US

Miami condo death toll rises to 16 including police chief’s 92-year-old mother

The death toll from the Miami condo collapse has now risen to 16 after four more bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight.

Officials uncovered tunnels beneath the debris where the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, near Miami Beach, once stood and were able to recover more victims from the voids overnight Tuesday, reported Local10

While officials wait to notify the next of kin before releasing their identities, the 12th victim has now been named as the 92-year-old mother of a local police chief.

Hilda Noriega, who lived in Apt. 602 in the 12-story tower, was the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega. 

Her body was discovered among the remains of the condo tower Tuesday. 

Now, almost one week on from the tragedy in the early hours of June 24, 147 people are still missing among the rubble. No survivors have been found since Thursday.

Among those unaccounted for is a 52-year-old widower who had moved from New York to Miami for a fresh start following a year of tragedy in which he lost his wife to a brain tumor and both parents to COVID-19.

Harry Rosenberg, 52, has not been seen or heard from since Thursday’s collapse. His daughter Malky Weisz, 27, and her husband, Benny Weisz, 32, are also missing after they traveled from New Jersey to stay with her father.      

Hilda Noriega (pictured) was named by her family Wednesday as the 12th confirmed victim of the tragedy 

Search teams comb through the rubble Wednesday. The death toll from the Miami condo collapse has now risen to 16 after four more bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight

Search teams comb through the rubble Wednesday. The death toll from the Miami condo collapse has now risen to 16 after four more bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight

Search-and-rescue team members dig through the rubble at the partially collapsed tower

Search-and-rescue team members dig through the rubble at the partially collapsed tower 

Colonel Golan Vach, Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, confirmed Wednesday morning that more bodies had been discovered through the night. 

‘At the last 12 hours we found some more people,’ he told CNN

‘We found people. Unfortunately, they are not alive.’

Vach said rescue teams had located tunnels beneath the debris in the space between the collapsed balconies and that more bodies were found in that area.  

He revealed he had never seen a disaster zone like the condo collapse in his more than 20 years of military experience.

‘It’s one of the most difficult and complicated situations that I’ve ever seen,’ Vach told Reuters.  

The Israeli rescue team had built and destroyed 3D models of the condo tower to try to determine where in the wreckage any potential survivors are likely to be before they headed to assist in the search in Miami. 

‘We are looking for the bedrooms because people were sleeping,’ said Vach. 

However, he warned that he had only ‘minor’ hopes that any survivors would be found but denied there are ‘no chances’ of good news.

‘There are minor chances. I would not say there are no chances,’ he said. 

As the search for the dozens still missing continued into the seventh day Wednesday, the Noriega family confirmed the loss of their ‘matriarch of the family’. 

Noriega, who lived in Apt. 602 in the 12-story tower, was the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega (pictured). Her body was discovered among the remains Tuesday

Noriega, who lived in Apt. 602 in the 12-story tower, was the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega (pictured). Her body was discovered among the remains Tuesday

The Noriega family confirmed the loss of the 'matriarch of the family' Wednesday in a statement posted on Twitter by North Bay Village Government

The Noriega family confirmed the loss of the ‘matriarch of the family’ Wednesday in a statement posted on Twitter by North Bay Village Government

‘The Noriega family was notified last evening of the recovery and positive identification of his mother from the Champlain Towers South catastrophic scene,’ read a statement posted on Twitter by North Bay Village Government on behalf of the family. 

‘The family would like to thank all the hundreds of first responders, who bravely and selflessly risked their lives to locate his mother and the other innocent victims found to date.’ 

The family also thanked officials including Mayor Levine-Cava and Governor Ron DeSantis for their ‘unprecedented leadership, courage and compassion during this extremely difficult time.’ 

‘The Noriegas have lost their ‘heart and soul’ and ‘matriarch’ of their family, but will get through this time by embracing the unconditional love Hilda was known for,’ the statement read. 

‘The family has asked for privacy as they deal with this horrific and painful loss.’ 

Noriega’s son had traveled to the collapse site Thursday to look for his mother, who had only recently celebrated her 92nd birthday.

Among the rubble, the police chief found a birthday card a relative had given to Noriega at a brunch, reported Local10.  

Among the rubble, the police chief found a card a relative had given to Noriega for her recent 92nd birthday (pictured)

Among the rubble, the police chief found a card a relative had given to Noriega for her recent 92nd birthday (pictured)

‘On the outside, it was addressed to Hilda and the card had butterflies on it and it was a birthday card signed by her prayer group,’ Sally Noriega, Noriega’s daughter-in-law, told the outlet.

The other 11 victims already identified are: Marcus Joseph Guara, 52; Frank Kleiman, 55; Michael Davis Altman, 50; Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Christina Elvir Oliwkowicz, 74; Luis Bermudez, 26; Anna Ortiz, 46; Stacie Dawn Fang, 54; Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel ‘Manny’ LaFont, 54.  

