When it took time for Estelle Hedaya's body to be pulled out, close ones hoped for a miracle. “Maybe like a TV movie,” there’s a different ending, best friend Lisa Shrem hoped.
On June 24, 2021, a section of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. For two weeks since then, search and rescue operations were in full swing, with first responders working round the clock to try and pull out people stuck between the debris, but in vain. So, the tough decision to switch the operations to recovery was made on July 7.
96 people were recovered lifeless from the rubble. One person died at the hospital after being pulled from the debris.
According to The Washington Post, rescuers sifted through 26 million pounds of concrete and rubble, and they also went through debris moved off-site for any remains, but one last victim was yet to be found.
The final victim of the condo building collapse in Florida has been identified. Estelle Hedaya, an outgoing 54-year-old with a love of travel, was the last victim identified, her brother confirmed. https://t.co/vMcWDlOwSJ— The Associated Press (@AP) July 26, 2021
Now, nearly 20 days since the switch was made to recovery from search and rescue, the final victim has been recovered from the site, bringing the total death toll to 98, reports PEOPLE.
The victim has been identified as 54-year-old Estelle Hedaya, according to the Associated Press. The woman, who lived in unit 604, had an outgoing personality and loved to travel, her brother Ikey Hedaya said. Now, to deal with the loss of his sibling, Ikey is drawing strength from God, just like Estelle would, during tough times. "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."
The final Surfside victim has been identified.— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) July 26, 2021
54-year-old Estelle Hedaya.
I spoke to her brother last week -- they were going through hell waiting as the final family.
All he wanted was some closure. Hopefully now they have it. pic.twitter.com/wBtand80Gj
Before her remains were found, mom Linda Hedaya hoped her daughter would be identified so they could start off with their religious funeral services. Linda was worried her daughter was unable to rest, “because she’s not in the place she’s supposed to be.”
Hedaya's friends and family were worried she would be forgotten amid the rubble. “She loved her life,” Linda Hedaya said. “She loved everything around her.”
When it took time for Hedaya's body to be pulled out, close ones hoped for a miracle. “Maybe like a TV movie,” there’s a different ending, best friend Lisa Shrem said. “Maybe she went out somehow, some way and is laughing at all of us and sipping tequila and lime on a beach in I don’t know where, somewhere else,” Shrem said. “That’s the hope. But, you know, it’s not realistic.”
Lisa Shrem spoke via Zoom on behalf of Estelle Hedaya and two other victims -- the three who've not been identified as found. "We don’t even have bodies to bury yet. Who here in the court could help families get transparent answers from [medical examiner]" about their remains?— Verónica Soledad Zaragovia (@verozaragovia) July 21, 2021
Though Hedaya was born into a religious community, she chose a different path for herself. Unlike people she grew up with, she chose not to get married at a young age, and despite being single at 54, she hadn't given up on love. “She enjoyed her own company, the friends she surrounded herself with,” said friend Rachel Sabbagh.
Hedaya, who moved to Miami to work for the jewelry company Continental Buying Group, became the chief operating officer within six years. She had a blog called Follow the Toes, where she chronicled her relationships, travels, and everyday life. She described herself as a “New Yorker taking Miami by storm."
Her dream was to live in Miami. “It has been a long journey but I am so thankful for all the experiences that have made me the woman that I am today. I have truly evolved in so many ways. I had put out in the universe that I wanted to live in Miami, and boom here I am living the dream,” she had shared.
Lisa Shrem, left, and Estelle Hedaya. Hedaya is still missing following the June 24 condominium collapse in Surfside, Fla.https://t.co/wydFk8Db7z— Olga 🇨🇦🇬🇷🇺🇸 (@okourgiantakis) July 24, 2021
The cause of the collapse still remains unclear, but Surfside Vice Mayor Tina Paul said the building had just passed its inspection a day before it collapsed.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said that engineers will investigate the cause of the collapse, but that answers might take time. "You're not gonna have those answers immediately, but I know that they are going to be working diligently to do that," he said.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Anna Moneymaker