Biden meets with households, first responders in Surfside tower collapse

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United States President Joe Biden speaks about the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South Condo building last week in Surfside, Florida after meeting families of victims in Miami, Florida on July 1, 2021.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited the victims’ families and first responders near the site of the collapse of a deadly condominium storm in Surfside, Florida Thursday.

Families “are going through hell,” Biden said after meeting family members desperately for news of loved ones eight days after meeting them, eight days after the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium tower suddenly collapsed early Thursday morning was.

“What amazed me is their resilience and their total commitment and willingness to do anything to find an answer,” said Biden. “I walked away impressed with their strength.”

“The families are very realistic,” said Biden. “They know that every day the chances are getting smaller” that there will be life savers. “At least they want to recover the bodies,” he said.

Before meeting the families, Biden visited first responders and rescue workers. He also praised state and local officials, including Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and GOP Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, for their seamless collaboration across political rifts.

The president also promised that the federal government would cover all costs of the rescue mission and wider disaster relief for the first 30 days.

US President Joe Biden (R) and US First Lady Jill Biden visit a photo wall, the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial, near the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South Condo building in July 1, 2021 Surfside, Florida.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Before returning to Washington, Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited a makeshift memorial near the site.

As of Thursday, 18 people had been confirmed dead and more than 140 people were missing, according to local officials.

Rescue operations resumed late Thursday afternoon after being suspended for most of the day due to structural concerns.

At the request of local officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency dispatched 60 people and an additional 400 people to five search and rescue teams.

These teams were on site on Thursday, with two additional urban rescue teams on standby that can be deployed quickly if necessary.

In the last few days there have been increasing indications that the 40-year-old apartment building had already suffered considerable structural damage in 2018.

A newly discovered video, captured the night of the collapse, shows water pouring into the Champlain Towers parking garage.

Search and rescue teams are searching for possible survivors and remains in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South Condo building on June 30, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

Michael Reaves | Getty Images

On Wednesday evening, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced it had launched a federal investigation into the causes of the building collapse.

“We are going in with an open mind,” said Judith Mitrani-Reiser, deputy head of the materials and support systems department at NIST, at a press conference near the collapse site on Wednesday.

“Whenever a building collapses, we want to understand how the building was designed, built, modified and maintained,” she said.

Several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the victims’ families, some of which are still missing.

But the question of who, if anything, was responsible for the breakdown is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

James Olthoff, the director of NIST, told the Miami Herald the federal investigation will not attempt to assign the blame for the collapse.

“This is a kind of fact-finding, not troubleshooting, type of investigation,” he told the Herald. “It will take time, possibly a few years.”