As the hunt for survivors of a Florida condo collapse enters its second week, rescue personnel and relatives of those still missing are set to meet with President Joe Biden on Thursday, in a visit that many hope would bring some relief to a devastated town.
Biden and first wife Jill Biden intended to greet first responders and search and rescue crews when they left Washington early Thursday. They intended to visit with victims’ relatives as well, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
The president’s visit comes less than a week after Champlain Towers South, a 12-story oceanfront condominium complex in Surfside, collapsed, leaving a pancaked rubble in its wake.
The bodies of six persons were discovered Wednesday by search crews sifting through the debris, increasing the total number of confirmed deceased to 18. There are 145 residents who have not been found.
Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez expressed his optimism that Biden’s visit will enhance community morale.
“We’ve faced a number of obstacles, including bad weather, sadness, and suffering. And I believe that the president’s visit will bring some togetherness to our town, as well as support for our governor, mayor, and all of us,” he said.
Concerns about the remaining portion of the complex collapsing lingered, and construction at the site appeared to have come to a halt early Thursday. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah said officials are concerned about the stability of that area of the structure during a meeting with families on Wednesday.
“What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are causing concern,” Jadallah said. “They are not jeopardized, but they are causing concern right now.” “Worst-case scenario: If these columns are actually terrible, we’re scared they’ll collapse right back into the parking garage,” says the author.
Families asked if tension rods might be added, but he said structural engineers told that was not possible.
When questioned if operations had been momentarily paused, State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis stated, “The work never ends.”
According to Psaki, the president and first lady also want to ensure that state and local officials have the resources and support they require as a result of Biden’s emergency declaration for Miami-Dade County. She stressed on Wednesday that the White House is working closely with officials on the ground to ensure that Biden’s visit does not detract from the ongoing search and rescue operation.
State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said he wants to make it clear to Biden that mental health resources are needed to treat rescue workers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Patronis remarked, “These people are so blindly focused on the task of saving lives that they see things they can’t unsee.”
“We want to make sure that when they do go home, we give them the strength… to go back to work without fear of nightmares and challenges.”
Since the tragedy, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democrat Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava have presented a united and cooperative front in their response to the situation.
They had previously clashed over how best to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, with disagreements about the use of masks and other pandemic-control measures. However, there have been no signs of partisanship in Surfside.
DeSantis has expressed gratitude for Washington’s assistance, even commending the Biden administration for “stepping up to the plate.”
“We really appreciate having the president’s support,” DeSantis stated during a news conference in Surfside on Friday, after blasting President Joe Biden’s border policies at a press conference in the state’s Panhandle only hours before.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection next year, is reportedly considering a presidential candidacy in 2024. A mother and her two daughters, ages 4 and 10, were among the corpses discovered Wednesday, a loss Cava described as “too tremendous to stomach.”
Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4, were recognized by Miami-Dade police as Lucia and Emma Guara, respectively, and Anaely Rodriguez, 42, as the children’s mother. Marcus Guara, their father, was recovered from the rubble on Saturday and identified on Monday.
The cause of the collapse is being looked into. The building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “severe structural degradation” and required considerable repairs, according to a 2018 engineering assessment. The parking garage also has “abundant cracking” of concrete columns, beams, and walls, according to the assessment.
The president of the board of directors addressed a letter to residents just two months before the building was demolished, stating that structural faults found in the 2018 inspection had “gotten much worse” and that extensive repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. The structure abruptly fell last Thursday, with bids for the work still pending.