Man remembers grandmother, 12th victim found after Surfside collapse

Reporter: Taylor Petras Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
A man remembers his grandmother, the 12th person to be recovered from the rubble of the Surfside condo collapse.
Michael Noriega. Credit: WINK News

One year after the deadly condominium collapse in Surfside, WINK News returned to the site of Champlain Towers South for the vigil held by the families and friends of the victims. One man remembered his grandmother, the 12th victim in Surfside to be recovered from the rubble.

Michael Noriega, like most of the victims’ loved ones, is still grieving. The vigil was quiet and somber, even though there were hundreds of people inside a fenced-off area. Families and friends walked out slowly after everything was done, some holding hands or hugging.

The private vigil was a time to reflect on, honor and remember lost loved ones. Those present read aloud each of the 98 names of victims in the order they were found and lit a torch for each one. Michael Noriega’s grandmother, 92-year-old Hilda Noriega, was the 12th victim recovered from the rubble in Surfside. He described what it felt like at 1:22 a.m., exactly one year later.

A man remembers his grandmother, the 12th person to be recovered from the rubble of the Surfside condo collapse.
Michael Noriega. Credit: WINK News

“There was a lot of tears, there was a lot of heartbreak,” Noriega said. “People were really living that moment all over again. People were really reliving that moment all over again, and so many people were just staring out into this empty void where what was once my grandmother’s home, what was once 136 families’ homes, ultimately became 98 of their graves.”

Noriega says he would do anything to hear his grandmother say the words “I love you” just one more time. He has been back to the site of the collapse many times, but that still didn’t make the vigil any easier.

“I think for people to take in the reality of ‘what was once a home is now a crater in the ground’ is a really scary thought,” Noriega said.

Not everyone at the vigil knew each other, but they all have their loss in common. Noriega says some families were seeing everything for the very first time.

Candles lit for the victims of the Surfside condo collapse. Credit: WINK News

“Tonight was a very reverent night for each family to come together and just have peace, where we could come together and accept the reality of what happened,” Noriega said. “Even though my grandmother’s not here, even though there’s 97 other lives that are not here right now, that doesn’t mean their flame has been extinguished. For me, my grandmother’s flame is just getting warmed up and impacting more lives than ever.”

At the park right across the street from the collapse, a torch was lit and will stay lit for close to a month. It signifies how long it took for crews to find all 98 bodies in the rubble, aĀ reminder of the weeks many waiting families spent in anguish.

Copyright Ā©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.