U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are traveling Thursday to Surfside, Florida, where search-and-rescue teams are working for an eighth day at the site of a partially collapsed condominium building.
Local officials said late Wednesday the number of dead from the collapse had risen to 18, including two children.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president and first lady would be meeting with family members “who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy,” as well as thanking the first responders and rescue teams.
When asked if the Bidens would go to the building site itself, Psaki said those details were not yet decided, but that the president had stressed that every part of his visit needs to be coordinated with officials on the ground.
“There is still an ongoing search and rescue effort on the ground, and we want to ensure we’re not doing anything to pull away from those resources,” she told reporters at a Wednesday briefing.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the latest toll from the collapse in a series of tweets late Wednesday, including that 145 people remained unaccounted for.
“Our community, our nation, & the world mourn with the families of those we have lost. We grieve with them and we lift them up as one community united by loss, standing together as we never have before in the very worst of times. We pray for all the families missing loved ones,” she wrote.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the ongoing operation is the largest non-hurricane response in the state’s history. He spoke at a Wednesday news conference about the “overwhelming amount of grief,” but also the “apprehension about not knowing for sure” as families wait for answers about their loved ones.
“You have some people that have lived remarkable lives, have tremendous families, and to be able to see the real, raw pain and emotion that this has caused is something that I don’t think any of us are going to ever forget,” DeSantis said.
He added that mental health resources are being made available to help family members.
Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky highlighted the dangerous nature of the day-and-night effort to try to find someone who may still be alive underneath the rubble and said crews are “exhausting every avenue.”
“It’s absolutely still a search-and-rescue mission,” he said Wednesday.
Cominsky said the teams are using search dogs, video and sonar, and in particular are looking for signs of voids within the rubble where a person might be found.
About half of the 12-floor, 136-unit Champlain Towers South collapsed June 24.
Florida emergency response officials said they are monitoring the potential development of tropical cyclones that could threaten the area by early next week and are preparing to be able to continue work at the collapse site and to fulfill emergency response efforts elsewhere in the state.