What Happened During Joe Biden's Visit to Surfside

Live Updates

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are on their way to Surfside, Florida to meet with local officials and families of the victims of the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse.

Biden has a packed schedule for the trip. He will first have a briefing with Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, other local leaders and first responders. Then he will thank the first responders and search-and-rescue teams, meet with families of the victims and missing residents. Finally, the president will deliver public remarks at around 4 p.m.

My heart is with the community of Surfside as they grieve their lost loved ones and wait anxiously as search and rescue efforts continue.

Yesterday I spoke with Gov. DeSantis to let him know that we are ready to provide assistance as needed by state and local officials.

— President Biden (@POTUS) June 26, 2021

Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell will also join Biden in Surfside.

"They want to thank the heroic first responders, search and rescue teams, and everyone who has been working tirelessly around the clock, and meet with the families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy waiting in anguish and heartbreak for word of their loved ones, to offer them comfort as search and rescue efforts continue," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.

"And they want to make sure that state and local officials have the resources and support they need under the emergency declaration," she added.

Biden approved Florida's emergency declaration and ordered federal assistance to assist local efforts in Sulfide last week.

One week after the tragic collapse of the 12-story beachfront building, search and recovery teams are still mining through the rubble in search of victims and survivors. About 55 of the 136 units in the building were demolished, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah.

#MDFR #FLTF1 along with 7 other task force teams from Florida & the Israeli Task Force continue to search layer by layer of debris at the #SurfsideBuildingCollapse with approximately 3 million pounds of concrete removed from the debris field since Thursday. pic.twitter.com/vBmWMVri4v

— Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (@MiamiDadeFire) June 29, 2021

As of Wednesday, 18 people have died, including two children, and 147 people are missing, according to local officials.

"Any loss of life — especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event — is a tragedy. But the loss of our children is too great to bear," Cava said during a press conference in Surfside on Wednesday evening. "We're now standing united once again with this terrible new revelation that children are the victims as well."

New Video Shows Water Pouring Into Surfside Condo Minutes Before Collapse pic.twitter.com/qVmK0iZU7x

— Newsweek (@Newsweek) July 1, 2021

The cause of the collapse is still unknown at this time. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has established a National Construction Safety Team to investigate the incident.

After meeting with Surfside families, Biden reiterated that there is still no "firm proof" as to why the collapse happened, but lots of "rational speculation." Some of the families he met with believed rising water levels and global warming are to blame, while others have attributed the collapse to improper upkeep of the facility, he said.

Biden praised the families for their resilience, commitment and "willingness to do whatever it took to find an answer."

"I walked away impressed by their strength," he said.

He said that the families awaiting news are "very realistic" about the possibility of a missing member coming back alive at this point, but they still want answers

Additionally, he praised the cooperation he'd witnessed between figures like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott, saying they all "cut through the bureaucracy" in dealing with the tragedy.

The live updates for this event have concluded.

Biden Visits Surfside
US President Joe Biden (L) and US First Lady Jill Biden visit a photo wall, the 'Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial', near the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, July 1, 2021. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden said that he believed it was "important to speak to every single person" who wanted to speak to him when he traveled to the site of the Surfside building collapse Thursday. He praised their resilience, commitment and "willingness to do whatever it took to find an answer."

"I walked away impressed by their strength," he said.

He said that the families still waiting for word "very realistic" about the possibility of missing member coming back alive, but they still don't want to cease search and rescue efforts.

"They know that the chances, as each day goes by, are diminished slightly. At a minimum, they want to recover the bodies," he said.

He also compared the experiences of the Surfside families he met with to losing his first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, and their daughter, Naomi, in a car accident.

"When the accident took my wife and my family, the hardest part was [were] my boys going to get out? Were they going to make it?"

He pledged to be in touch with many of the families moving forward, "but there is much more to be done."

Tune in as I deliver remarks from Surfside, Florida. https://t.co/TBrXZmEduK

— President Biden (@POTUS) July 1, 2021

After visiting the site of the Surfside building collapse and meeting with affected families, President Joe Biden lauded the collaboration between figures like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott and others.

"It's really a testament to how difficult things are down here," he said

He also asserted that he and his colleagues had "cut through the bureaucracy" in dealing with the tragedy.

"That's why we decided to cover, for example, 100% of the search and rescue cost for the first 30 days. [It's] not often, but necessary here, in my opinion."

President Joe Biden said that there is still no "firm proof" behind why the Surfside condo partially collapsed last week after visiting with families whose loved ones are missing or deceased.

Biden stated that investigation for the collapse is still underway, but some of the families he spoke to surmised that the collapse may have been caused by rising water levels and global warming.

"There's all kinds of rational speculation," he said.

Israel's ambassador to the U.S. is prepared to stay in Surfside as long as needed

Israel's ambassador to the United States Gilad Erdan arrived in Surfside, Florida Thursday along with teams of Israeli engineers, search-and-rescue crews and counselors.

