search for additional victims at the beachfront site of the Champlain Towers South condo, in the Miami suburb of Surfside, was demobilised last Friday.
To the community and first responders, thank you all for your dedication, compassion, and heroic efforts. To those who shouldered the responsibilities of making tough decisions, thank you for taking on that burden despite the emotional toll.— MDFR Chief Ray Jadallah (@MDFROpsChief) July 26, 2021
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava called the combined search-and-rescue operation and efforts to find and identify victims of the Surfside disaster "the largest non-hurricane emergency response in the history of our state."
"Today I can report, because of the sustained heroic efforts, the last remaining missing person has now been accounted for and identified and the family notified," the mayor said.
"Through these tireless efforts we were able to at least bring closure to all those who reported missing loved ones."
“She was a delightful person. Always laughing, happy, smiling. She rose to every challenge.” The mother of Estelle Hedaya reflects on her daughters life. Estelle is the 98th and final person identified in the #surfsidebuildingcollapse . Hear from her mother on @WPLGLocal10 at 11 pic.twitter.com/STljyJmN56— BridgetteWPLG (@bridgettewplg) July 26, 2021
Search for additional remains of victims
The confirmed death toll consists of the 97 victims killed outright when the building crumbled in the early hours of June 24 as residents slept, and one victim who died while hospitalised.
No one had been pulled alive from the mounds of pulverised concrete, splintered lumber and twisted metal since the early hours after the collapse 33 days ago, and authorities formally gave up hope of finding any more survivors on July 7.
Although the remains of everyone who was believed to have been trapped in the rubble have since been found, police will continue to sift through the debris for additional remains of those who died and for personal effects to return to loved ones, Levine Cava said.
Investigation into building collapse
The search for belongings was continuing through debris left when half of the building caved in on itself, as well as through rubble from the portion of the high-rise initially left standing but later demolished, Miami-Dade Police Department director Alfred Ramirez told reporters.
Authorities said they were still gathering evidence for investigations into what triggered the collapse.
While the cause remains undetermined, a 2018 engineering report found structural deficiencies that are now the focus of several inquiries, including a grand jury probe.
The disaster has prompted officials across South Florida to study residential buildings for signs of poor construction or structural weaknesses.