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Surfside death toll rises to 16, mother of local police chief among the dead

Building Collapse Miami
People place flowers at a make-shift memorial outside St. Joseph Catholic Church near the Champlain Towers South residential condo, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Four additional victims have been found dead in the rubble of a collapsed Surfside condominium building, bringing the death toll to 16 with 147 people still missing.
Authorities say they are still searching for the living, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday.

A twelfth victim was identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Wednesday as 92-year-old Hilda Noriega, the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega.

North Bay Village posted a message on social media saying the family lost “the heart and soul” and “matriarch” of their family.

“The Noriega family was notified last evening of the recovery and positive identification of his mother from the Champlain Towers South catastrophic scene,” the message read in part. “The family has asked for privacy as they deal with this horrific and painful loss.”

Noriega lived on the sixth floor of the Champlain Towers South condominium building for 20 years, her family said.

“My grandmother is easily the most loving person I know,” Michael Noriega, Hilda’s grandson, told WPTV on Tuesday. “Just full of energy. We couldn’t keep up with her.”

Michael Noriega said his mother called him about 2 a.m. Thursday to tell him about the collapse, so he rushed over to the building immediately.

“Seeing that, all I could do is just fall to my knees and just cry out to God,” Noriega said. “There’s a lot of pain. This is very hard to digest. It still doesn’t feel real.”

The search and rescue effort could be hampered by deteriorating weather conditions as the tropics heat up.

“There are two areas of [possible storm] development out in the Atlantic, heading to the Caribbean. We have eight urban rescue teams in Florida. We talked about doing a relief,” according to Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “We have all the resources we need but we’re going to bring in another team. We want to rotate those out so we can get more resources out.”