Surfside has a significant Jewish population. According to the Times of Israel, more than a third of the North Beach area, which includes Surfside and three other small towns, is Jewish.

Erdan met with the Israeli rescue delegation and thanked them for their work.

"I arrived today at the scene of the horrific disaster in Surfside Miami and was shocked by the harsh sights," he said in a tweet. "My heart goes out to the families of those killed and missing."

הגעתי היום לזירת האסון הנורא בסרפסייד מיאמי והזדעזעתי מהמראות הקשים. ליבי עם משפחות ההרוגים והנעדרים.
קיבלתי תדרוך מאנשי משלחת החילוץ הישראלית, והודיתי להם על עבודתם החשובה כאן.
ישראל תסייע בכל דרך שתוכל ותעמוד תמיד לצידה של ארה״ב. pic.twitter.com/xF38Gladzw

— Ambassador Gilad Erdan גלעד ארדן (@giladerdan1) July 1, 2021

Even as search and rescue operations are stalled due to structural safety concerns, Erdan told CNN's Kaitlan Collins that he and his teams will stay as long as they are needed.

"The authorities here should decide when is the time to call it a recovery...and then it will be our time to leave," he said. "But as long as they tell us here to stay, we'll stay."

Israel's ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan tells me their team will remain in Surfside as long as needed. "The authorities here should decide when is the time to call it a recovery...and then it will be our time to leave. But as long as they tell us here to stay, we’ll stay."

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) July 1, 2021

Biden offers prayers and support to families of Surfside victims

President Joe Biden, along with First Lady Jill Biden, spent nearly three hours consoling the families of the Surfside collapse victims and missing persons.

"I just wish there was something I could do to ease the pain," he said in a video posted on Instagram by Jacqueline Patoka.

According to pool reports, Biden made brief remarks from the center of the room and then went from table to table to have individual conversations. He stayed until everyone had a chance to speak with him.

Biden offered his prayers and support, drawing on his own personal experiences with grief and loss to comfort families amid this tragedy and urged them to "never give up hope," the Associated Press reports.

President Biden met with families in Surfside for nearly 3 hours. He started by sharing a story of his own grief, recalling the moment he learned his first wife and daughter had been killed.
After he spoke to crowd, he moved from table to table to have personal conversations.

— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) July 1, 2021

"The people you may have lost — they're gonna be with you your whole life," Biden told the families. "A part of your soul, a part of who you are."

Biden told the families that it can be "harder to grieve in public than it is in private, so I know there's an extra burden on you all."

"But I promise you, I still believe in prayer," he said. "You're in my prayers."

Israeli search-and-rescue commander: Surfside is "the most complicated site I have ever seen in my life"

Search-and-rescue operations at the Champlain Towers South remained paused Thursday afternoon.

Earlier Thursday, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said structural instability halted rescue efforts as crews noticed large cracks and movements in the concrete slabs on the building.

"I don't have a timeframe now," Cominsky said at a press briefing Thursday morning.

Authorities in Florida suspended the search-and-rescue operation for those killed and missing after last week's condominium collapse due to concerns about the stability of the remaining structure https://t.co/7KS0t7BoXK pic.twitter.com/jdNFzZ323v

— Reuters (@Reuters) July 1, 2021

The deputy commander for the Israeli search-and-rescue team at the site told the Miami Herald that there was nothing to do but wait.

"The collapse is very, very unique," Elad Edri said. "The building was collapsed inside itself, and it collapsed in four different phases. And each phase collapsed above the former one. So we are dealing with a few thousand layers and floors, one above another."

Edri described the collapsed wreckage as "the most complicated site I have ever seen in my life."

Rescue teams from New Jersey and Pennsylvania are en route to assist in Surfside

Florida search and rescue teams received some help Thursday as crews from Pennsylvania and New Jersey drove down to assist efforts in Surfside.

About 80 members of the Pennsylvania-Task Force 1(PA-TF1) were deployed Wednesday night with buses and trucks filled with resources and equipment.

This Philadelphia Fire Department sponsors the task force, which is made up of several PFD members and other first responders from across the region.

UPDATE: Tonight about 80 members of @PATaskForce1 begin a 1,200-mile trek to the site of the condominium collapse in Florida. Their convoy of trucks & buses includes highly skilled first responders, trained dogs and specialized equipment. Wishing them safe travels! pic.twitter.com/ioFeHcHJtB

— Philadelphia Fire (@PhillyFireDept) July 1, 2021

"We can only imagine the pain of those who have lost loved ones or are still waiting to hear about their loved ones," Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said. "The men and women of PA-TF1 know the dangerous work they will face when they arrive onsite, but the ability to bring closure to families and friends of the victims of this collapse is also a tremendous blessing."

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also announced Wednesday that members of the New Jersey Task Force 1 will also make their way to Florida Thursday.

"New Jersey stands with Florida," he said in a tweet.