Dozens of families are still waiting for answers about the safety and whereabouts of their missing loved ones including Rosenberg, his daughter and son-in-law. 

Friends of Rosenberg told Associated Press how the 52-year-old widower had moved to the beachfront condo for a much-needed change of scenery.

‘He told me, “It is the next chapter of my life.” He went through hell. His parents passed away. His wife passed away,’ said Steve Eisenberg, who saw Rosenberg last week at the synagogue.  

Rosenberg’s wife died last summer from a brain tumor.

Colonel Golan Vach, Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, said rescue teams had located tunnels beneath the debris in the space between the collapsed balconies and that more bodies were found in that area

Colonel Golan Vach, Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, said rescue teams had located tunnels beneath the debris in the space between the collapsed balconies and that more bodies were found in that area

Photographs of those still missing hang on a memorial wall along a fence near the site at the Champlain Towers South condo building

Photographs of those still missing hang on a memorial wall along a fence near the site at the Champlain Towers South condo building

Maurice Wachsmann, a friend of Rosenberg’s for more than 30 years, said he had ‘put his life on hold’ for the last three years while he took care of her.

Just months after his wife died, Rosenberg faced further tragedy. 

His father died of COVID-19 in January, with his mother dying from the virus just weeks later. 

Wachsmann said Rosenberg always put ‘family first, before everything’ and so the last year had been ‘extremely difficult.’ 

Rosenberg, an observant Jew, had launched a young adult center for mental healing at a hospital in Israel in memory of his late wife, Anna Rosenberg. 

Rosenberg decided to move to Florida for a fresh start, settling into the Champlain Towers South condo just one month before it collapsed. 

The home was to be a gathering spot for visiting children and grandchildren, and his daughter and son-in-law were doing just that when they traveled to the condo last week to join him for the Sabbath.

Among those unaccounted for is a 52-year-old widower who had moved from New York to Miami for a fresh start following a year of tragedy in which he lost his wife to a brain tumor and both parents to COVID-19. Pictured Harry Rosenberg, 52, on a missing poster at the scene

Among those unaccounted for is a 52-year-old widower who had moved from New York to Miami for a fresh start following a year of tragedy in which he lost his wife to a brain tumor and both parents to COVID-19. Pictured Harry Rosenberg, 52, on a missing poster at the scene

Rosenberg's daughter Malky Weisz, 27, and her husband, Benny Weisz, 32, (pictured) are also missing after they traveled from New Jersey to stay with her father

Rosenberg’s daughter Malky Weisz, 27, and her husband, Benny Weisz, 32, (pictured) are also missing after they traveled from New Jersey to stay with her father

Now, all three family members are missing in the rubble. 

With 147 still unaccounted for and hopes fading that people will be found alive, the disaster is shaping up to be one of the deadliest non-deliberate structural failures in US history. 

The search for victims and survivors has been hampered by numerous challenging factors including the threat of falling debris, heavy rain and wind, and the discovery of deep fires in the rubble over the weekend.

While the search continues, questions continue to mount over what caused the collapse and whether critical failures by building officials left residents in the dangerous tower ahead of its collapse.   

An alarming 2018 structural survey warned of ‘major structural damage’ in the building specifically to the pool area and underground parking garage. 

On Tuesday, just 36 hours before the collapse, a contractor photographed worrying signs of damage in the parking garage. 

The 1981 building was coming up for recertification – a process which is required every 40 years for buildings in Miami Dade.

Fears are now growing over the safety of other buildings in the county.

Miami Dade County officials said they are inspecting 501 buildings that is 40 years or older to make sure none are compromised like Champlain Towers South. 

THE MIAMI CONDO COLLAPSE VICTIMS IDENTIFIED SO FAR

54-year-old Stacie Fang

54-year-old Stacie Fang

STACIE DAWN FANG

Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, was with her son Jonah Handler, a teenager, when the building collapsed. They lived on the tenth floor. The boy’s small hand waved through the wreckage as a man out walking his dog hurried to the site, climbed through a pile of glass and rebar and promised to get help right away.

Rescuers helped the boy out from under a pile of cement and carried him away on a stretcher to a hospital.

‘There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,’ members of her family said in a statement. ‘Many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time.’

Asked about the boy’s condition, a family friend, Lisa Mozloom told the AP ‘He will be fine. He’s a miracle.’

MANUEL LAFONT

Manuel LaFont, 54

Manuel LaFont, 54

Manuel LaFont, 54, was a proud father, a baseball fan and a business consultant who lived on the building’s eighth floor. 

He had a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter with his ex-wife Adriana LaFont, the Miami Herald reported.

Adriana asked her friends on Facebook to pray the rosary for Manny before his body was found. ‘So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart,’ she wrote.

LaFont, a Houston native, coached his son’s baseball team, the Astros, at North Shore Park, just a mile away from the Champlain. He was a parishioner at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach. The parish’s school parents gathered Saturday afternoon to pray for LaFont and his neighbors who were still missing.

