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Florida condo collapse: Families share memories of the first 12 victims

More than 140 people remain unaccounted for nearly a week after the Champlain Towers South condominium building collapsed.
Image: Image: Surfside collapse victims
Top row, from left: Christina Beatriz Elvira, Leon Oliwkowicz, Hilda Noriega. Second row, from left: Ana Ortiz with Luis Bermudez, Stacie Dawn Fang, Gladys and Antonio Lozano. Third row, from left: Frank Kleiman, Marcus Joseph Guara, Michael David Altman, Manuel LaFont.NBC News

Rescuers continue to search the rubble of a destroyed Surfside, Florida, condominium building almost a week after it partially collapsed.

As of Wednesday, 18 people have been confirmed dead, 12 of whom have been identified by police. More than 140 people at the Champlain Towers South building remain unaccounted for.

In the days since the tragedy, family members of the 12 confirmed victims have been sharing memories of their loved ones. Their stories are below:

Hilda Noriega, 92

Loved ones remembered Hilda Noriega as the "heart and soul" and "matriarch" of their family, in a statement released Wednesday. Noriega was the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega.

The family said it was informed Tuesday that Noriega had been recovered from the "catastrophic scene" at Champlain Towers South.

Hilda Noriega, 92.
Hilda Noriega, 92.Courtesy of Michael Noriega

"The family would like to thank all the hundreds of first responders who bravely and selflessly risked their lives," the statement read.

Michael Noriega told NBC affiliate WPTV of West Palm Beach that his grandmother had lived in the building for 20 years. She was on the sixth floor.

"My grandmother is easily the most loving person I know," he said. "Just full of energy. We couldn't keep up with her."

He said her death has been hard to process. "There's a lot of pain," he told the outlet. "It still doesn't feel real."

The family said it will embrace "the unconditional love Hilda was known for" to help get through the difficult time.

Stacie Dawn Fang, 54

Stacie Dawn Fang was the first victim identified in the collapse. She lived in the building with her 15-year-old son, Jonah Handler, who was found alive and pulled from the rubble by rescuers.

Fang's family did not immediately respond to NBC News on Wednesday. In a statement last week, they called her death a "tragic loss."

Surfside victim Stacie Dawn Fang 54 years old
Stacie Dawn Fang, 54.Facebook

"The members of the Fang and Handler family would like to express our deepest appreciation for the outpouring of sympathy, compassion and support we have received," the family said in a statement obtained by NBC affiliate NBC Miami.

"The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time."

Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79

Antonio Lozano and wife Gladys were a month away from celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary when they died in the collapse, his son Sergio Lozano told local station WPLG.

Sergio, who lives in another Champlain condominium building, said he had dinner with his parents at their condo hours before the collapse. Around 1 a.m. Thursday, he said he heard loud noises.

Surfside victims Gladys Lozano, 79 years old and Antonio Lozano 83 years old.
Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79.Facebook

Thinking the sounds were from a tornado or windstorm, Sergio said he went to his balcony to bring in the furniture. That's when he noticed his parents' building was gone.

"I tell [my wife], ‘It’s not there.’ And she’s yelling, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘My parents' apartment is not there, it’s gone!’ and I just ran downstairs,” Lozano told the station.

He said his parents had known each other for more than 60 years and had always said that they didn't want to die and leave the other behind.

Manuel LaFont, 54

Adriana LaFont, the ex-wife of Manuel LaFont, posted a Facebook tribute Saturday asking for prayers. Sharing photos of the family at the now destroyed Surfside condo, she wrote: "So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart!"

Surfside victim Manuel LaFont 54 years old
Manuel LaFont, 54.Facebook

LaFont lived on the eighth floor, according to NBC Miami. On Tuesday, dozens of family and friends gathered at a vigil for him at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach.

"He was a nice guy. He was a good father, and I’m very sad. Very sad," friend Luis Jamardo told the outlet.

Adriana LaFont wrote on Facebook that her children are "clinging to the miracle of life." She said the family wants nothing more than to hug LaFont and to tell him they love him.

"My Manny, who was my partner for so many years, father of my children, who scolds me and loves me at the same time," she posted. "I'm asking everyone for a nugget of the rosary, a prayer."

Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74

Leon Oliwkowicz and wife Christina were from Venezuela and later moved to the United States to join their children. They lived on the eighth floor of Champlain Towers South for several years, according to The Times of Israel.

Leon Oliwkowicz, 80 and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74.
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80 and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74.Miami Dade PD

Family members could not be reached Wednesday. Rabbi Moshe Perlstein said the couple was known for their generosity and had donated a valuable Torah scroll in memory of Leon's parents to Yeshivas Ohr Eliyahu-Lubavitch Mesivta school in Chicago, where their daughter worked. Perlstein is the dean of the school, the outlet reported.

Perlstein said the couple was "very dedicated" to their children. “It was their life — giving to the family and giving charity to others," he said.

Ana Ortiz, 46; Frank Kleiman, 55; Luis Bermudez, 26

Ana Ortiz was killed in the collapse, along with her husband, Frank Kleiman, and her son Luis Bermudez.

The family lived on the seventh floor, according to the Miami Herald. The outlet reported she had married Kleiman about three weeks before the collapse.

Surfside victims Ana Ortiz  46 years old and Luis Bermudez 26 years old
Luis Bermudez, 26; Ana Ortiz, 46.Miami Dade PD

“She’s a rock star. And gorgeous, and she worked, [she is] an independent woman. And on top of that, a super mom," family friend Alex Garcia told the Miami Herald. Garcia was the one who set up Ortiz and Kleiman.

Surfside victim Frank Kleiman 55 years old
Frank Kleiman, 55.City of Miami Beach

When contacted Wednesday, the family said it did not want to comment because they wanted to focus on praying for their four loved ones who are still unaccounted for.

Marcus Joseph Guara, 52

Marcus Joseph Guara loved being outdoors and spending time with his family, his cousin Peter Milián told the Miami Herald. Guara was a BMX bike enthusiast as a kid and played sports throughout college, when he was the captain of the rowing team.

His cousin told the Herald that Guara loved competing but was always willing to help others. His death has been devastating to the family, he said.

Surfside victim Marcus Joseph Guara 52 years old
Marcus Joseph Guara, 52.Facebook

“He was a great brother, uncle, cousin, son and loved his daughters passionately,” Milián said. “He loved life.”

Authorities confirmed Tuesday that Guara was one of the victims of the collapse. His wife, Ana Guara, and their daughters Lucia, 11, and Emma, 4, remain missing, according to NBC Miami. Milián told the Herald that the family is "realistic, but we always pray for a miracle."

Milián and other family members could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Guara worked at Kassatex, a New York-based home textile company. Ernesto Khoudari, the CEO and founder, remembered Guara as an "amazing human being."

"From the moment he started working with us, his creativity, vivacity for the business, charming smile, and never-give-up attitude fueled his passion for our company, and his loyal relationships he made along the way," he said in an emailed statement. "He was an amazing asset to the team and will be missed immensely. As a family brand, he was our family man. Our Zoom conference calls were always visited by his adorable daughters on a regular basis, as he was so proud of his family. We are heartbroken to lose one of our best."

Michael David Altman, 50

Nicholas Altman remembered his father, Michael, as a "very loving guy" who was always smiling and loved to tell jokes, the Miami Herald reported. Michael Altman, an accountant, lived on the sixth floor in a condo that had been owned by family members since the 1980s, Nicholas Altman said.

Surfside victim Michael David Altman 50 years old
Michael David Altman, 50.Facebook

“He was a warm man. He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top,” he told the outlet. “He always inspired my brother and I to be successful in life.”