President Joe Biden visited Surfside, Florida, in the wake of the collapsed condominium and spoke Thursday with first responders, local leaders and families involved in the tragedy.
Part of the Champlain Towers condominium, a 12-story building near the water, collapsed early Thursday morning. Search and rescue efforts paused Thursday amid concerns of further collapse, and at least 18 people are dead and 145 others unaccounted for.
The president first met with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to discuss the ongoing situation. The trio expressed pleasure at working together effectively and DeSantis praised Biden for “recognizing the severity of this tragedy and [being] very supportive.”
“The cooperation has been great. Both the municipal and the county have been fantastic. You guys have not only been supportive, but we have had no bureaucracy. When dealing with FEMA we are getting requests routed from local, state, and federal in no time,” DeSantis added.
The president also met with local responders, search and rescue teams and others involved in the efforts in Surfside. He ended the day with an hours-long meeting with family members suffering from the tragedy, telling reporters during a short press conference afterwards that they “are very realistic.”
“They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly. But at a minimum, at a minimum, they want to recover the bodies. They want to recover the bodies,” Biden said.
Biden said survivors of the collapse “talked about watching the building collapse as they were in the garage, one floor comes down, the whole floor on top of another floor.” Despite the grim comments, he added that search and rescue efforts should continue so long as it is safe and said “there is still a possibility that someone could be alive.”
Biden repeatedly brought up the bipartisan effort amid the building’s collapse. He pointed out that “everybody is on the same team” and said this “is what America is all about.”
“It is about pulling together, leaving nobody behind,” Biden noted.
The president also brought up his own losses as he tried to empathize with the families. He became emotional as he explained that “the really hard part is to not know whether they’re surviving or not.” (RELATED: Gov. DeSantis Welcomes Israel Defense Force To Help With Rescue Efforts For Condo Collapse)
“When the accident took my wife and my family, the hardest part was: Were my boys going to get out?” he told reporters. “Are they gonna make it? And not knowing. Not knowing, when you’re flying home from Washington to get the news, you know. And you just don’t know.”
The president also described the “strength” and resiliency of the families, saying he “walked away impressed by” them. Earlier in the day, Biden told DeSantis and Cava he’s “quite sure” the federal government can pick up “100% of the cost from the county and the state over the first 30 days.”
“Our message today is that we are here for you as one nation,” the president said as the day ended. “One nation. That is the message that we communicated. We will be in touch with a lot of the families continuing through the process, but there is more to be done. We are ready to do it.”