President Joe Biden capped off an emotional day in Florida on Thursday by visiting a memorial wall honoring those lost or missing in the building collapse in Surfside, after a wrenching day meeting with families who lost loved ones.
It was an unscheduled stop for Biden at the end of a trip where he spent the entire day meeting with families, local officials, and responders.
With the site itself deemed unstable due to shifting debris amid fears of a further collapse, Biden’s motorcade drove to the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial, a fence covered with flours, signs, and photos of those lost or feared gone.
First lady Jill Biden, wearing a black dress, carried a bouquet of white flowers. The couple bent down on several occasions to examine individual mementos.
Another sign said ‘Our hearts are broken for those who have passed We pray for them and we pray for peace for all the families.’
At one point Biden gripped a remembrance that resembled a rosary. Each looked at individual signs and images. One white cardboard sign said simply ‘We love first responders’ with a heart.
The first lady placed the flowers on the curb at the roadside memorial between some candles. Onlookers watched the event in silence. Several snapped pictures of the presidential motorcade when it departed after the visit.
The stop came after Biden got visibly emotional, choking up after talking to the families of the victims of the Champlain Tower collapse, saying it reminded him of the deaths of his first wife and daughter.
‘So many of them are suffering. You know, they had basic heart wrenching questions. Will I be able to recover in the body of my son or daughter, my husband, my cousin, my mom and dad. How can I close without being able to bury them. If I don’t get the body, what do I do,’ he said of after spending nearly an hour with them.
‘They know that the chances as the days go by diminish slightly,’ he noted.
Biden took a few deep breathes as he went on, saying the conversations ‘just brought back so many, so many memories.’
A 1972 car crash took the life of his first wife, Neilia, as well as his infant daughter, Naomi. His two sons, Beau and Hunter, were injured in the accident.
‘It’s bad enough to lose somebody. But the hard part, the really hard part is to not know if somebody survived,’ he said. ‘When the accident took my wife, my family, the hardest part was were my boys going to get out, are they going to make it.’
He said it was unclear what caused the 12-story beachfront condo building in Miami to collapse last week. There are still 145 people missing as rescue operations continue. At least 18 people have died.
‘I don’t think there is at this point any definitive judgment as to why it collapsed, and what can be done to prevent it from happening,’ Biden said.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit a memorial put in place for the victims of the building collapse in Surfside
First lady Jill Biden places a bouquet of flowers at the memorial site as President Biden looks on
The Bidens held a moment of silence and bent their heads in prayer
President Biden examines one of the signs on the makeshift memorial site
President Joe Biden choked up talking about the families of the victims of condo building collapse in Surfside
During his day long trip to Florida, President Biden met with fire and rescue personnel in Florida Thursday who are engaged in the wrenching and laborious task of contending with the devastating building collapse and its aftermath, telling the responders ‘What you’re doing is incredible.’
Biden scheduled a meeting with dozens of first responders soon after arriving at a hotel blocks from the disaster seen of the Champlain Tower collapse.
‘I just want you to know – I understand,’ he told them. ‘I just want to say: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,’ he told them.’
Biden met the responders, who wore Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue jackets, FEMA patches, and police uniforms, at the St. Regis hotel in Bar Harbour, where he is devoting a day to meeting with families, public officials, and responders.
At one point, he recounted how first responders used ‘jaws of life’ to pry his sons out of the vehicle during that 1972 car crash.
‘What you’re doing is incredible,’ President Joe Biden told first responders are responding to the tragic building collapse in Surfside, Florida
He urged them to ‘be careful’ in the work, amid concerns that shifting or instability in the rubble could pose a risk. Work was suspended after about 2 am amid the safety concerns.
‘I promise you: I know. What you’re doing here is incredible,’ he told them.
‘What you’re doing now is just hard as hell to deal with, even psychologically, to deal with,’ he said.
The event was a photo ‘spray,’ and reporters weren’t invited to stay for long. Other notables, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio, arrived shortly after it began, with an apology from staff.
His visit came on a day when work was being suspended indefinitely due to safety issues.
When Biden met with families, he did so away from the cameras, although staff and other public officials were there.
According to the White House, the president delivered brief remarks from the center of a room. He went table to table to meet with family members. The first lady, Rubio, Scott, and DeSantis were there.
Others also went table-to-table, according to a senior administration official. ‘POTUS stayed until everyone had a chance to speak with him,’ said the official, using an acronym for the president.
