United States President Joe Biden, sought Thursday to give “comfort” to the families of the dozens of victims of the collapse of a building facing the sea in Florida, where the desperate search for people alive was suspended for safety reasons.
Biden and his wife Jill traveled to Surfside, north of Miami Beach, where in the early morning of June 24 a 12-story block of the Champlain Towers South complex collapsed, leaving at least 18 dead and more than 140 missing.
“What they are doing now is very difficult,” he said. Biden when greeting first responders. “I just want to thank you. Thank you thank you thank you”.
Biden, which last Friday declared a state of emergency that enables federal aid for rescue tasks and assistance to survivors, plans to spend about three hours with the affected families.
“The President and First Lady will meet with the families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy, offer them comfort at this difficult and unimaginable time,” said Deputy White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
Two children, aged four and ten, are among the confirmed dead after the collapse of 55 apartments.
At least 29 Latin Americans, from Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, are among the disappeared. In the list of deceased there is a Venezuelan and a Uruguayan-Venezuelan.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said on Twitter that he awaits “a response to the official request for information” from the US authorities, “but public sources advance regrettable data on deceased or disappeared Cubans.”
– Dangerous conditions –
It seemed unlikely that the president and the first lady would visit the disaster site, where rescue operations were suspended at dawn due to dangerous working conditions.
“The only reason for this pause are concerns about the structure that is still standing,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, at a press conference, assuring that the visit of Biden “Will have no impact” on the work.
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky warned that there was “a large column that could fall” and that debris movements “could cause additional failure of the building.”
The Champlain Towers South complex, built 40 years ago, had 136 apartments. The oceanfront block collapsed for reasons under investigation.
– Political turn –
Florida is a crucial state on the electoral map of the United States, and that is why all eyes have also been on the encounter between Biden and state governor Ron DeSantis, a rising Republican star, who has been touted as a possible presidential candidate for 2024.
“You recognized the seriousness of this tragedy from day one and you have been very supportive of me,” DeSantis told Biden during a briefing with Levine Cava and other local officials.
Biden, a champion of bipartisan unity, did not miss the opportunity to emphasize it.
“We are letting the nation know that we can cooperate when it is really important,” he said. Biden.
In another political twist after the catastrophe, former President Donald Trump was planning a rally in Sarasota, Florida, on Saturday.
DeSantis has joined calls to postpone the event, which is part of Trump’s attempt to remain the dominant force in Republican politics.
– An unlikely miracle –
Only one teenager was pulled alive from the rubble in the early hours of the relief operations. Since then, with every hour that passes, the chance of a miracle dissipates more.
“The current situation cannot be denied: more than six days have passed since the collapse and the chances of finding people alive are slim,” said Elad Edri, deputy commander of an Israeli search and rescue team working with rescuers, on Wednesday. Americans, as well as specialists from Mexico.
More than 1,400 tonnes of concrete have already been excavated, DeSantis said Thursday.
A report on the status of the Champlain Towers South complex noted as early as 2018 “significant structural damage” as well as “cracks” in the building’s basement.
The publication on Tuesday of a letter from the president of the co-owners association, dated in April, fueled debate over whether the disaster could have been prevented.
As questions accumulated about the reasons for the disaster, priests and psychologists tried to calm the anguished family and friends of the victims.
“They are in limbo, and this is going to be one of the most psychologically dangerous times a person can go through,” said therapist Raphael Poch, who arrived from Israel with a team of rescuers.
Other clouds shadow the horizon.
A tropical storm forming in the Atlantic could strengthen and hit the southern coast of Florida next week, although the National Hurricane Center has said it is “too early” to determine the impact.