North Bay Village police chief finds signs of hope after mother is victim of building collapse

Chief visits site, finds birthday card and family photograph

North Bay Village announced Police Chief Carlos Noriega’s mother, Hilda Noriega, is among the 159 people who are unaccounted for since the Champlain Towers South collapse on Thursday morning. (North Bay Village)

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.”

Mike Noriega shows a birthday card that a prayer group sent to his grandmother, Hilda Noriega, two weeks ago for her 92nd birthday. Hilda Noriega is among the people who remain unaccounted for after a building collapse. (AP Photo/Joshua Goodman) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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.

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Coverage on Friday

Coverage on Thursday

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.

Christian De La Rosa joined Local 10 News in April 2017 after spending time as a reporter and anchor in Atlanta, San Diego, Orlando and Panama City Beach.