The remains of the final victim unaccounted for in the deadly apartment block collapse in Miami have been found and identified, her family announced.
The discovery ends a weeks-long wait for the family of 54-year-old Estelle Hedaya, who had been missing since her building collapsed on 24 June.
Estelle Hedaya’s brother, Ikey, told media that local New York police delivered the news to their family on July 26.
Her discovery brings the death toll in the collapse disaster to 98.
Search teams spent weeks combing the rubble for victims but said on July 23 that their search had finally ended. At that time, Estelle Hedaya was still unaccounted for.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said July 26 that police volunteers were continuing to “carefully and meticulously” sift through millions of pounds of debris at a secondary site looking for remains and personal items.
“We have done everything possible to bring closure to the families and I am especially proud that through these tireless efforts we were able at last to bring closure to all those who reported missing loved ones,” the mayor told reporters.
The number of people missing had initially been put as high as 159, but police brought that figure down after weeks of checking reports.
Search efforts for possible survivors in the rubble of a partially collapsed building in the Miami suburb of Surfside have been suspended ahead of the controlled demolition of the rest of the building.
Teams are preparing to bring down the remaining structure using explosives.
The demolition of Champlain Towers South was brought forward over safety fears due to approaching Tropical Storm Elsa.
Part of the 12-story block collapsed on June 24. Twenty-four people are known to have died and 121 are missing.
No survivors have been pulled from the rubble at the site in the Miami suburb of Surfside since the first few hours after the structure’s collapse.
The families of the missing were told in advance of the decision to pause the search effort, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Cava Levine said.
The decision to bring forward the demolition of the remaining block was made after concerns were raised over the approaching Tropical Storm Elsa, which is expected to reach the west coast of Florida on July 6.
The mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, said strong winds in the coming days could bring down additional debris from the unstable structure, endangering the lives of the search teams.
“It was obvious that the building was a problem,” Charles Burkett said on July 3.
He added: “We agreed that the only solution for that problem was to eliminate it.”
Mayor Burkett said the controlled demolition could take place as early as July 4, and should be completed within days.
The Miami building collapse death toll has risen to five, authorities say.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the number unaccounted for has now dropped to 156, with three more of the recovered bodies identified.
She told reporters: “Our top priority continues to be search and rescue and saving any lives that we can.”
Part of the building collapsed early on June 24 while many residents slept.
As yet the cause of the collapse remains unclear.
However, an engineer’s report from 2018 was made public on June 26, which highlighted “a major error” in the original design of the seafront Champlain Towers. It said the fault prevented water draining away from the base of the building.
President Joe Biden tweeted: “My heart is with the community of Surfside as they grieve their lost loved ones and wait anxiously as search and rescue efforts continue. Yesterday I spoke with Gov. DeSantis to let him know that we are ready to provide assistance as needed by state and local officials.”
Rescue teams have been using machines, drones and specially trained dogs in their efforts to find survivors. Rescue efforts were briefly hampered on June 26 after a fire broke out underneath the rubble.
According to reports, the missing include people from Israel and Latin America. Paraguay’s foreign ministry said six of its nationals had been registered as missing, including relatives of the country’s first lady.
Local officials have provided families with hotel rooms and food as they wait for news about their loved ones.
The building contained 136 apartments and 55 of them collapsed early on June 24, leaving piles of debris.
At least four have been killed and 159 are still missing after a12-storey residential building north of Miami.
Rescuers are desperately searching for any survivors trapped in the rubble.
As families desperately wait for news, search teams have been working around the clock and have reported hearing people banging beneath the debris.
What caused the 40-year-old building to collapse early on June 24 remains unclear.
At least 102 people have now been accounted for, but it is uncertain how many were in the building when it came down. Dozens of people have been evacuated from what is left of the structure.
President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration for Florida, meaning the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will help state agencies with the relief effort.
Overnight hundreds of rescuers used sonar cameras and specially trained dogs as they scoured the rubble for survivors. Teams were tunneling from an underground car park below the building in an effort to reach victims.
The mayor of Surfside, where the disaster happened, Charles Burkett, said at an early-morning news conference that some 15 families had walked out of the building.
Most residents would have been asleep when the collapse happened at about 01:00 AM local time.
Overnight, search teams detected sounds of banging and other noises, but no voices coming from the tonnes of debris. Officials say the efforts are dangerous as further rubble could collapse on them.
Constant rain and storms are further complicating an already difficult task for the search-and-rescue teams.
Authorities have begun taking DNA samples from relatives of those missing in case only remains of their family members are found in the rubble.
Relatives of the missing have been huddled around a community centre a few blocks away, waiting for information and fearing the worst. They have been putting out appeals on social media for information that could help them find their loved ones.
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