Earlier, Biden told DeSantis ‘we’re here to help’ shortly before he met with rescue crews looking for the 145 people still missing in the rubble of the collapsed Miami condo and spoke to officials leading the recovery.
He spoke to the ‘a lot of pain and anxiety, suffering’ of families awaiting the final word on their relatives as search efforts were halted over fears the rest of the structure could fall on first responders.
‘We’re not going anywhere,’ Biden promised, as he spoke of the federal response, which includes dispatching FEMA and a promise of federal aide. ‘For real,’ he added, for emphasis.
Biden met with dozens of responders, and urged them to take caution, telling them ‘I understand’
Biden met with responders after a meeting with Florida state and local political leaders about the response
The rescue teams continued to work with 145 people still not located
Most of the board members of the condominium that collapsed last week resigned in 2019, with the president of the board slamming inaction and bickering over an engineers report calling for urgent repairs
Joe Biden family in 1972 appears on a postcard that was used for Biden’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate. Pictured are (l-r) Hunter Biden, Neilia Biden and infant daughter Naomi Biden, Joe Biden, and Beau Biden
This is the remains of the car in which the wife and daughter of Delaware’s U.S. Senator-elect Joseph R. Biden Junior were killed. Neilia Biden and her daughter, Amy, 1, were killed when the family’s station wagon was hit broadside by a flat-bed tractor-trailer on highway. Biden’s two other children were also hurt in the wreck and were listed in “guarded condition” at the hospital
‘Tell me what you need?’ he told officials who gathered in the St. Regis hotel blocks away from the site.
Biden was seated next to DeSantis, as well as Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County. He was seated across from two Republican rivals, Sen. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida, Scott sporting the same familiar Navy cap he wore on disaster visits with former President Donald Trump.
‘You know what’s good about this?’ Biden said: ‘It lets the nation know we can cooperate…that’s really important.’
‘We’re here to help,’ Biden told officials. He also told DeSantis, ‘This is your show.’ DeSantis also paid Biden a compliment. ‘We’ve had no bureaucracy,’ DeSantis told him.
‘You recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one, and you’ve been very supportive,’ DeSantis told the president.
‘It’s been an incredible collaboration from the beginning,’ said Cava as the officials traded compliments while the cameras rolled.
‘There’s an amazing story, and lives have been shattered irrevocably as a result of this,’ DeSantis said at the meeting when it was his turn to speak. ‘We’ve already identified unfortunately fatalities, people who’ve been 92 years old and the matriarch of a wonderful family. We have families with kids missing. And we even have young newlyweds, who hadn’t even been married a year that were in the tower when it collapsed.’
‘The cooperation has been, it’s been great, the local and both the municipal and the county have been fantastic,’ he said. ‘And you guys have not only been supportive at the federal level, but we’ve had no bureaucracy,’ he said. He said FEMA approvals were happening ‘in no time.’
President Biden meets with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing at the collapse of the Miami condo
Biden spoke of the ‘pain and anxiety, suffering’ of families awaiting the final word on their relatives who lived in the collapsed building
Workers peer up at the rubble pile at the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building
DeSantis thanked rescue teams who traveled from Virginia and other locales to assist. ‘That’s going to be helpful because this is grueling, and obviously the families’ lives have been shattered.’
The president, who speaks frequently of grief and has bonded with families of school shooting victims and others touched by loss by invoking his own life tragedies, is making the trip at an uncertain time.
There is new information coming in about water damage that may have triggered the collapse, and documents revealing the condo building’s efforts to contend with ballooning roof and structural repair estimates.
The death toll rose to 18 on Wednesday night, with sisters Lucia, 10, and Emma Guara, four, among the latest victims identified.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House selected Thursday for the visit after consulting with local officials. She declined to weigh in when asked if Biden approved for former President Donald Trump’s decision to hold a campaign rally in Sarasota, about 200 miles from the wreckage.
A former Trump aide anonymously blasted the decision in the Washington Examiner. ‘What, you’re gonna go across and do a rally and beat up Democrats? It’s tone-deaf,’ said the aide.
There were reports early Thursday morning that recovery efforts had to be paused amid instability in the pile of rubble where part of the tower north of Miami once stood. It was not immediately clear how the potential instability would affect Biden’s plans, with the White House releasing limited information on a piecemeal basis about how the president and first lady would spend their day.
In a sign of the sensitivity of the situation, the White House released only scant details about the trip until late Wednesday – ultimately releasing a bare-bones schedule that carves out time for individual meetings with concerned family members that have become a hallmark of Biden’s identity.
