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‘The wound gets deeper with each day’ for families of last condo collapse victims

Two women dining
Close friends Estelle Hedaya, left, and Linda March are among the last of those still missing in the Champlain Towers South collapse.
(Leah Sutton)

Estelle Hedaya was the outspoken life of the party who loved travel and fashion. She lived on the sixth floor and quickly connected with fellow former New Yorker Linda March, an adventurous traveler who was renting out the penthouse.

Nearly a month after the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Fla., the two close friends are among the last of those missing, along with Anastasia Gromova, a 24-year-old who had just been accepted to a program to teach English in Japan. The young go-getter was visiting friends at the condo tower for one last hurrah.

“She always wanted to do as much as possible with her life,” her father, Sergiy Gromov, said Monday. “It seems like she knew that it was not going to last long.”

Miami-Dade County authorities said at least 97 people died in the June 24 collapse. As of Monday, 95 of those victims had been identified, with potentially at least one more person buried in the rubble.

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Leah Sutton, a close friend of both Hedaya and March who celebrated holidays and birthdays with them, said it’s doubly heartbreaking.

“Friends in life and souls in death,” said Sutton, who is struggling to make sense of it all. “Maybe Linda and Estelle are showing the way to heaven to all the other victims.”

Theresa Velasquez, an L.A. music executive, was one of the victims in the collapse of a 12-story Florida condominium that killed at least 97 people, authorities said.

The recovery effort feels painfully slow to the last waiting families as it stretches into a fourth week. Officials said Sunday that they were “working to de-water the lower levels of the collapse,” noting regretfully that it was becoming increasingly difficult to identify victims during this phase of the search. They are relying heavily on the medical examiner and highly technical processes to identify remains.

March, an outgoing 58-year-old attorney, was always eager to strike up a conversation. She loved the beach and was looking for a new start in Miami. In the last decade, she had lost her sister and mother to cancer, her father died a few years later, and she and her husband divorced.

Back in New York, her two best friends wait in agony.

“It feels like the wound gets deeper with each day that she is not located,” Dawn Falco said. “After falling victim to such a horrendous tragedy, she at least deserves to be placed to rest with dignity.”

A Florida judge approves the sale of the oceanfront property where a collapsed condo building once stood to benefit victims of the disaster.

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Hedaya, chief operating officer for jewelry company the Continental Buying Group, was feeling especially confident after a recent weight loss, her boss, Joe Murphy, said. To celebrate, she bought a new red Lexus, just two months earlier. Red was her favorite color.

The 54-year-old also had a blog called “Follow the Toes,” where she documented her international travels, foodie delights, dieting success and favorite spas.

Like March and Hedaya, Anastasia Gromova also loved to travel and enjoyed good food and wine, her mother said.

Gromova was visiting 23-year-old Michelle Pazos at Pazos’ father’s apartment. Pazos’ body was found 10 days ago, and police said the body of her father, Miguel, 55, was found July 8.

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Gromova’s parents and sister, who live in Canada and immediately flew to Florida after the collapse, still sit and wait. They broke down in sobs Monday as they shared the agony, watching other victims’ relatives, alongside whom they waited for weeks, return home after their loved one was identified.

“We are still waiting,” Gromova’s mother, Larysa, said through tears. “It’s too much — it’s taking too long.”

“We are the last ones,” Sergiy Gromova said. “It’s terrible, it’s painful.”

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Anna Gromova described her sister as a bright star, who always knew what she wanted and went after it.

Deven Gonzalez, 16, lived with her family on the ninth floor of the collapsed Florida condo tower. She and her mother survived; her father is missing.

As the days pass, her family struggles with the whys.

“Why her, why us, why this building, why today, why not yesterday — just so many questions,” Larysa Gromova said quietly.

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“She went on a two-week vacation. She was a young girl. She had all her life in front of her,” the grieving mother said. “Such a sudden thing, so many buildings in Miami. It had to be hers for the one week she was here.”


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