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Police identify final missing victim from Surfside condo collapse

- By Douglas Hanks Miami Herald

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Miamidade County has identified the final known victim of the Surfside condominiu­m collapse, capping more than a month of recovering bodies and remains of the missing from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South complex.

Estelle Hedaya, 54, lived on the sixth floor of the 12-story condominiu­m complex, and was the last of 98 people killed by the collapse who remained officially unidentifi­ed. Miami-dade police identified her as a Surfside collapse victim Monday afternoon after Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference that the 98th Surfside victim had been identified.

“Together, I pray we can begin the long process of healing,” Levine Cava told reporters at the county’s Emergency Operations center in Doral.

While county authoritie­s were confident Hedaya was killed in the collapse, she remained officially missing as the search operation ended at the collapse site at 8777 Collins Ave.

The search continued at a secured lot by Miami Internatio­nal Airport, where investigat­ors sifted through tons of debris relocated by truck from Surfside. As the weeks passed, police said identifyin­g remains became more difficult. Of the 98 dead, 97 were found in the debris of Champlain Towers; the first known victim died at a hospital on June 24 from injuries sustained in the collapse.

Hedaya was the final name on the police department’s list of missing persons believed to be in Champlain Towers when it fell shortly after 1 a.m. on June 24. Freddy Ramirez, the county’s police director, said investigat­ors have no more missing-person cases to pursue from the collapse, but that the search for remains continues at the debris site.

“We’re still working the evidence piles,” he said, adding the agency wasn’t “ruling anything out” regarding what’s left to find from the collapse debris. “We’ll continue until we deem we’ve done everything we can.”

An executive with a jewelry-sales company, Hedaya made a splash with her “Follow the Toes” lifestyle blog focusing on her getaways, spa days, and shopping — as well as essays on personal challenges.

“Positivity does not come easy. This is especially true during challengin­g times,” Hedaya wrote in an April 28, 2020, post about isolation at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and her Jewish faith. “I have seen several friends cope with immense pain by drawing from their faith and they have inspired me.”

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