July 1 (UPI) — President Joe Biden on Thursday commended the strength of the families of people involved in the condo collapse in South Florida as rescue crews suspended search efforts over fears the other half of the structure could buckle.
In remarks after visiting the site at Champlain Towers South in Surfside with first lady Jill Biden, the president said that the families were “realistic” about the prospect that the chances of their loved ones’ survival decreases by the day but said “at minimum” they hope to recover the bodies.
“I don’t think that in any way suggests that we should stop,” Biden said of the expectations of the families. “I think that we should move on, continue to try to recover the bodies.”
He added meeting with the families “brought back so many memories” of the 1972 car crash that killed his wife and infant daughter.
“It’s bad enough to lose somebody,” he said. “But the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they survived.”
Biden added that he took extra time to speak to as many family members as possible before addressing the media.
“I thought it was important to speak to every single person who wanted to speak to me,” he said. “So after what you all covered when I opened up the meeting, I spent the remainder of the time and — such incredible people. I sat with one who had just lost her husband and her little baby boy.”
In response to a question from reporters, Biden said that officials had not yet received “any firm proof of what happened” to cause the building collapse.
“I don’t think at this point there is any definitive judgment as to why it collapsed and what can be done to prevent it from happening and what other buildings may have to be inspected to determine if they have the same problems,” he said.
Officials said at a news conference Thursday morning that crews halted search efforts overnight over safety concerns.
“What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are kind of, of concern, not compromised, but just right now of concern,” Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah said, according to WPLG-TV.
“Hypothetically, worst-case scenario: If these columns are truly really bad, we are worried they could collapse right back into the parking garage.”
It wasn’t immediately known when search efforts might resume.
On arrival, Biden received a “command briefing” from Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, local leaders and first responders.
“What you’re doing now is just hard as hell to deal with,” Biden told emergency personnel. “And I just wanted to say thank you.”
“What you’re doing is incredible,” he told one firefighter.
Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz also attended a command briefing for the president.
At the briefing, Biden pledged federal financial assistance in the massive search and recovery effort.
“I have the power and will announce shortly that we’ll be able to pick up 100% of the cost from the county and the state over the first 30 days,” he said, according to WPLG TV. “I think I’m quite sure I can do that.”
Wednesday, officials said the death toll has increased to 18. About 145 people were unaccounted for.
“We’re now standing united once again with this terrible revelation that children are the victims, as well,” Cava said, according to WPLG-TV. “So in the worst of times we come together and we pray together.”
Officials are still looking into the cause of the partial collapse. There were structural concerns about the building in recent years and the structure, which was built in 1981, was due for its 40-year recertification this year.
Just minutes before the collapse, a tourist told WPLG that he heard a strange noise and began recording video of the parking garage area, where water could be seen coming out of a ceiling that had caved in.
The president of the condo building told residents in April about a 2018 engineering report on a building, which warned of “abundant cracking” and crumbling in the underground parking garage and “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab.”
“When you can visually see the concrete [cracking], that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface,” Jean Wodnicki told tenants in her letter, according to USA Today.