A Month After the Surfside Collapse, One Family Still Waits for Closure

SURFSIDE, Fla. (Miami Herald/TNS) -
surfside search over
First responders stand during a moment of silence in front of the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida on July 7. (Miami Dade Fire Rescue)

And then there was one.

A dubious distinction, but one Estelle Hedaya’s family is contending with as rescue crews announced a shift of operations on Friday from the Surfside site of the Champlain Towers South collapse, which was cleared this week, to a site near Miami International Airport.

That’s where Miami-Dade Police crews will continue to search for human remains and personal items in the tons of relocated rubble.

At this point authorities have identified 97 people killed in the collapse. They believe there is one more victim unaccounted for.

Ikey Hedaya told Miami Herald news partner CBS4 News that that one person is his sister Estelle Hedaya, a successful 54-year-old businesswoman, blogger and woman of faith.

“The waiting game is a little tough, it’s been a month now, it’s too much for my parents,” Ikey told CBS4.

Ikey Hedaya first flew from his home in Brooklyn to visit the site three days after the collapse to give DNA that could help identify his sister. On that visit, the part of the building that had not fallen still loomed over the rubble field below, teeming with rescue crews working 24/7 on a search and rescue mission that, sadly, turned into one of recovery and identification.

Another image haunted

His sister’s Unit 604 living room and balcony “were still eerily intact,” NBC6 reported.

One can only imagine the agonizing thoughts Estelle Hedaya’s loved ones felt.

Where was she? Where is Estelle now?

At the time of his late June visit to the Surfside site, Ikey told NBC6, it was too much to take in. He had to turn away.

“I can’t believe Estelle is in there somewhere, and I didn’t want to think about it,” he told the station earlier this week after he had returned to Surfside with a close friend, a rabbi, to pray.

Ikey told CBS4 his faith has given a measure of comfort as the Hedaya family is the last to get word on closure.

“It’s actually not difficult, it makes it even better, believe it or not, because it means G-d chose her,” he told CBS4. “I know my sister is in the right place now. She went out on top, we’ll be fine, and her soul will go straight up.”

Estelle Hedaya, the eldest of three siblings, came to South Florida from Brooklyn in 2015 to work as the director of operations for Continental Buying Group and Preferred Jewelers International, which led to travel around the globe.

There’s yet one more challenge. Jewish law mandates that to have a funeral and sit shiva, a body must be available.

So the waiting and the praying continues. And the love goes on.