SURFSIDE (CBSMiami/AP) – On the same day two locally-based Urban Search and Rescue teams demobilized and headed home from the Surfside condo collapse, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officially transitioned the search and recovery effort to the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Miami-Dade Police will continue searching the debris pile for human remains and for personal items until they have completed a full additional search of the debris.READ MORE: New Daily Virus Cases In Florida Lowest Since July
“The men and women of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue ran into a collapsed building on the early morning of June 24 and haven’t stopped since. They are true superheroes who have stepped up to serve this community in the wake of unprecedented disaster – not just by leading the search and rescue and recovery operation but through the care and compassion they demonstrated to all the families, doing everything they could to bring closure to those who lost loved ones,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in a statement released to the media. “We’re also very grateful to Miami-Dade Police Department which has been leading the investigation since the beginning, and now continues the challenging work of continuing to sift through millions of pounds of debris, searching for remains and personal items to bring closure to families.”
The County said Friday, 97 victims have been identified, including 96 victims recovered from the collapse and one victim who passed away in the hospital, and 97 families have been notified. 242 people are accounted for. We believe there is one victim still unaccounted for.
While the County did not identify that victim, her brother did to the Associated Press.
Ikey Hedaya is still waiting for his big sister, 54-year-old Estelle Hedaya. to be identified. Ikey said he has given his DNA, talks frequently with the medical examiner and even reluctantly visited the collapse site to see for himself what is being done to find her.
Although he is heartbroken, he is not hopeless. He says he believes that God took care of his sister. And he believes she will be responsible for blessings for those who knew her.
Her best friend in the building, lawyer and fellow New Yorker Linda March, was finally identified Wednesday night even though her body was found more than two weeks ago. But Hedaya’s big sister, the life of the party and a travel lover who’d just bought a red Lexus to celebrate weight loss and career success, remains unaccounted for.
“Hard to believe,” he said. ‘”My sister is the last one,”
At first, he was hesitant to visit the site’s twisted steel and concrete chunks, wondering about his sister’s final moments. Her balcony and living room were still eerily intact. It was too much, and the 47-year-old real estate tax accountant from Brooklyn quickly turned around.
“I can’t believe Estelle is in there somewhere, and I didn’t want to think about it,” he said.
But at the urging of a childhood best friend, now a rabbi, they returned to the site once more to pray in recent days. This time, the rubble was largely gone and the collapse site mostly swept flat. That’s the image he’ll hold onto.READ MORE: Spacex's 1st Tourists Homeward Bound After 3 Days In Orbit
It is a lot to contemplate for this deeply religious man, firmly rooted in his Jewish faith. The waiting is torture, and although he is heartbroken, he is not hopeless.
“I know God took care of her,” he told The Associated Press in a series of interviews Wednesday and Thursday.
The brother said he is drawing his strength from God, just as he’d seen his sister do in troubling times. He also believes God chose her and that “it was her time.”
He’d sensed a shift in Estelle in the six to eight months before the collapse and had just seen her in May.
“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.”
Even her boss and friends agreed, Estelle had a knack for taking life’s difficulties and squeezing out something positive. Beauty from ashes. That’s what her brother believes will happen now after this tragedy where hundreds of relatives, friends and co-workers are grieving and pondering so many questions. Why them? Why this building?
It is only natural to grieve, mourn and cry, he said.
“Let it all out, don’t fight it. But then pray for the strength to start moving forward,” he said.
Even if it’s baby steps, he encouraged others grieving families to “shift to the positive” in their own times as a way to “open yourself up to receive blessings”
“In times like these we have the power to unlock all kinds of things that are not available in normal times,” he said.MORE NEWS: Report: Miami-Dade School District Misused $6M For Driver’s Ed Programs
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)