Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that 98 victims have now been identified.
Linda Hedaya said she was notified Monday about her daughter Estelle, an effervescent 54-year-old described by her loved ones as a people magnet and an adventure-seeker.
After an agonizing month-long wait and extended anxiety, the mother said the family is deeply relieved to have the chance to put Estelle’s body to rest according to sacred Jewish burial traditions.
“We have to go to the next stage, the next level of what happens now, and take care of her the way we should and lay her to rest with dignity,” Linda Hedaya said. “All the things she deserves should come to her now, as they did before.”
An outgoing and adventurous New York native, Estelle Hedaya left for Florida six years ago. On the blog where she chronicled her life and her travels, “Follow the Toes,” she described herself as a “New Yorker taking Miami by storm.”
Hedaya grew up in a religious community where many women married young, but her life took a different path. She delighted in traveling with her girlfriends and looking out at the Atlantic Ocean from her balcony at Champlain Towers South. She had risen to chief operating officer at the jewelry company Continental Buying Group, where she was known for her booming Brooklyn accent, her skill at building the business and her love of fun.
The family endured Estelle Hedaya’s disappearance and the long wait for answers only through the support of relatives and friends in their close-knit Brooklyn Syrian-Jewish community. Linda Hedaya said she never had to make a phone call, was never left alone. In the months before the collapse, Estelle Hedaya had remade herself, her mother said. She was thriving at work. She’d lost weight and achieved goals she set for herself. And to celebrate, she had recently bought a red Lexus.
“Estelle deserves every good wish, every accolade, everything,” Linda Hedaya said. “She deserves it. She earned it, and she did it by herself.”
She said she found comfort in knowing that her daughter was asleep when the condo collapsed and didn’t suffer.
“That’s what you have to hold on to in times like this,” Linda Hedaya said. “There’s no other choice. Because we can’t say, ‘Why did this happen?’ We’ll never know.”
The rescue-and-recovery effort at Surfside was the largest non-hurricane disaster response in Florida’s history. For almost two weeks, rescue efforts focused on the possibility of finding survivors amid the rubble, even as that hope dwindled with each passing day. On July 7, officials announced that “there are no live victims” and shifted their focus to recovery. Firefighters concluded their search for bodies last Friday, and the rubble was moved off-site, leaving Miami-Dade police officers to continue searching for additional remains and personal items.
“We’ve reached the 98, but that doesn’t mean we are done. We are still working the evidence piles. And we will continue until we deem that we have done everything we can,” Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez said Monday afternoon.
Cava added that “nothing we can say or do will bring back these 98 angels, who left behind grieving families, beloved friends, loved ones across this community and across the world. But we have done everything possible to bring closure to the families.”
On Monday, a rabbi was flying to Florida to collect Estelle Hedaya’s remains. Her family hopes a funeral can be held as soon as Tuesday. They will sit shiva for seven days and then, her mom said, “live, somehow, without her.”
“I’m sure she’ll shake up the heavens,” she said.