The 12th victim of the Florida condo building collapse has been identified as 92-year-old Hilda Noriega, whose relatives had discovered her cherished keepsakes in the rubble.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic passing of Hilda Noriega, the mother of Police Chief Carlos Noriega,” the Florida’s North Bay Village Government announced in a tweet on behalf of Noriega.
“The Noriega family was notified last evening of the recovery and positive identification of his mother from the Champlain Towers South catastrophic scene,” they added.
The woman’s family expressed their gratitude to first responders and local and state leaders.
“The Noriegas have lost their ‘heart and soul’ and ‘matriarch’ of their family, but we will get through this time by embracing the unconditional love Hilda was known for,” added the family, who “asked for privacy as the deal with this horrific and painful loss.”
Mike Noriega, 36, this week said he stumbled across an old photo of his missing grandmother, her late husband and their infant son in the mangled debris when he and his father rushed to Champlain Towers South following the disaster last week.
The surprise finding gave the family hope that their loved one would defy the odds and be found alive.
“Some miracles are very big, others are small,” Mike said earlier.
There was also a birthday card in the rubble that Hilda’s friends from prayer group sent her two weeks earlier with the acronym “ESM,” Spanish for “hand-delivered,” scrawled across the yellow envelope with a butterfly etching.
Mike, who last spoke to his grandmother the day before the disaster, said that she was an independent and lively retiree, who had lived in the condo for more than 20 years.
After losing her husband six years ago, Hilda had been ready to move elsewhere — and the condo had been put up for sale so that she could move in with relatives.
Hilda’s daughter-in-law, Sally Noriega, said the grandmother was a sweet, loving woman who had raised a family in the US after coming from Cuba in 1960.
“She was just one of those people who from the first time she met a person she instantly loved that person, and that person instantly loved her,” she said.
The confirmed death toll stood at 12 on Wednesday – with 149 people still unaccounted for.