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Birthday card among keepsakes grandson cherishes year after condo collapse

Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 1:51 PM EDT
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Nearly one year after the Champlain Towers South condominium complex collapsed, family members of the victims are sharing the stories of their loved ones and reflecting on the past 12 months.

Hilda Noriega was one of the 98 people killed when the tower collapsed. She was the 12th person to be identified six days after the June 24, 2021, collapse.

Her grandson said she may have been the oldest resident in the building at 92 years old, but she was forever young at heart.

"She was so independent and energetic," Michael Noriega said.

Hilda Noriega poses for a photograph with her grandson, Michael Noriega, at the Champlain...
Hilda Noriega poses for a photograph with her grandson, Michael Noriega, at the Champlain Towers South condominium.

Michael still remembers the disbelief he felt when he saw that the high-rise building where his grandmother lived had collapsed.

"The first night we were here, there was debris all over the street," Michael said, speaking to WPTV from the site where his grandmother's building once stood. "And my father, here right on Collins Avenue, stepped on something and looked down, and underneath a layer of dust was a birthday card that had been given to my grandmother two weeks prior by her prayer group."

Among the keepsakes from what the family could salvage of Hilda Noriega's belongings was a...
Among the keepsakes from what the family could salvage of Hilda Noriega's belongings was a birthday card given to her by her prayer group two weeks before the Champlain Towers South condominium building collapsed.

Noriega was also mother to Carlos Noriega, the former Miami Beach police chief and current police chief in North Bay Village. Michael said his father was the first to hear the news.

RELATED: Michael Noriega spends first Thanksgiving without grandmother

"The only thing he said, in shock, was, 'The building is gone. The building is gone.' And we didn't know what he meant," Michael recalled. "We couldn't even comprehend. Even when we saw it with our own eyes, we couldn't comprehend it."

Most of his grandmother's things were lost in the rubble. However, in addition to the birthday card, they were able to find a few of her things, which Michael said they will cherish forever.

Michael Noriega stands in front of a memorial that bears his grandmother's name near the site...
Michael Noriega stands in front of a memorial that bears his grandmother's name near the site where the Champlain Towers South building once stood.

"The birthday card, the picture of family and the rosaries that symbolized her faith, those are everything that she lived for," he said.

In the past 12 months, little has been said about why the building collapsed. Michael said he wants answers, but he'd rather wait for the right answers than rush to conclusions.

"Why did this happen?" he asked. "How did this happen? How do we make sure that this never happens again?"

Scripps Only Content 2022