President Biden visited Florida on Thursday to meet privately with families whose loved ones were in the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo when it collapsed.
Biden also met with first responders to thank them for their rescue work. Search and rescue efforts paused for 14 hours on Thursday because of structural concerns. So far, 145 people are still unaccounted for, while 18 people have been confirmed dead.
During a briefing with local and state officials, Biden said the federal government would pick up 100% of the costs associated with the response to the building collapse. “I think I have the power and will know shortly to be able to pick up 100% of the costs of the county and the state. I’m quite sure I can do that,” Biden said.
Biden sat beside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who thanked the president for his support, saying that “we’ve had no bureaucracy” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“You recognize in each individual unit, there’s an amazing story, and lives have been shattered irrevocably, as a result of this,” DeSantis said. “We have families with kids missing. And we even have young newlyweds who hadn’t even been married a year who were in the tower when it collapsed.”
“What we just need now is we need a little bit of luck. We need a little bit of prayers. And you know, we would like to be able to, you know, to see some miracles happen,” DeSantis said.
Biden’s afternoon remarks were delayed because the president spent an extended period of time with families, going table to table to talk with people who have been affected by the disaster.
“We’ve all been working in tandem from the moment we got the news of the collapse of the building,” Biden said, praising state and local officials for working across the aisle to speed along the search and rescue process.
“We cut through the bureaucracy. One order I gave the federal folks was no bureaucracy, just cut through it. Get to whatever they need,” he said. “Not done often, but necessary here, in my view.”
The building was apparently home to a number of expats from Latin American countries. Biden said the government was expediting visas for family members of those affected.
“It’s bad enough to lose somebody. But the hard part, the really hard part is to not know whether they’re surviving or not,” Biden said, recalling his own fears about losing his sons in a crash that killed his first wife and daughter.
He said the families he spoke with Thursday were “realistic” about the chances of loved ones’ survival, given the extent of the damage to the building. “They know the chances, as each day goes by, diminish slightly,” he said.
Biden offered his thanks to the firefighters and other personnel who had rushed to help the rescue effort. The president said he had spoken with the first responders to encourage them to take advantage of mental health services that would be offered.
“They’re under a great deal of stress,” Biden said. “Seeing what they’re seeing, doing what they’re doing, understanding how much trauma is involved. I just don’t want them thinking that they should walk away from help if its needed.”
After his remarks, Biden and first lady Jill Biden spent several minutes at a memorial near the condo site and laid a bouquet of white flowers.
Investigations are underway as to what caused last week’s collapse. The building was in the process of completing its 40-year certification. In 2018, engineers identified a series of concerns about the structure that had apparently worsened over the years.