BY MYCHAEL SCHNELL – 07/26/21 04:56 PM
The final victim has been identified from last month’s condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., bringing the official death toll to 98.
Estelle Hedaya, 54, was the final victim to be identified, according to The Associated Press. Her younger brother, Ikey Hedaya, confirmed her identity to the wire service.
Ikey Hedaya said his sister “always mentioned God anytime she was struggling with anything.”
“She had reached a different level spiritually, which allowed her to excel in all other areas,” he added.
Hedaya’s identification came just days after firefighters in Miami-Dade County concluded their recovery mission, 29 days after the Champlain Towers South building partially collapsed.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (D) confirmed at a press conference on Monday that the final victim from the collapse was accounted for and identified. She did not, however, share the name of the victim.
She told reporters that a total of 242 people are now accounted for.
“Today I can report that because of the sustained, heroic efforts, the last remaining missing person has now been accounted for and identified and the family notified,” Cava told reporters.
Alfredo Ramirez III, the director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said the final victim’s remains were found on July 20 at a secondary site. Since the discovery, he said the medical examiner’s office has been analyzing the remains in an effort to identify them.
He did note, however, that authorities will continue conducting a secondary sweep of the evidence site “until we deem that we can do no more.”
Fifty-five of the building’s 136 units crumbled in the early hours of June 24. The victims ranged substantially in age, according to NBC News, with the oldest being 92 and the youngest being just 1.
The rescue mission transitioned to a recovery effort on July 8, after authorities determined that it would be nearly impossible to find people alive at the site 14 days after the collapse.
While Hedaya was the only victim who had not yet been recovered, Natalia Jaramillo, the deputy communications director for Cava, told NBC News that the death toll could still increase because “there might be someone who was there that no one reported.”
When asked what it meant to her to be able to put a name to the final victim, Cava said “it really means the world to be able to have closure for all of those who were seeking their loved ones.”
“I’m still very grateful for the tremendous work here that was done to make sure that every family could have that closure,” she added.
When asked what her biggest takeaways were from the tragedy, Cava touched on the importance of buildings remaining standing, before turning to the togetherness of communities.
“Certainly the biggest takeaway is that buildings should not fall down. So, that is obviously something quite unacceptable and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure it does not happen,” Cava responded.
“But the other takeaway is that communities can really come together and do everything in their power to address the needs of the people affected and to do it with just selflessness and tremendous dedication. Really no barriers, everything, everything that could have been done has been done locally and across the world,” she continued.
Authorities originally told reporters that as many as 159 people were unaccounted for, but detectives reportedly cross-checked reports of missing people to determine that there were some duplicates and people listed who were already accounted for, NBC News reported.
That number ultimately dropped by roughly one-third.
Officials are now focusing on what caused the collapse.
A number of lawsuits have been filed against the building’s condominium association, one of which claimed that it did not maintain the building’s safety.
A judge ruled last week that the victims and families who were affected by the collapse will receive an initial minimum compensation of $150 million.