Final Surfside collapse victim identified by family; death toll now at 98

National

SURFSIDE, Fla. (WFLA/AP) — Family members have identified the final victim to be recovered in the Surfside condo collapse, more than a month after the disaster.

Estelle Hedaya, an outgoing 54-year-old with a love of travel, was the last victim identified, ending what her relatives described as a torturous four-week wait. Her younger brother, Ikey Hedaya, confirmed the identification to The Associated Press.

The news comes just days after rescuers officially concluded the painstaking and emotionally heavy task of removing layers of dangerous debris and pulling out dozens of bodies.

“She always mentioned God anytime she was struggling with anything,” he said. “She had reached a different level spiritually, which allowed her to excel in all other areas.”

Her brother said he is drawing strength from God, just as he’d seen his sister do in troubling times. A funeral was scheduled for Tuesday.

In the end, crews found no evidence that anyone who was found dead had survived the initial collapse, Fire Chief Alan Cominsky has said.

98 people in total have been recovered since the tower collapsed over one month ago.

Search teams spent weeks battling the hazards of the rubble, including an unstable portion of the building that teetered above, a recurring fire and Florida’s stifling summer heat and thunderstorms. They went through more than 14,000 tons of broken concrete and rebar before finally declaring the mission complete.

Rescue teams left the Champlain Towers collapse site Friday, as the wreckage was completely cleared from the foundation.

Meanwhile, investigations are continuing into the cause of the collapse. According to the office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, $22 million will be used for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s investigation into what happened.

“Over a month after the deadly collapse, our community is still in shock,” Wasserman Schultz said. “While we are still in the process of mourning all those lost, we’re simultaneously trying to assess just how widespread the issue may be. In South Florida and all across the United States, there are thousands of condos just like Champlain Towers, and we simply don’t know how many could have similar structural issues. The NIST investigation will be key to determining the scope of the issue and give us a roadmap to prevent similar catastrophes in new and existing buildings.”

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