When disaster strikes, New Jersey Task Force 1 responds. Today, this incredible team is en route to Miami, Florida to assist with rescue and recovery efforts resulting from the Champlain Towers collapse. We will always step up to help our fellow Americans. #NJTF1 pic.twitter.com/sVXurZyGIu

— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) July 1, 2021

Biden thanks first responders: "We need you and we fully appreciate you"

President Biden is meeting with first responders and rescue workers in Surfside.

Biden thanked the men and women for their efforts over the past week, noting how "psychologically" troublesome the rescue operations have been.

"We know what you're doing here is incredible, with all the uncertainty," Biden said.

He shared his personal admiration for firefighters, sharing how first responders used the jaws of life to save his two sons from the car accident in 1972 that killed his wife and young daughter.

"We understand what you're doing now is hard as hell," he said. "I just want to say thank you."

“What your doing is hard as hell…” -
President Biden meeting with first responders working the Surfside building collapse @WPLGLocal10 pic.twitter.com/VuJwQkjeS6

— Glenna Milberg (@GlennaWPLG) July 1, 2021

Biden also discussed his appreciation for firefighters amind his conversations with governors in western states dealing with wildfires and draughts during the current heatwave.

He said fire season started earlier this year and state officials are asking for more firefighters.

"We need you and we fully appreciate you," he added. "Be careful."

Today, the First Lady and I are in Surfside, Florida to meet and thank first responders and to comfort the families enduring this tragedy.

Our hearts go out to these families. Those working around the clock to respond to this tragedy have our deepest gratitude.

— President Biden (@POTUS) July 1, 2021

Rescue workers could not save women trapped under debris

An email sent by a rescue supervisor details an incident when rescue workers could not save a woman trapped under the debris of the Champlain Towers South, Florida's Local 10 News first reported.

The email said that rescue workers were "involved with an active conversation with the female trapped next to the bed about 10 to 11 hours after the collapse."

It explained that the woman "was aware her parents were also trapped next to her."

But after a fire broke out, the rescue workers had to withdraw, the email said. Rescuers "know she passed" and felt the deep emotional impact of the loss.

"They saw the wind knocked out of our guys," it said.

Read more about this story here.

Biden looking into covering "100 percent" of costs for the county and state

President Biden said he is looking into whether he has to power to "pick up 100 percent of the cost to the county and state" for expenses related to the building collapse and rescue efforts.

Biden told officials to "just pick up the phone and call" for whatever they need for the federal government.

He added that about 500 more FEMA workers are expected to join the efforts in Surfside.

Both Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis noted the great cooperation between local, state and federal officials and agencies.

"You know what's good about this? It lets the nation know we can cooperate," Biden said. "And when it's really important... we come together. This is life and death."

DeSantis thanks Biden for swift federal aid

President Joe Biden is meeting with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava and other local officials for a briefing on the Surfside building collapse.

“When it’s really important,” government can cooperate, @POTUS emphasizes as he sits with @GovRonDeSantis.

Gov says Biden has been on top of Surfside diasaster “since day one.” pic.twitter.com/mrwUJS7SPz

— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) July 1, 2021

DeSantis thanked Biden for the swift federal aid deployed to Florida.

"We've had no bureaucracy," DeSantis said. "We are getting [federal] aid in no time."

"You recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one, and you've been very supportive," he added.

De Santis said local officials and first responders have received all the resources they've asked for and now all they need is "a little bit of luck and a little bit of prayers."

"We'd love to see a miracle. We will not stop until we identify everybody," DeSantis said.

President Biden meets with Gov. DeSantis, local officials and first responders at a hotel near Surfside for a briefing on the building collapse. Biden says they should just pick up the phone and tell him what they need- pic.twitter.com/WbpC3yr7mD

— Nancy Cook (@nancook) July 1, 2021

Search and rescue operations paused due to movement in debris

At the press briefing in Surfside, local officials said search-and-rescue efforts have been paused temporarily due to "structural concerns of the remaining structure," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava said.

Levine-Cava said that the halt in operation is not due to President Biden's visit.

On-site engineers noticed some concerns, including 6 to 12-inches of movement on a large column hanging from the structure that "could fall and cause damage to the support columns" in the sub-terrain garage area, movement in the concrete floor slabs that "could cause additional failure of the building," and other movements in the debris pile near the structure, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Cheif Alan Cominsky.

She said that engineers are looking into the structure, as search-and-rescue workers noticed 6 to 12-inches of movement underneath the debris. Engineers are checking the stability of the mounds of debris at the site now.

"Safety of workers is paramount," Levine-Cava said.

She added that there are no new updates on numbers of dead or missings persons.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis notes that officials are not giving up hope yet.

"Continuing searching [for survivors] is very important," he said.

DeSantis also notes the incoming tropical storm that could cause potential issues for efforts on the site.

While South Florida is in the cone of concern for tropical storm Elsa, officials said it is too early to know if the storm will hit Florida. Officials will have to wait until the weekend to know more about the trajectory of the storm.