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“Message in Chaos”: Family finds hope as the search continues



Days after Thursday’s collapse, Hilda remains among more than 150 people missing in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, with five confirmed dead and authorities and loved ones feared the death toll will be much higher.

While numerous rescuers continue to use heavy machinery and power tools to clear up the debris from above and tunnel in from below, the Noriega family still hopes she will be found alive.

“Some miracles are very big, some are small,” said Mike, 36, who last spoke to Hilda the day before the disaster.

They described Hilda as an extremely independent and spirited retiree – in Mike’s words, “the youngest 92-year-old I know … 92 is going to 62.”

Hilda Noriega. (Courtesy Sally Noriega via AP) Hilda Noriega had called Champlain Towers South home for more than 20 years. But six years after her husband’s death, she was ready to go. The apartment was for sale and her plan was to move in with the family.

She had loved living near the ocean and with friends, but “when you lose a spouse, you want to be surrounded by family … and she wanted to spend more time with her family and grandchildren,” said Sally Noriega, Hildas Daughter right.

Sally called Hilda a sweet, loving person who built a life and started a family with her husband after moving to the United States from Cuba in 1960.

“She was just one of those people who instantly loved that person from the first encounter with a person, and that person loved them instantly,” said Sally.

Carlos Noriega, Hilda’s son and police chief of nearby North Bay Village, was one of the rescue workers who climbed the pile.

The Noriegas are unsure what to do with the precious memorabilia found in the midst of the chaos, but Sally said, “We are a family of faith. We just leave it at that. “

You are among dozens of desperate families waiting for news of the fate of their loved ones. The wait was excruciating.

The atmosphere in a ballroom of a hotel, in which around 200 family members were informed by the authorities on Saturday, was tense, two people present told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

The two said families frustrated with the slow pace of recovery efforts requested that they go to the crime scene and attempt a collective call – an attempt to find survivors as well as a cathartic farewell to the deceased.

The confirmed death toll rose to five on Saturday as rescuers battled fire and smoke deep inside the pile in a race against time. With a sulphurous stench hanging in the air, they used everything from trained dogs and sonars to buckets and drones.

“Search and rescue and saving all the lives we can continue to be our top priority,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

The mayor said identification of three bodies reduced the number of missing people to 156, and crews discovered other unspecified human remains as well. The remains will be sent to the coroner, and authorities will collect DNA samples from family members to aid identification.

A video posted online showed an official briefing of the families. When he said they found remains in the rubble, people started sobbing.

Late Saturday, four of the victims were identified as Stacie Dawn Fang, 54; Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel LaFont, 54.

The Paramount Miami Worldcenter Tower in downtown Miami was also lit with the words “One World, One Prayer”. Organizers plan to illuminate the condo building with the message every night for two minutes every hour on the hour until all victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse are cleared up.

Also late Saturday, Surfsides Mayor Charles Burkett said a city official had made a cursory inspection of the nearby Champlain Towers North and Champlain Towers East buildings but “found nothing out of the ordinary.”

The news came after a 2018 report that showed the building, built in 1981, had “significant structural damage” to a concrete slab under the pool deck that required extensive repairs, part of a series of documents released by the city by Surfside.

Additional documents indicated that the estimated repair cost would be over $ 9 million. That included more than $ 3.8 million to refurbish garages, entrances, and pools, and nearly $ 3.2 million to repairs to the exterior.

While officials said no cause for the collapse was identified early Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said a “definitive response” was needed in a timely manner.

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