‘Message in the mess’: Family finds hope as search continues



SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — When Mike Noriega heard that a part of the condominium tower the place his grandmother lived had collapsed, he rushed along with his father to the scene. They arrived at a nightmarish 30-foot pile of pancaked concrete and mangled steel, the stays of her 12-story constructing — and no signal of 92-year-old Hilda Noriega.

However among the many flying particles, they stumbled throughout mementos that bore witness to Hilda’s life on the sixth ground in Champlain Towers South: an previous image of her along with her late husband and their toddler son, and a birthday card that buddies from her prayer group despatched two weeks earlier with the acronym “ESM,” Spanish for “hand-delivered,” scrawled throughout the yellow envelope with a butterfly etching.

“There was a message within the mess of all this,” Noriega mentioned. “It means not to surrender hope. To have religion.”

Days after Thursday’s collapse, Hilda stays amongst greater than 150 individuals unaccounted for in Surfside, north of Miami Seaside, with 5 confirmed lifeless and authorities and family members fearing the toll will go a lot larger.

As scores of rescuers proceed to make use of heavy equipment and energy instruments to clear the rubble from the highest and tunnel in from beneath, the Noriega household nonetheless have hope she will probably be discovered alive.

“Some miracles are very huge, others are small,” mentioned Mike, 36, who final spoke to Hilda the day earlier than the catastrophe.

They described Hilda as a fiercely unbiased and vivacious retiree — in Mike’s phrases, “the youngest 92-year-old I do know … 92 occurring 62.”

Hilda Noriega had known as Champlain Towers South dwelling for greater than 20 years. However six years faraway from her husband’s loss of life, she was prepared to depart. The rental was up on the market, and her plan was to maneuver in with household.

She had liked residing close to the ocean and buddies, however “whenever you lose a partner, you need to be surrounded by household … and he or she wished to spend extra time along with her household and grandchildren,” mentioned Sally Noriega, Hilda’s daughter-in-law.


Sally known as Hilda a candy, loving one that constructed a life along with her husband and raised a household after coming to the U.S. from Cuba in 1960.

“She was simply a type of individuals who from the primary time she met an individual she immediately liked that individual, and that individual immediately liked her,” Sally mentioned.

Carlos Noriega, Hilda’s son and police chief of close by North Bay Village, was one of many emergency responders clambering atop the pile.

The Noriegas do not totally know what to make of the treasured mementos discovered amid the chaos, however Sally mentioned: “We’re a household of religion. We’ll simply go away it at that.”

They’re amongst dozens of anguished households awaiting phrase on the destiny of family members. The wait has been agonizing.

The environment inside a lodge ballroom the place round 200 members of the family have been being briefed by authorities Saturday was tense, two individuals current informed The Related Press on situation of anonymity to debate the personal conversations.

The 2 mentioned households pissed off with the sluggish tempo of restoration efforts had demanded they be allowed to go to the scene and try a collective shout — an try as a lot to seek out survivors as a cathartic farewell to those that had died.

The confirmed loss of life toll rose to 5 Saturday as rescuers battled fireplace and smoke deep contained in the heap in a race in opposition to time. With a sulfur-like stench hanging within the air, they used every part from educated canines and sonar gear to buckets and drones.

“Our prime precedence continues to be search-and-rescue and saving any lives that we are able to,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava mentioned.

The mayor mentioned the identification of three our bodies had dropped the variety of individuals unaccounted for all the way down to 156, and crews additionally found different unspecified human stays. The stays are being despatched to the health worker, and authorities are gathering DNA samples from members of the family to help in identification.

A video posted on-line confirmed an official briefing households. When he mentioned that they had discovered stays among the many rubble, individuals started sobbing.

Late Saturday, 4 of the victims have been recognized, as Stacie Daybreak Fang, 54; Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel LaFont, 54.

Additionally late Saturday, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett mentioned a metropolis official had led a cursory assessment of the close by Champlain Towers North and Champlain Towers East buildings however “didn’t discover something out of the odd.”

The information got here after phrase of a 2018 engineering report that confirmed the constructing, which was inbuilt 1981, had “main structural injury” to a concrete slab beneath its pool deck that wanted intensive repairs, a part of a collection of paperwork launched by the town of Surfside.

Whereas officers mentioned no trigger for the collapse early Thursday has been decided, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mentioned a “definitive reply” was wanted in a well timed method.


Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.


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