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Body of Paraguayan nanny found in rubble of Surfside condo collapse

NBC News logo NBC News 7/10/2021 Nicole Acevedo
a woman smiling for the camera © Provided by NBC News

Following weeks of uncertainty and anguish, Juana Villalba found out that her 23-year-old daughter is among those killed in the partial collapse of a Miami Beach-area condo building two weeks ago.

The body of Leidy Luna Villalba was recovered from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida on Wednesday, Miami-Dade police said Friday.

The confirmed death toll in the Surfside building collapse is now at 86. Forty-three others remain unaccounted for, officials said Saturday.

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Villalba left her native Paraguay for the first time last week hoping to find her daughter. She arrived in Miami early Sunday morning alongside Lourdes Luna, Leidy Luna Villalba's cousin, who has been helping Villalba parse through the tragedy since the mother mainly speaks Guaraní, an Indigenous language common in Paraguay.

Silvia Bosch, a Paraguayan realtor who lives in Miami and has been helping the family, said the grim news can now help bring closure to Villalba and her family.

According to Bosch, the mother remained hopeful even after being told on Wednesday that search and rescue efforts at the collapsed building would shift to a recovery operation, signaling the formal end of the search for survivors.

"That day was very tough for her. But even on that day, she still had hope, even though she already knew that after that day they wouldn't be able to find anyone alive," Bosch told NBC News in Spanish. "You know that a mother does not lose hope until the last minute, even if many days go by."

Paraguay's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also confirmed Leidy Luna Villalba's death on Twitter, saying the agency "extends its deepest condolences to her family and friends."

Leidy Luna Villalba was on the verge of graduating from Universidad San Lorenzo and becoming a nurse when she took on a weekend job to help care for the three children of Sophia López Moreira, the sister of the first lady of Paraguay, Silvana López Moreira.

The bodies of Sophia López Moreira and her husband, Luis Pettengill, as well as the remains of their youngest son, who was just 3 years old, were also recovered this week, according to Miami-Dade police. The other two children remain missing.

For many Paraguayans like Bosch, Leidy Luna Villalba's story represented the reality of many young working-class Paraguayans who are willing to do anything for a better future.

Luna, who described her cousin as a young woman determined to overcome her circumstances and provide a more dignified life for her parents, agrees.

a woman holding an animal: Leidy Luna Villalba (Courtesy Luna Villalba family) © Courtesy Luna Villalba family Leidy Luna Villalba (Courtesy Luna Villalba family)

“It was her first time traveling outside of Paraguay to, nothing more and nothing less than to, the United States,” Luna previously said. "Leidy is a beautiful person, inside and out, a girl with dreams like many of the Paraguayans who want to better themselves. She has always been an independent and hardworking girl.”

Aside from being a hard worker, Leidy Luna Villalba was known as a bright spirit with an infectious smile. Her dog Wendy as well as her nieces and nephews, who know her as Tía Peteta, are seen all over her TikTok page dancing with her. Luna said everyone in the family called her Tía Peteta ever since one of Leidy Luna Villalba's nephews came up with the nickname after struggling to pronounce her real name.

“Out of all the cousins, Leidy was the wittiest, the most creative, almost like one of those actresses who over-act all the time. She was spontaneous and very happy. That’s why sometimes I want to tell her mother that she would not like to see her like that,” Luna said. “Her smile is as joyful as you see it in her pictures.”

Some Paraguayan Americans will be gathering in Miami Sunday afternoon to host a prayer and support Villalba and Luna during their grief.

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