He is expected to spend hours meeting with family members, in a gesture the White House said it hoped would provide comfort to those with loved ones who were lost or remain unaccounted for.
The video recorded seven minutes before the building collapsed shows water pouring down from the ceiling of the garage. It comes amid concerns from a structural engineer that the swimming pool deck may have caved in first and brought down the rest of the building with it, as corroborated by witnesses who say that sections of the pool deck had collapsed into the garage below
U.S. Coast Guard boats patrol in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building during Biden’s visit
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden depart from Joint Base Andrews en route to Miami, Florida, to visit the site of the collapsed condo where 18 have died and 145 are still missing. They were joined by Col. William McDonald, 89th Airlift Wing Vice Commander, and his wife Diana
Biden landed in Miami Thursday morning. In scenes that accompany any presidential motorcade, onlookers gathered on street corners and snapped photos, with some people waiving. Authorities closed down southbound I-95 to make way for his arrival.
The president lost his first wife and daughter to a car accident shortly before being sworn in as a senator, and his adult son, Beau, succumbed to brain cancer. He frequently shares his own grief when connecting with families who have lost loved ones or otherwise dealt with tragedy.
Officials and engineers are still seeking to uncover what caused the collapse of part of the Champlain Towers South building in Miami last week, leading to the death of at least 18 people, with 145 still unaccounted for.
The White House organized an unusually early departure for Biden, who left the White House around 7 am. He didn’t speak to reporters at either opportunity, and didn’t respond to a shouted question about the indictment of Allen Weisselberg, longtime Trump Organization exec, in New York.
Traveling with the president is senior advisor Anita Dunn, deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, and FEMA head Deanne Criswell, as well as aides speechwriters, and other assistants. Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is also joining him on Air Force One.
After landing in Miami, Biden will meet with Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as local leaders and first responders
The White House has released very few details about the trip and will be at the collapse site all day. Biden will meet with first responders and the family members waiting for news of their loved ones
Biden salutes at the top of the stairs to Air Force One with Jill before their flight to Florida
Officials and engineers are still seeking to uncover what caused the collapse of part of the Champlain Towers South building in Miami last week, leading to the death of at least 18 people, with 145 still unaccounted for
A new video purports to show water gushing from the ceiling of the Miami condo building’s garage while concrete debris litters the floor
The president and first lady Jill Biden held hands as they exited the presidential aircraft
They were expected to spend hours meeting with families of victims as well as first responders still searching for survivors amid the rubble following the building collapse
A private boat speeds past as coast guard boats patrol in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building ahead of a planned visit to the site by President Joe Biden, on Thursday, July 1, 2021
A Florida resident in scrubs visits a makeshift memorial outside the collapsed towers
Officials are reviewing ALL the work of suspended building inspector who dismissed damning 2018 condo report – as it’s revealed entire building department in Surfside was under review at time of collapse
A Florida building inspector who assured residents of the collapsed tower that it was in good shape a month after being warned otherwise is having all of his previous work reviewed after being suspended from his new job.
Meanwhile, it has also been disclosed that the entire building department for the town of Surfside was under review at the time of the collapse.
Rosendo Prieto was chief building official of Surfside until November 2020. On Tuesday, he was placed on leave from his job as interim building official for C.A.P. Government Inc.
Now, city officials in Doral are planning on reviewing his previous work to make sure he didn’t clear other buildings that may be dangerous.
‘In an abundance of caution, we are going to review everything he did,’ Rey Valdes, spokesman for the city of Doral, told The New York Times on Wednesday.
‘We don’t suspect he did anything wrong. Nevertheless, given the circumstances we are dealing with, we are going to review everything he did to make sure it’s in line with state law and municipal code,’ Valdes added.
In October 2018 Frank Morabito, an engineer, warned Prieto of ‘major structural damage’ in the Champlain Towers South building he said would cost around $9 million to repair. Morabito had been commissioned by the residents’ association to look into the building, ahead of its 40-year structural review, due in 2021.
In November 2018, Prieto told the residents that he had reviewed Morabito’s report and found little of concern.
‘It appears the building is in very good shape,’ Prieto told them, according to the minutes of the meeting released by Surfside on Monday, and obtained by NBC News.
The building collapsed in the early hours of last Thursday, with 18 people so far confirmed dead. A further 145 remain unaccounted for.
Guillermo Olmedillo (left) is the town manager who put the Building Department under review, while Rosendo Prieto (right) was chief building officer of Surfside from July 2013 until November 2020