US President Joe Biden and the first lady offered comfort to the families of those killed and missing in the June 24 disaster.
President Joe Biden drew on his own experiences with grief and loss to comfort families affected by the Florida condo collapse, telling them to “never give up hope”, a week after the building came down.
Addressing some of the families touched by the tragedy, Biden spoke in deeply personal terms as he offered his prayers and support in the private meeting.
“I just wish there was something I could do to ease the pain,” he said in a video posted on Instagram by Jacqueline Patoka, a woman who was close to a couple and their daughter who are still missing.
Rescue-and-recovery teams resumed picking through the rubble, nearly 15 hours after the search of scores of victims believed buried in the rubble a week ago was suspended for safety concerns.
Today, the First Lady and I are in Surfside, Florida to meet and thank first responders and to comfort the families enduring this tragedy.— President Biden (@POTUS) July 1, 2021
Our hearts go out to these families. Those working around the clock to respond to this tragedy have our deepest gratitude.
'The waiting, the waiting, is unbearable”
Few public figures connect as powerfully on grief as Biden, who lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car collision and later an adult son to brain cancer.
In the first months of his term, he has drawn on that empathy to console those who have lost loved ones, including the more than 600,000 who have died in the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a quiet voice freighted with emotion, Biden on Thursday described his own despair at having to wait to find out about how family fared after a crisis like the one experienced in Surfside. He spent more than three hours privately speaking with those grieving, addressing the group first and then moving family to family to listen to their stories.
Biden spoke of wanting to switch places with a lost or missing loved one and lamented that “the waiting, the waiting, is unbearable.”
"The people you may have lost — they’re gonna be with you your whole life,” he told the families. “A part of your soul, a part of who you are.”
Biden told the families that it can be “harder to grieve in public than it is in private, so I know there's an extra burden on you all.”
“But I promise you: I still believe in prayer," he said. “You’re in my prayers."
'Never give up hope'
The president, whose remarks were translated into Spanish, urged the families to “never give up hope,” even as the search and rescue operation paused early due to structural concerns with the remaining portion of the building.
Attendees could be seen with tears in their eyes as Biden closed out his remarks, and he and wife, Jill, spent the next few hours visiting privately with the families. He later told reporters that he was amazed by the families' “resilience, their absolute commitment, their willingness to do whatever it took to find an answer” as to what happened.
He said the families asked him the most “gut-wrenching” questions, including whether there was any hope of finding survivors or whether they would be able to recover the bodies of loved ones.
Recalling the car accident that killed his wife and daughter and badly injured his two sons, Biden spoke about his boys' uncertain fate, saying “it’s bad enough to lose somebody but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ll survive or not”
Biden, responding to what appeared to be the deadliest single-day calamity of his young presidency, also met first responders hunting for survivors in the rubble in Surfside before the pause in the search.
Later, he and the first lady stopped by a memorial wall covered in flowers and photos of the missing, placing a bouquet next to a crayon drawing that read “I love you.”
President Biden and First Lady Dr. Biden pay their respects to the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial 💙 pic.twitter.com/PBjQRDE3EB— Andrew (@TheRealAndrew_) July 1, 2021
The Bidens arrived in Florida a week after the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South beachfront condominium killed at least 18 people and left 145 missing. Hundreds of first responders and search-and-rescue personnel have been painstakingly searching the pancaked rubble for potential signs of life.
No one has been rescued since the first hours after the collapse.
“This is life and death," Biden said at a briefing from officials about the collapse. “We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference."
The president said he believed the federal government has “the power to pick up 100 percent of the cost” of the search and cleanup and urged local officials to turn to Washington for assistance.
“You all know it, because a lot of you have been through it as well," Biden said.
"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,” he said.,
Biden said the cause of the sudden collapse remained under investigation. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which sent a team of scientists and engineers to the site, launched an investigation.
And early Thursday, the White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency deployed 60 staff members and an additional 400 personnel across five search and rescue teams at the request of local officials.