US president Joe Biden spent several hours on Thursday comforting grieving relatives at the site of last week’s deadly Miami condo collapse, speaking of his admiration for their fortitude as their agonising wait for news goes on.
Mr Biden and first lady Jill Biden also met teams of first responders and rescue workers who have been searching painstakingly but fruitlessly for survivors in the rubble of Surfside’s Champlain Towers South for more than a week.
“What amazed me about this group of people was their resilience, their absolute commitment and willingness to do whatever it took to find the answer. I walked away amazed by their strength,” the president said after the three-hour meeting with the relatives at the St Regis Bal Harbor hotel, a short distance from the disaster site.
“The families are realistic. They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly, but at a minimum they want to recover the bodies.
“They’re going through hell, those who survived the collapse, as well as those who are missing loved ones,” he added. “The really hard part is not knowing whether they’re surviving or not, to have no idea.”
Mr Biden, who recalled the pain of losing his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car accident, also had words of support for the teams of rescue workers, whom he said were “remarkable, remarkable people. These folks were always showing up, no matter what. They’re risking their lives.”
The presidential party remained at the hotel throughout their visit to Miami and did not view the location where the tower came crashing down in the early hours of June 24th. Workers have so far recovered 18 bodies with another 145 people still unaccounted for.
Earlier in the day, the president met Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, the Miami-Dade mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, and other officials and politicians, and later praised an almost unprecedented level of cooperation he said he had seen.
“There’s no Democrat or Republican out there, just people wanting to do the right thing for their fellow Americans,” he said.
He promised them that the federal government would pick up the entire cost of the search, rescue and recovery operations, and also the ongoing support the community would need in the weeks ahead.
“You all know it because a lot of you have been through it as well, there could be a lot of pain, anxiety and suffering, and the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow. We’re not going anywhere,” he said in a round-table discussion with the officials.
“Tell me what you need. That goes for both the senators, the congresswoman, anyone in Florida just to pick up the phone. We just want to make sure you have whatever you need.”
Federal search teams are already assisting the international rescue effort at the disaster site in Surfside, a small oceanside town just north of Miami Beach. But operations halted on Thursday amid concerns that movement in the debris could cause the remaining structure to collapse.
In a rare moment of bipartisan unity, Mr Biden touched the arm of Mr DeSantis, the state’s Trumpian governor, as he spoke.
“You know what’s good about this? The way we’re cooperating. We’re letting the nation know we can cooperate,” he said.
“It’s really important we come together. This is life and death. I just got back from 12 days in Europe, they wonder whether we can do this, and you’re doing it, the simple act of everybody doing whatever needs to be done. It really makes a difference.”
Addressing Mr Biden directly, Mr DeSantis complimented the president. “You recognised the severity of this tragedy from day one, and you’ve been very supportive,” he said.
“Lives have been shattered irrevocably as a result of this. We’ve already identified unfortunately fatalities, people 92 years old, the matriarch of a wonderful family; we have families with kids missing; and we have young newlyweds not even married a year who were in the tower when it collapsed.
“You guys have not only been supportive at the federal level but we’ve had no bureaucracy,” Mr DeSantis said.
After meeting with the politicians, the Bidens moved into the hotel ballroom to greet about 50 uniformed first responders.
“I just wanted to come down and say thanks,” the president told them. - Guardian