Families of last victims in condo say waiting is agony

Jul 19, 2021, 2:41 PM | Updated: Jul 20, 2021, 10:16 am
In this photo April 13, 2021 photo provided by Leah Sutton, Estelle Hedaya, left, and Linda March a...

In this photo April 13, 2021 photo provided by Leah Sutton, Estelle Hedaya, left, and Linda March are shown. Nearly a month later, the two close friends are among the last of those missing in the Champlain Towers South collapse. (Leah Sutton via AP)

(Leah Sutton via AP)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — 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 later, the two close friends are among the last of those missing in the Champlain Towers South collapse, along with Anastasia Gromova, a 24-year-old who had just been accepted to a program teaching English to students in Japan. The young go-getter was visiting friends at the Surfside condo 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 from 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.

“The weirdest thing about this whole thing is that Estelle’s best friend in the whole building is Linda,” said Hedaya’s boss Joe Murphy.

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

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

The recovery efforts feel painfully slow for their families as it stretches into a fourth week. Officials said Sunday they are “working to dewater the lower levels of the collapse,” lamenting it’s 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, a bubbly and 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 past decade, she’d 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, as close as sisters, wait in agony.

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

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. 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. Although decades apart in age, the women were all fiercely independent.

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

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,” her mother, Larysa Gromova, said through tears. “It’s too much, it’s taking too long.”

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

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

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,” her mother said quietly.

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to the media after Gov. Tony Evers addressed a jo...
Associated Press

Post-Roe differences surface in GOP over new abortion rules

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — When the U.S. Supreme Court repealed in June a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, Wisconsin’s 1849 law that bans the procedure except when a mother’s life is at risk became newly relevant. Republicans in the Legislature blocked an attempt by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to overturn the law. Yet there’s […]
22 hours ago
A cow crosses the Jordan River near Kibbutz Karkom in northern Israel on Saturday, July 30, 2022. S...
Associated Press

Mideast’s Jordan River: Rich in holiness, poor in water

ALONG THE JORDAN RIVER (AP) — Kristen Burckhartt felt overwhelmed. She needed time to reflect, to let it sink in that she had just briefly soaked her feet in the water where Jesus is said to have been baptized, in the Jordan River. “It’s very profound,” said the 53-year-old visitor from Indiana. “I have not […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: August 18, 19th Amendment is ratified

Today in History Today is Thursday, Aug. 18, the 230th day of 2022. There are 135 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Aug. 18, 1587, Virginia Dare became the first child of English parents to be born in present-day America, on what is now Roanoke Island in North Carolina. (However, the […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Heavy rains pelt New Zealand, forcing hundreds to evacuate

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Heavy rain continued to pelt New Zealand on Thursday, causing further disruptions and road closures from a storm that has already forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. Residents in the northern part of North Island found themselves isolated after landslides, fallen trees and floodwaters blocked highway access. The […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a news conference on April 29, 2021, in Las Vegas. S...
Associated Press

Nevada gov vows to codify order protecting patients into law

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said Wednesday that if he wins re-election he would seek to codify in law next legislative session an order he signed that protects in-state abortion providers and out-of-state patients. “Governors are the last line of defense in protecting reproductive freedoms,” he said. “The buck stops with us.” […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Visitors review new Asus computer products at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan, Tue...
Associated Press

US to hold trade talks with Taiwan in new show of support

BEIJING (AP) — The U.S. government plans talks with Taiwan on a wide-ranging trade treaty in a sign of support for the self-ruled island democracy claimed by China’s ruling Communist Party as part of its territory. The announcement Thursday comes after Beijing held military drills that included firing missiles into the sea to intimidate Taiwan […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Families of last victims in condo say waiting is agony