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Miami condo victim’s brother heartbroken but not in despair

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – He donated his DNA, speaks frequently with the medical examiner and research team, and even reluctantly visited the site of the collapsed Surfside condo, to see for himself what is made to find his big sister.

But there is still no fence for Ikey Hedaya. Almost a month after the 12-story building disintegrated into a smoldering pile of debris, where the lucky few escaped through a choking cloud of dust, and at least 97 perished, Estelle Hedaya, 54, appeared to be the only missing victim still not identified on Thursday.

Her best friend in the building, New York lawyer and colleague Linda March, was finally identified on Wednesday evening even though her body was found more than two weeks ago. But Hedaya’s big sister, the life of the party and a travel lover who had just bought a red Lexus to celebrate weight loss and career success, remains nowhere to be found.

“Hard to believe,” he said. ‘”My sister is the last,”

At first he was reluctant to visit the site’s twisted pieces of steel and concrete, wondering about his sister’s last moments. Her balcony and living room were still strangely intact. It was too much, and the 47-year-old real estate tax accountant from Brooklyn quickly turned around.

“I can’t believe Estelle was out there somewhere, and I didn’t want to think about it,” he said.

But at the behest of a childhood best friend, now a rabbi, they returned to the site once again to pray for the last few days. This time, much of the rubble was gone and the collapse site largely swept flat. This is the image he will keep.

This is a lot to ponder for this deeply religious man, firmly rooted in his Jewish faith. The wait is torture, and although he is heartbroken, he is not in despair.

“I know God took care of her,” he told The Associated Press in a series of interviews Wednesday and Thursday.

The brother said he drew his strength from God, just as he had seen his sister do in difficult times. He also believes that God chose her and that “it was his hour”.

He had sensed a change in Estelle in the six to eight months leading up to the collapse and had just seen her in May.

“She always mentioned God whenever she struggled with anything,” he said. “She had reached a different spiritual level, which allowed her to excel in all other areas.”

Even her boss and her friends agreed, Estelle had a knack for taking life’s difficulties and getting something positive out of them. The beauty of the ashes. This is what his brother thinks will happen now after this tragedy where hundreds of relatives, friends and colleagues are crying and pondering so many questions. Why them? Why this building?

It’s natural to cry and cry and cry, he said.

“Let it all hang out, don’t fight it. But then pray for the strength to start moving forward, ”he said.

Even though these are just small steps, he encouraged other grieving families to “turn positive” in their time as a way to “open up to receive blessings”.

“In times like these, we have the power to unlock all kinds of things that are not normally available,” he said.

He said this Wednesday night after a day of frustration, another day without a word on his sister, another long conversation with the medical examiner, a conversation that includes painful reminders of the last moments. He also needs to stay strong as he updates his aging parents.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on Wednesday evening that the search after the June 24 collapse was hampered by fire, water and other obstacles, and that the identification of the victims relied heavily on the “technical process and scientific “pathologists.

“The enormous pressure from the weight of the collapse and the passage of time also makes it more difficult,” she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Estelle Hedaya’s friends get together frequently to tell stories of their dear friend. Leah Sutton said Estelle and Linda March celebrated most holidays and birthdays with her family.

“It’s the end of never laughing with them again that is so heartbreaking,” said Sutton, who has known Estelle since birth and was her mom in Miami.

“Really, an amazing fearless girl. She could go on vacation on her own and make new friends, ”she said.

Since Ikey Hedaya arrived in Florida, several of Estelle’s friends have found him, eager to tell her about the impact her sister has had on their lives.

“Good things will come out in his honor. She will be responsible for all kinds of blessings and happiness, ”he said of his sister, who had a“ Follow The Toes ”blog documenting her travels, fitness tips and favorite spas.

“When you think of all the people in the world who are going to look at themselves and get better in one way or another because of it, it all depends on Estelle,” he said. “It’s immensely powerful.”

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