Home Posts As The Death Toll From The Condo Collapse Rises To Nine, Families Cling To Hope.
As The Death Toll From The Condo Collapse Rises To Nine, Families Cling To Hope.
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As The Death Toll From The Condo Collapse Rises To Nine, Families Cling To Hope.


SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — The death toll from the collapse of a Florida beachfront condo building has risen to nine, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, as search-and-rescue efforts continue.

According to the mayor, one person died at the hospital and four more bodies were recovered from the wreckage.

Scores of rescue workers remained on the massive pile of rubble, searching for survivors among the more than 150 people still missing, the mayor said, adding that four of the dead had been identified and their next of kin had been notified.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava reports that more bodies and body parts have been recovered from the condo collapse site, bringing the death toll to nine. Read more here: https://t.co/MC8bJ4zg3B pic.twitter.com/ZpfwzTj2XM — CBS4 Miami (@CBSMiami) June 27, 2021

Four days after the collapse on Thursday, more than 150 people in Surfside remain unaccounted for, and authorities and loved ones fear the death toll will rise significantly.

The Noriega family hoped that their 92-year-old matriarch, Hilda Noriega, had somehow survived as rotating teams of rescuers used heavy machinery and power tools to clear the rubble from the top and tunnel in from below.

When Mike Noriega learned that a portion of the condominium tower where his grandmother lived had collapsed, he rushed to the scene with his father, where they discovered a terrifying 30-foot pile of broken concrete and mangled metal, the remains of the 12-story Champlain Towers South.

Among the flying debris, they discovered mementos from Hilda's life on the sixth floor: an old photograph of her with her late husband and their infant son, and a birthday card sent two weeks earlier by friends from her prayer group, with the acronym "ESM," Spanish for "hand-delivered," scrawled across the yellow envelope with a butterfly etching.

“There was a message in the midst of all of this,” Mike Noriega, who last spoke with his grandmother the day before the disaster, said. “It means not to give up hope. To have faith.”

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett sought to reassure families on Sunday that rescuers were working around the clock. “Nothing else on our mind, with the sole objective of pulling their family members out of that rubble,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”

“We are not going to stop doing that today, tomorrow, or the next day; we will continue until everyone is out.”

Hilda was described by the Noriega family as a fiercely independent and vivacious retiree — “the youngest 92-year-old I know... 92 going on 62,” in Mike's words.

Hilda Noriega had lived in Champlain Towers South for more than 20 years, but six years after her husband's death, she was ready to move on: the condo was for sale, and she planned to live with family.

She enjoyed living near the ocean and with her friends, but “when you lose a spouse, you want to be surrounded by family... and she wanted to spend more time with her family and grandchildren,” Hilda's daughter-in-law Sally Noriega said.

Hilda Noriega, her daughter-in-law said, was a loving person who built a life with her husband and raised a family after immigrating to the United States from Cuba in 1960.

“She was just one of those people who, the moment she met someone, she instantly loved them, and they instantly loved her,” Sally explained.

Carlos Noriega, Hilda's son and the police chief of nearby North Bay Village, was among those atop the pile.

The Noriegas aren't sure what to make of the treasured mementos discovered amid the chaos, but Sally stated, "We are a family of faith, and we'll just leave it at that."

Publicity

They are among dozens of bereaved families who have been waiting for word on the whereabouts of their loved ones for weeks.

Two people present told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations that the atmosphere inside a hotel ballroom where about 200 family members were being briefed by authorities Saturday was tense.

Families dissatisfied with the slow pace of recovery efforts, according to the two, demanded that they be allowed to go to the scene and attempt a collective shout — an attempt to find survivors as well as a cathartic farewell to those who died.

The mayor announced on Saturday that the identification of three bodies had reduced the number of people still missing to 156, and that crews had discovered other unidentified human remains, which are being sent to the medical examiner, and that authorities are gathering DNA samples from family members to aid in identification.

An official briefing families was shown in a video posted online, and when he said they had discovered remains among the rubble, people sobbed.

Stacie Dawn Fang, 54; Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel LaFont, 54, were identified as victims late Saturday.

Burkett stated that a city official conducted a cursory review of the nearby Champlain Towers North and Champlain Towers East buildings and found "nothing out of the ordinary."

The news came after the city of Surfside released a series of documents that revealed the building, which was built in 1981, had “major structural damage” to a concrete slab beneath its pool deck that required extensive repairs.

Further documentation revealed that the estimated cost of the repairs would be more than $9 million, including more than $3.8 million for garage, entrance, and pool remediation, as well as nearly $3.2 million for exterior façade repairs.

While no cause for the early Thursday collapse has been determined, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has stated that a “definitive answer” is required in a timely manner.

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Don Babwin of the Associated Press contributed reporting from Chicago.

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