SURFSIDE, Fla. – North Bay Village announced on Saturday that Police Chief Carlos Noriega’s mother Hilda Noriega was among the more than 150 people who have been unaccounted for since the Champlain Towers South collapse on Thursday in Surfside.
Noriega arrived with first responders to find his mother’s apartment was gone. He felt grief when he saw the pancaked concrete. He told his family that amid the heartbreak, he noticed he was stepping on an envelope and he picked it up.
“On the outside, it was addressed to Hilda and the card had butterflies on it and it was a birthday card signed by her prayer group,” said Sally Noriega, Hilda Noriega’s daughter-in-law.
The family’s matriarch had recently turned 92. Friends also found a precious family photograph showing Chief Noriega as a little boy with his parents.
Noriega’s 36-year-old son, Michael Noriega, said his grandmother had just received the birthday card during a brunch. He said they were in disbelief. The debris had the belongings of dozens of residents who had trusted they were safe to go to sleep in the 12-story building.
The unlikeliness of the finding had to mean something, he said, so the Noriega family agreed that it was a message.
“It means to not give up hope. It means to have faith,” Michael Noriega said. “To me, it means that whether my grandmother is here with us or not that we should feel comfort in our sorrow.”
The collapse was haunting because Hilda Noriega was preparing to move out of Champlain Towers South. Records show Hilda and Joseph Noriega purchased Unit 602, a two-bedroom apartment, in June 2000. Joseph Noriega died in 2016. The unit was up for sale.
“It’s really hard to think that my grandmother is underneath all of that rubble and we don’t know if she is alive or not,” Michael Noriega said. “When I arrived, I just fell on my knees.”
Family reunification center
The town was hosting those who are waiting for information about unaccounted relatives after the partial collapse at Champlain Towers South at the community center at 9301 Collins Ave. On Friday, they moved the relatives to the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside at 9449 Collins Ave. Levine Cava said relatives had two daily briefings.
For information or to report the status of a loved one who is unaccounted for, call 305-614-1819 or 305-993-1071.
Coverage on Friday
Coverage on Thursday