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Miami building collapse: What do we know about the victims?

·9 min read
Leo Soto, 25, who lost his friend in the disaster, reacts as people hang up signs of missing residents
A makeshift wall with flowers and images of the missing has been set up in Surfside

Rescue workers have now recovered all but one of the victims of the tower block that collapsed in Surfside, Florida, on 24 June. Ninety-seven people have been confirmed dead and only Estelle Hedaya is yet to be identified.

The search for victims was extremely slow, as rescuers had to sort through the rubble in sweltering heat and high humidity.

Here is what we know about the victims.

'They didn't want to be apart from each other'

Antonio Lozano, 83, and his wife Gladys, 79, were among the first to be confirmed dead after their son Sergio Lozano gave officials a DNA sample.

They were about to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary in July and had known each other for more than 60 years.

The couple used to joke that neither wanted the other one to die first, because they did not want to be apart from each other.

Mr Lozano could see his parents' apartment from his own home and heard the crash of the collapse. When he ran to the window, he could no longer see their apartment.

He told reporters that he took some comfort in the knowledge that they "went together and went quickly".

'A family erased'

The Guara family - dad Marcus, 52, mum Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and daughters Lucia and Emma, 11 and four respectively - lived on the eighth floor. On Tuesday, 6 July, they were among the first of the victims to be buried.

Mourners hug at the funeral
Mourners gathered to say goodbye to the Guara family in Surfside

Mr Guara - whose remains were found days before those of his family - was described as "helpful and friendly" by college friend Mike Spring, while cousin Peter Milian told the Miami Herald he was "a great brother, uncle, cousin, son, and loved his daughters passionately".

"A family's been erased," Mr Milian told NBC 6 after rescuers found the bodies of Anaely Rodriguez and her daughters.

A father who loved baseball with his son

Manuel LaFont, 54, lived on the eighth floor of the building.

Mr LaFont's two children, a 10-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, had been spending time with him that day, but were picked up by their mother - Mr LaFont's ex-wife - just hours before the collapse.

"My children were born again, and I was born again as well," she said.

Mr LaFont would often be found playing baseball with his young son, the Miami Herald reports.

A fireman's family

Stella Cattarossi, the seven-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter, was inside the building with her mother, grandparents and aunt when it collapsed. Her body was identified on 2 July.

Her mother, Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and her grandparents Graciela, 86, and Gino Cattarossi, 89, were also killed.

Her aunt, Andrea, who was visiting from Argentina, has also been confirmed dead.

Stella's father has been working with the rescue efforts and was on scene when she was found, local media report.

'Our beloved Stacie'

The first victim to be officially named was Stacie Fang. She was the mother of Jonah Handler, a 15-year-old who was pulled from the rubble hours after the collapse, as he begged rescuers: "Please don't leave me."

In a statement, her family expressed thanks for the outpouring of sympathy and support they had received. "There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie," it read.

'Matriarch' of family

Hilda Noriega, 92, was the oldest victim of the tragedy.

Her grandson Michael described Ms Noriega as "larger than life" and "92 years old going on 62".

In the hours after the collapse, Mr Noriega rushed to the scene with his parents. They later told US media how they found a birthday card and family photographs in the rubble.

The family released a statement in which they said they had lost the "heart and soul" and "matriarch" of the family but would "get through this time by embracing the unconditional love Hilda was known for".

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'A very loving family'

Bhavna Patel, a 38-year-old British and US citizen, and her husband Vishal Patel, 42, were both confirmed dead on 2 July. The body of their one-year-old daughter, Aishani was identified the following week. She was the youngest victim.

Bhavna was pregnant, a tweet from a relative said.

A photo of Vishal Patel (left), Bhavna Patel (right) and Aishani (centre)
Vishal Patel (left), Bhavna Patel (right) and Aishani (centre) all died in the collapse.

Umma Kannayan is a family friend of the Patels. She told the BBC's Will Grant that they were a "very loving" family who were closely involved in their religious community.

"Aishani was like the little baby of the temple," she said. "It feels like you've lost a part of yourself."

Family of Paraguay's first lady

The sister of Paraguay's first lady, Silvana López Moreira, was confirmed dead on 8 July.