An alumnus of Sharpstown High School in Houston, LaFont had worked across Latin America and the Caribbean for a manufacturing firm, leading a division focusing on roadway safety that built crash cushions and moveable barriers, the Herald reported.

‘I got into this industry specifically because I don’t want to sell widgets. I want to help people. I want to do something good in this world,’ he said at an industry conference in 2016. ‘When I die, I want to say that my life meant something.’

ANTONIO AND GLADYS LOZANO

Antonio and Gladys Lozano

Antonio and Gladys Lozano

Antonio and Gladys Lozano lived on the ninth floor. The two had known each other over 60 years and would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on July 21.

Their sons told WPLG-TV that the couple had joked neither wanted to die before the other, because neither wanted to live without the other. Their one solace, the brothers said, was that they were together when they died.

Authorities confirmed on Saturday that Antonio, 83, and Gladys, 79, were among the dead.

Sergio Lozano said he had dinner with his parents hours before the collapse. He lived in one of the towers of the complex and could see his parents’ apartment across the way from his. That night, he said the heard a loud noise they thought could be a storm.

‘The building is not there,’ he said he told his wife. ‘My parents’ apartment is not there. It’s gone.’

ANA ORTIZ, HER HUSBAND FRANK AND HER SON LUIZ 

Ana Ortiz, left, and her son Luis Bermudez

Ana Ortiz, left, and her son Luis Bermudez and Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina (right) 

Luis Bermudez, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, had battled with muscular dystrophy for years and used a wheelchair. The 26-year-old man lived with his mother Ana Ortiz on the seventh floor of the Champlain Towers South.  

His father, also named Luis Bermudez, texted the AP saying ‘my son is a hero.’ He also wrote on Facebook that he could not believe he’s gone.

‘Now rest in peace and without any obstacles in heaven,’ he wrote. ‘I will see you soon my Luiyo.’

Ortiz, 46, had just gotten married with Frankie Kleiman. Alex Garcia, the couple’s close friend, told The Miami Herald he had set them up on a blind date. Kleiman lived with his wife and stepson on the same floor as his brother Jay Kleiman, who was in town for a funeral, and their mother Nancy Kress Levin. The Kleimans and their mother are still missing.

50-year-old Frank Kleiman, left, was found on Monday. He was Ana's husband

50-year-old Frank Kleiman, left, was found on Monday. He was Ana’s husband

Ortiz was described as a woman who was committed to giving her son the best possible life.

‘She´s a rock star. And gorgeous,” Garcia told the Herald. “And on top of that a super mom.

FRANK KLEIMAN 

Kleiman, 50, was the husband of Ana Ortiz, whose body was found alongside that of her disabled son, Luiz, over the weekend. 

LEON AND CHRISTINA OLIWKOWICZ

Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina were also identified as victims of the tower collapse on Sunday evening

Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina were also identified as victims of the tower collapse on Sunday evening 

The couple lived on the 8th floor of the condo tower for several years, according to Venezuelan journalist Shirley Varnagy, a close friend of their family.

They were among six Venezuelan natives caught in the building’s collapse. Still missing Monday were Moisés Rodán, 28; Andrés Levine, 27; Luis Sadovnik, 28, and his wife, Nicole Langesfeld, Varnagy said.

Varnagy said the Oliwkowicz’s daughter had been outside the building waiting for some information about their fate. Her husband answered their phone and asked to be left alone.

The couple’s daughter, Mrs. Leah Fouhal, works as a secretary at a Jewish school in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, where the couple donated a Torah in 2019 in a procession that included a vintage fire truck, music and a giant velvet and gold crown, according to COLlive.com, an Orthodox Jewish news outlet that covers Chabad-Lubavitch communities around the world.

Meanwhile, the parents of Rodán, Levine and Sadovnik live in Venezuela and traveled to the U.S. Friday. ‘Some did not have a visa, others had an expired passport, but with diplomatic collaboration they were able to arrive,’ Varnagy said.  

MARCOS JOSEPH GUARA & MICHAEL DAVID ALTMAN

The body of 52-year-old Marcus Joseph Guara was recovered on Saturday

Michael David Altman, 50,

The body of 52-year-old Marcus Joseph Guara was recovered on Saturday

Hilda Noriega  

Hilda Noriega (pictured) was named by her family Wednesday as the 12th confirmed victim of the tragedy

Hilda Noriega (pictured) was named by her family Wednesday as the 12th confirmed victim of the tragedy 

Hilda Noriega, who lived in Apt. 602 in the 12-story tower, was the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega. 

She had only recently celebrated her 92nd birthday. 

Her body was discovered among the remains of the condo tower Tuesday.

Her family paid tribute to the ‘matriarch of the family’ in a statement Wednesday.  

Noriega’s son had traveled to the collapse site Thursday to look for his mother, who had only recently celebrated her 92nd birthday.

Among the rubble, the police chief found a birthday card a relative had given to Noriega at a brunch, reported Local10.    


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