US President Joe Biden speaks about the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building last week in Surfside, Florida, following a meeting with families of victims in Miami, Florida, July 1, 2021.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited with victims’ families and first responders near the site of a deadly condominium tower collapse in Surfside, Florida on Thursday.
The families “are going through hell,” Biden said after meeting with family members desperate for news of their loved ones, eight days after the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium tower collapsed suddenly early Thursday morning.
“What amazed me is their resilience, and their absolute commitment and willingness to do whatever it takes to find an answer,” said Biden. “I walked away impressed by their strength.”
“The families are very realistic,” said Biden. “They know that as each day goes by, the chances are diminished” that there will be any live rescues. “At a minimum, at a minimum, they want to recover the bodies,” he said.
As of Thursday, 18 people were confirmed dead and more than 140 people were unaccounted for, according to local officials.
Work on the site was halted early Thursday morning, after engineers warned that ground under part of the disaster site was shifting, putting the remaining tower in the complex at risk of collapse.
As of 5:00 P.M. Thursday, rescue workers had yet to resume active work on the massive pile of debris. Calls by CNBC to the local fire department went unanswered.
Earlier in the day, Biden met with first responders and rescue workers, and he praised state and local officials for collaborating seamlessly across political divides.
The president also pledged that the federal government would cover all the costs of the rescue mission and the broader disaster response for the first 30 days.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency deployed 60 staff and an additional 400 personnel across five search-and-rescue teams at the request of local officials.
Those teams were on site Thursday, with two additional urban rescue teams on standby to rapidly deploy if needed.
Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors and remains in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 30, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.
Michael Reaves | Getty Images
In recent days, a growing body of evidence has come to light indicating that the 40-year-old condominium building showed signs of major structural damage as far back as 2018.
A newly uncovered video taken the night of the collapse shows water pouring into the parking garage of Champlain Towers.
On Wednesday evening, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced it had launched a federal investigation into the causes of the building collapse.
“We are going in with an open mind,” Judith Mitrani-Reiser, associate chief of the materials and structural systems division at NIST, told reporters Wednesday at a press conference near the site of the collapse.
“With any building collapse, we would want to understand how the building was designed, constructed, modified and maintained,” she said.
Several lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of the families of victims, some of whom are still missing.
But the question of who, if anyone, is at fault for the collapse is not likely to be resolved in the near future.
James Olthoff, the director of NIST, told The Miami Herald the federal investigation would not seek to assign blame for the collapse.
“This is a fact-finding, not fault-finding, type of an investigation,” he told the Herald. “It will take time, possibly a couple of years.”