The remains of Sophia López Moreira, her husband Luis Pettengill and their three children - ages 3, 6 and 9 - have all been found.

The first lady travelled to Florida to be with her family amid the search.

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Their nanny, Leidy Luna Villalba, was found on 7 July. She had arrived in Miami hours before the building collapsed. It was her first time travelling outside of Paraguay.

She sent a message to her cousin when she arrived, telling him she was excited to explore the city.

Her mother, Juana de Villalba, told media in Paraguay: "She's the primary breadwinner of our family and she went to Miami for work. She went for us. My heart is broken".

Widower seeking the 'next chapter'

Harry Rosenberg, 52, who was confirmed dead on 8 July, relocated to Miami from New York following the loss of his wife, Anna, to cancer and both of his parents to Covid in the past year.

He recently told a fellow congregant at a local synagogue he was entering the "next chapter" of his life.

A close friend told Associated Press that Harry had spent three years taking care of his ill wife.

He had only recently bought a second-floor unit in Surfside - big enough to welcome friends and family.

'Devastated 12-year-old daughter'

Brad Cohen, 51, is one of several members of the Jewish community to have died.

His brother Gary, 58, who was visiting from Birmingham, Alabama, also lost his life. He had come to Florida so that the pair could see their father, who is ill, in nearby Boynton Beach.

"The hardest thing has been seeing the devastation of my 12-year-old daughter, she is very close to her father," Brad's wife, Soraya Cohen, told the BBC.

Soraya Cohen shows a picture of her husband Brad
Soraya Cohen's husband Brad was inside the Champlain Tower when it collapsed

A beloved PE teacher and his wife

The disappearance of one Jewish couple prompted an emotional reaction on social media.

Several people queried the whereabouts of Myriam Caspi Notkin and Arnie Notkin, an elderly couple who lived on the third floor of the collapsed building, but their bodies were both recovered on 9 July.

They married about 20 years ago after both being widowed.

Speaking to the Miami Herald newspaper, Fortuna Smukler said Mr Notkin was a beloved member of the community.

Ms Smukler said Mr Notkin taught physical education at a local primary school in South Beach for years, and is remembered by many students.

"He was such a well-liked PE teacher from people's past," she said.

"He had students who became famous, and he had to tell me about them, how they were good or mischievous," she added.

'I'll call her tomorrow'

Magaly Ramsey received a call from her mother, Magaly Delgado, the night before the collapse.

"My mother called me at around 10 o'clock on Wednesday night, but I was at a conference and I couldn't answer her," Ms Ramsey told the BBC.

Magaly Ramsey
Magaly Ramsey was not able to take a call from her mother the evening before the collapse

I'll call her tomorrow, she thought. On 1 July, Miami-Dade police announced they had recovered Magaly's remains.

Magaly said her mother, an 80-year-old of Cuban origin, was idolised by her two grandsons. "My kids adored her," she told ABC News.

She added that her mother had been concerned about shaking from nearby construction work.

"She did complain of a lot of tremors and things... she sometimes was concerned about what may be happening to her building," she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

A devoted grandmother

Kevin Spiegel was on a business trip in California when he heard about the collapse. He and his wife Judy, 66, had lived in an apartment on the sixth floor for more than four years.

Mrs Spiegel's daughter, Rachel, was last in contact with her mother the night before, the New York Times reported.

The newspaper said Judy had texted her to say that she had finally found the Disney dress that her four-year-old granddaughter wanted.

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A devoted grandmother, Judy had been helping with picking up the children from school, Rachel said.

"My mum is just the best person in the world. She is so caring and loving," Rachel told CNN.

A father and son

Alfredo Leone, 48; and his son Lorenzo, 5, were among those found nearly three weeks after the tragedy.

The boy's mother, Raquel, had been visiting her mother in Colorado at the time of the collapse.

'The apex at everything in her life'

Family members have been paying tribute to Estelle Hedaya, 54, the only victim who remains unidentified.

Her brother Ikey told CBS he took comfort in the fact that she was "the apex at everything in her life".

He said he was not bothered by her being the last person unaccounted for because it meant that God had chosen her, although he admitted the wait had been very tough on their parents.

"I know my sister is in the right place now," he said.

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