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U.S.|Biden meets with families of victims in Surfside: ‘We’re here for you as one nation’
- July 1, 2021, 3:51 p.m. ET
SURFSIDE, Fla. — President Biden on Thursday offered impassioned remarks in a hotel ballroom filled with the families of some of those who died or remain missing under the rubble of a collapsed condominium building, according to White House officials and those in the room.
Mr. Biden’s meeting with the families came as local officials announced a halt in the search for survivors amid concerns about the stability of the part of the building that remains standing.
A video of Mr. Biden posted during the event by one of the family members appeared to show the president talking in somber tones about the grief he felt from the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident that also severely injured his two young boys.
“The waiting, the waiting, is unbearable,” he told the families, many of whom have been waiting for more than a week for word about whether anyone might still be alive under the concrete and steel.
After the meeting, Mr. Biden described the grief and agony he heard from the family members as he spent more than three hours in the ballroom, saying of the people in the room: “They’re going through hell.”
“I sat with one woman who had just lost her husband and her little baby boy, didn’t know what to do,” the president said. “I sat with another family that lost almost the entire family, cousins, brothers, sisters. And to watch them, and they’re praying and pleading and God let there be a miracle.”
Mr. Biden said that many of the family members asked what he called “basic heart-wrenching” questions: Would they be able to recover the bodies of their loved ones so they could bury them? If I don’t get the body back, what do I do?
But at the same time, he said he was surprised by their realism and resilience.
“They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly,” the president told reporters. “But at a minimum, at a minimum, they want to recover the bodies. They want to recover the bodies.”
The president praised emergency workers and local and state officials, saying that the cooperation in the rescue effort was remarkable. Mr. Biden announced that the federal government would pay 100 percent of the first 30 days of the recovery costs.
He said he told the families that “we’re here for you as one nation, as one nation. And that’s the message we communicated.”
A White House official said that during the closed-door session with the families, Mr. Biden walked from table to table to talk with each family seated in the room. The official said that Jill Biden, the first lady, also held individual conversations with family members.
The president was joined by Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami Dade County.
The official said that Mr. Biden stayed in the room until everyone who wanted to talk with him had the opportunity.
After the meeting with the families, Mr. Biden and Dr. Biden made a brief stop at the makeshift memorial to the victims of the collapse, walking along a chain-link fence adorned with flowers, stopping several times to look closely at photos of those who have died or remain missing.
Dr. Biden placed a large bouquet of white flowers at the base of the fence before the pair returned to the president’s motorcade.
Erick de Moura, a resident of the building who spent the night of the collapse at his girlfriend’s house, praised Mr. Biden as he and other survivors and victims’ families left the ballroom at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort.
“For him to take his time like he’s taking right now just walking around and talking to every single family, it’s just an amazing act and we appreciate it very much. It’s comforting for us,” Mr. de Moura said.
Rabbi Daniel Hadar, the head rabbi of Temple Moses Sephardic Congregation of Florida, an Orthodox synagogue in Miami Beach, said that the tone of the meeting signaled a shift from other meetings with families over the last week. Over a dozen people affiliated with the synagogue, just a couple of miles from Champlain Towers, were in the building at the time of the collapse.
“There was something for the first time I’m seeing: consolation,” said Rabbi Hadar. Whereas in previous meetings with officials, Hadar has seen families have expressed anger and frustration with the rescue process, families expressed “peace and appreciation.”
“I think a lot of people are either resigning themselves, or understanding that there is hope, and the best hope is to work with these guys and to hear what they have to say,” Rabbi Hadar added.