(Updates with Biden’s remarks, info on his visit)
Miami, Jul 1 (EFE).- President Joe Biden promised Thursday to remain in ongoing contact with the families of the dead and missing in the condominium building collapse in Surfside, Florida.
During a speech he delivered at a local hotel at the close of his one-day visit to Miami-Dade County, the president explained that one of the reasons for his visit was to be able to meet with family members of the dead and missing, who, he said “are going through hell.”
Biden commented that some relatives had asked him if the emergency workers are going to be able to rescue any more survivors from the rubble of the collapsed building or if the families will be able to bury the remains of their loved ones that are presumably somewhere in the ruins of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building that pancaked to the ground in the wee hours of June 24.
In his address, Biden also said that “we have decided to cover 100 percent of the search and rescue costs for the first 30 days” after the tragedy. “Not done often, but necessary here, in my view,” he said.
Biden said he has spoken with relatives of the victims and the missing. “At a minimum, they want to recover the bodies,” he said, adding that the family members who had gone to the collapse site, saw for themselves the huge pile of rubble, adding that “I think they’re very realistic. But I don’t think that in any way suggests that we should stop” with rescue efforts that still might find survivors amid the tons of concrete and other debris.
The president also said he was amazed by the resilience being shown by the family members. “I walked away impressed by their strength.”
During the day, Biden also met with a group of emergency workers at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, near the site of the tragedy, telling them, “What you’re doing now is just hard as hell to deal with, even psychologically, to deal with. I just want to say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“Until we need you, no one fully appreciates what you do. But I promise you – we know. We know,” the president said.
The president and first lady Jill Biden arrived Thursday in Miami, where they met with rescue workers, survivors and relatives of the known victims and the missing.
At least 18 people are known to be dead in the building collapse and 145 missing or unaccounted for.
Air Force One landed about 9:30 am at Miami International Airport. There was no official welcome for the Bidens and the first couple immediately were taken by automobile to Surfside, a municipality in the Miami metro area.
The first item on the president’s agenda was to meet with Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who on Thursday morning offered her regular press conference along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis before the Bidens arrived at Surfside.
Biden said Thursday at his meeting with state and local officials that the federal government has “the power to pick up 100 percent of the cost” of the search and cleanup operations incurred by the state of Florida and Miami-Dade County for dealing with the situation created by the building collapse.
Biden met with Levine Cava, DeSantis, other local authorities and the leaders of the search and rescue operations at a hotel in Bal Harbour, a municipality near Surfside.
“This is life and death,” said the president at the briefing on the tragedy and the rescue and recovery efforts so far. “We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference.”
“You all know it,” Biden told state and local officials, “because a lot of you have been through it as well. There’s gonna be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow. And so, we’re not going anywhere.”
Earlier, at her own morning press conference, Levine Cava announced that on Thursday morning emergency workers had to halt their operations at the collapse site due to concerns about the stability of part of the building that still remains standing, but she said that search and recovery efforts will continue as soon as that problem is resolved.
She said that the Bidens’ visit would have no impact on the search efforts, which will continue once engineers determine that that can occur without risk to the rescue teams.
Fire chief Alan Cominsky confirmed that “movement” was registered in a portion of the still-standing structure about 2 am and structural engineers are determining what to do about that.