SURFSIDE, Fla .– President Biden made passionate remarks Thursday in a hotel ballroom filled with the families of some of the dead or missing under the rubble of a collapsed condominium, according to White House officials and those present in the room.
Mr Biden’s meeting with the families, which lasted around three hours according to officials, came during a halt in the search for survivors due to concerns about the stability of the part of the building that remains standing.
A video of Mr Biden posted at the event by one of the family members appeared to show the president speaking in dark tones of the grief he felt over the deaths of his wife and daughter in a car accident which also seriously injured her two young boys. .
“The wait, the wait, is unbearable,” he told families, many of whom have been waiting for more than a week to find out if anyone could still be alive under the concrete and steel.
After the meeting, Mr. Biden described the grief and agony he heard from family members, saying of those in the room, “They are going through hell. “
“I sat down with a woman who had just lost her husband and her baby boy, I didn’t know what to do,” the president said. “I sat down with another family who lost almost the whole family, cousins, brothers, sisters. And look at them, and they pray and cry and God let a miracle happen.
Mr Biden said many family members asked what he called “core heart-wrenching” questions: Would they be able to recover the bodies of their loved ones so they can bury them? If I don’t get the body back, what should I do?
But at the same time, he said he was surprised by their realism and resilience.
“They know that the chances are, over the days, slightly diminished,” 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 rescue workers and local and state officials, saying the cooperation in the rescue efforts was remarkable. Mr. Biden announced that the federal government would pay 100 percent of the first 30 days of collection fees.
He said he told the families that “we are here for you as a nation, as a nation. And this is the message that we communicated.
A White House official said during the closed-door session with the families, Mr Biden went from table to table to speak with each family seated in the room. The official said that Jill Biden, the first lady, had also had one-on-one conversations with family members.
The chair was joined by Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Rick Scott, Governor Ron DeSantis, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami Dade County.
The official said Mr Biden stayed in the room until everyone who wanted to speak to him had a chance.
After 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 watch from near the photos of these. deceased or missing.
Dr Biden placed a large bouquet of white flowers at the base of the fence before the couple 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, congratulated Mr Biden as he and other survivors and families of victims left the St. Regis ballroom Bal Harbor Resort.
“For him, taking his time like he’s doing right now, just walking around and talking to each family, it’s just an amazing act and we really appreciate it. It is heartwarming for us, ”said Mr. de Moura.
Rabbi Daniel Hadar, the chief rabbi of the Temple Moses Sephardic Congregation of Florida, an Orthodox synagogue in Miami Beach, said the tone of the meeting signaled a change from other meetings with families over the past week . More than a dozen people affiliated with the synagogue, just a few kilometers from the Champlain Towers, were in the building at the time of the collapse.
“There was something for the first time I was seeing: consolation,” Rabbi Hadar said. While in previous meetings with officials, Hadar has seen families express their anger and frustration with the rescue process, families have expressed “peace and appreciation.”
“I think a lot of people resign themselves or understand that there is hope, and the best hope is to work with these guys and hear what they have to say,” Rabbi Hadar added.