SURFSIDE, Fla. — And then there was one.

A dubious distinction, but one Estelle Hedaya’s family is contending with as rescue crews announced a shift of operations on Friday from the Surfside site of the Champlain Towers South collapse, which was cleared this week, to a site near Miami International Airport.

That’s where Miami-Dade Police crews will continue to search for human remains and personal items in the tons of relocated rubble.

At this point authorities have identified 97 people killed in the collapse. They believe there is one more victim unaccounted for.

Ikey Hedaya told Miami Herald news partner CBS4 News that that one person is his sister Estelle Hedaya, a successful 54-year-old businesswoman, blogger and woman of faith.

“The waiting game is a little tough, it’s been a month now, it’s too much for my parents,” Ikey told CBS4.

Ikey Hedaya first flew from his home in Brooklyn to visit the site three days after the collapse to give DNA that could help identify his sister. On that visit, the part of the building that had not fallen still loomed over the rubble field below, teeming with rescue crews working 24/7 on a search and rescue mission that, sadly, turned into one of recovery and identification.

Another image haunted.

His sister’s Unit 604 living room and balcony “were still eerily intact,” NBC6 reported.

One can only imagine the agonizing thoughts Estelle Hedaya’s loved ones felt.

Where was she? Where is Estelle now?

At the time of his late June visit to the Surfside site, Ikey told NBC6, it was too much to take in. He had to turn away.

“I can’t believe Estelle is in there somewhere, and I didn’t want to think about it,” he told the station earlier this week after he had returned to Surfside with a close friend, a rabbi, to pray.

Ikey told CBS4 his faith has given a measure of comfort as the Hedaya family is the last to get word on closure.

“It’s actually not difficult, it makes it even better, believe it or not, because it means God chose her,” he told CBS4. “I know my sister is in the right place now. She went out on top, we’ll be fine, and her soul will go straight up.”

Estelle Hedaya, the eldest of three siblings, came to South Florida from Brooklyn in 2015 to work as the director of operations for Continental Buying Group and Preferred Jewelers International, which led to travel around the globe.

It couldn’t be better. She loved to travel and to post the resulting pictures and motivating messages to her Follow the Toes food and travel blog.

Always on the go. Always up. Her friends called her Stella and sometimes Cha-Cha because Hedaya loved to dance.

“If there was something fun to do, she was first in line. Just, that was her,” her close friend Mindy Beth Silverman told the Miami Herald early in the search.

And if there was a way to help others, Hedaya was on that tip, too.

Her last blog story recounted her long struggle with her weight and her success in reaching a sustainable, healthy lifestyle through hard work and smarts. She wanted others to know what she had learned.

“For all those with weight issues who have not figured it out yet, do not despair,” she wrote. “It took me over 50 years, and I am here to help save many the time and effort by sharing what I have learned throughout my journey to fitness and health.”

And what that was?

“Just say NO to dieting. Diets DO NOT work. You must adapt an eating plan that is sustainable for LIFE, not the few months you need to take off the desired weight,” Hedaya wrote.

Hedaya’s friends responded in kind to her life-affirming messages and examples.

“From our 20s til today Estelle and I have seen it all,” one of these friends, Michele Yedid, posted Wednesday on a new Facebook group page, Estelle Hedaya Remembered.

“We have laughed (a ton!) cried (a bit) and always had a lot to say,” Yedid continued. “She was a great touchstone for me, a moral compass, someone who kept it real and never shied away from a challenge. We got healthy and strong around the same time and loved to talk about our journey together. She kept me grounded while lifting me up and making me feel like I could conquer the world, a rare combination indeed! She was such an empowered woman and loved to make others feel the same.”

To CNN, Ikey added: “I firmly believe God helped her get to her best point in life and then decided best for her to go out on top. My one regret is that I never told her how much I respected her, and how much I admired how she kept improving no matter what life was throwing at her. I just never thought there’d be a day I’d be here, and she wouldn’t.”

There’s yet one more challenge. Jewish law mandates that to have a funeral and sit shiva, a body must be available.

So the waiting and the praying continues. And the love goes on.


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