President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Surfside, Florida, on Thursday after a residential building partially collapsed in the coastal city last week, the White House announced on Tuesday.
At least 11 people are dead and 150 people are unaccounted for, while search and rescue teams continue to race to find the missing. No survivors have been found since last week.
“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 aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.
Psaki continued: “They want to make sure that state and local officials have the resources and support they need under the emergency declaration approved by the President for Miami-Dade, Florida.”
A White House official says the administration has been coordinating closely with officials in local and state departments ahead of Biden’s visit to Florida on Thursday to ensure that no resources being used in the search-and-rescue operation are diverted.
Typically, local police and fire departments are involved in a presidential visit securing roads and being on stand-by in the event of an emergency. The White House received assurances that the teams on site at the condo collapse won’t be pulled away for Biden.
Also to be determined is whether he will meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who toured the site with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell this weekend.
Biden spoke to DeSantis by phone at the end of last week.
The President will look to recommendations from a federal safety panel as he steers the federal government’s probe into what caused the collapse.
Psaki told reporters on Tuesday Biden would use the board’s findings to determine how infrastructure like residential towers can be better fortified against catastrophic failure.
“They have announced they sent a team of six scientists and engineers to collect firsthand information on the towers, on the Champlain Towers South collapse, that will be used to determine if an investigation or study will be conducted,” Psaki said in response to a question from CNN’s Allie Malloy. “So, obviously that would be something the President would support and certainly we would look to that if that’s a decision made to learn how we can help protect infrastructure across the country.”
The President issued an emergency declaration to authorize federal assistance and on Friday said his administration was doing everything in its power to be of assistance to those affected.
The cause of the collapse is still unknown, but a letter sent months before the deadly collapse warned damage to the building was accelerating after a 2018 report raised concerns about structural damage.
Biden spent the weekend with family at Camp David but officials said the President received briefings each day over the phone and from a traveling national security adviser, Yohannes Abraham.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” that there are “waves of men and women” involved in the search and rescue effort of the collapsed building. He said there are concerns about falling debris at the site.
Criswell said Tuesday the devastation at the site is “difficult to put into words.” She praised local rescue efforts and also noted FEMA is on the ground and has a recovery center that is working with families and loved ones impacted by the collapse.
“Our hearts go out to all the families and loved ones that have been impacted by this event,” Criswell said at a congressional hearing Tuesday.