Remarks by President Biden on the Surfside Condo Collapse | Beaufort County Now | Remarks by President Biden on the Surfside Condo Collapse

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Press Release:

St. Regis Hotel  •  Surfside, Florida  •  July 1  •  4:29 P.M. EDT

    THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, folks. Let me begin by saying that the degree of cooperation between local, state, and federal officials down here has been remarkable.

    I want to thank our FEMA Director for leading this national effort. But Governor DeSantis, Senators Rubio and Scott, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Mayor Cava — Cava — they've been — they've all cooperated in ways that I haven't seen in a long time. And it's really a testament to — to what's — how difficult things are down here. And it's what, quite frankly, we miss a lot. You know, we all — we've all been working in tandem from the moment we got the news of the collapse of the building.

    And I think my colleagues will tell you we cut through the bureaucracy. The one — the one order I gave federal folks was, "No bureaucracy. Just cut through it. Get to whatever they need."

    That's why we've decided to cover, for example, 100 percent of the search-and-rescue costs for the first 30 days. Not done often but necessary here, in my view.

    And FEMA is going to provide temporary housing and other urgent needs for the survivors. The State Department is expedi- — expediting visas for family members from other countries — and there are from Latin America, South America, Europe, Israel.

    And I want to give a special shout-out to the first responders — International Association of Firefighters, one of the best organizations in the country. And I particularly want to thank the president. Ed came down from Boston, and he's here with the entire — with the entire group.

    You know, these folks are — these folks are always showing up, no matter what. They're risking their lives. You know, there's that old expression. I know, the press that travels with me is tired of hearing me saying it, but I'm not tired of saying it. And that is — that old expression — "God made man. Then he made a few firefighters." They're remarkable, remarkable people. There's always — they're always risking their lives to save lives, as well as the police and other first responders. I got to meet with a whole bunch of them.

    And we are able to deploy nearly 500 personnel, including five other search-and-rescue teams on the ground today here because of — our FEMA Director ordered it.

    I want to compliment FEMA and, I might add, all those folks who are risking their lives to save lives, but also holding out hope that others will be found. Hope springs eternal.

    When I talked to those first responders, I pointed out that they're under a great deal of stress and we should take advantage — they should take advantage of the mental health facilities that are going to be available. Because, you know, we talk about our military suffering from post-traumatic stress. Well, seeing what they're seeing and doing what they're doing, understanding how — how much trauma is involved, I just don't want them thinking that they should walk away from help if it's needed. You know, they stand together, and it's really impressive.

    And there's also the need, in addition to state and local assistance, to determine the cause of this collapse — and the adjacent buildings, how safe they are.

    There are two outstanding concerns. First, the remaining buildings may collapse — the remainder of the building may collapse. We need to determine if it's safe for first responders to return to the site to continue their rescue mission.

    That's being done right now. And that's why I asked the National Institute of Standards and Technology — NIST — to investigate, to see if it's safe to go back and what caused the building to collapse in the first place. Because we're committed not only to recover, but to restore the safety across the board.

    But the other reason I came down was to meet with the families. The whole nation is mourning with these families. They see it every day on television. They're going through hell. And those who've survived the collapse, as well as those who are missing loved ones.

    I realize I'm a little late because I spent a lot of time with the families — a whole lot of time. And I apologize for taking so long to get here, because I thought it was important to speak to every single person who wanted to speak to me. So, after what you all covered when I opened up the — the meeting, I spent the remainder of the time, and I — and such incredible people.

    I sat with one woman who had just lost her — her husband and her little baby boy; didn't know what to do. I sat with another family that lost almost the entire family: cousins, brothers, sisters. And to watch them and to — the — they're praying and pleading that, "God, let there be a miracle. Let them be something happen for me that's good."

    Because I have, like many of you do, some idea what it's like to suffer that kind of loss so many of them are suffering.

    You know, they had basic heart-wrenching questions: "Will I be able to recover the body of my son or daughter, my husband, my cousin, my mom and dad? How can I have closure without being able to bury them if I don't get the body? What do I do?"

    Jill and I wanted them to know that we're with them and the country is with them. Our message today is that we're here for you, as one nation. As one nation. And that's the message we communicated.

    We'll be in touch with a lot of these families continuing through this process. But there is much more to be done. We're ready to do it.

    And again, I thank the governor, I thank my colleagues, my — Senator Scott and Senator Rubio, I thank Debbie Wasserman Schultz for their total, complete cooperation. There's no — there's no disagreement, no bickering. Everybody is on the same team. It's what America is all about. It's about pulling together, leaving nobody behind. And that's what made me feel — the one thing that made me feel good about this is the — is a cohesion that exists. There's no Democrat or Republican out there; they're just people wanting to do the right thing for their fellow Americans.

    So, may God bless the victims and their families. And may God protect our first responders.

    And I'll take a couple questions right now.

    Q:  Mr. President, what were you told today about the likelihood — you said, "Hope springs eternal" — but that somebody will be able to be pulled out alive from this? And what were you able to convey to the families about that possibility?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, first of all, the families are very realistic. They know the longer it goes — and one of the things that the local FEMA personnel as well as the local first responders did is they took all of the families to the site to see — to see what it looked like up close. And they're all realists. They all look, and they see those floors just literally feet — cement upon cement upon cement.

    You know, I — when I talked to some of the families, some of the people who did escape, survived, and got out, they talked about watching the building collapse and watching as they were in the garage — one floor come down — literally a whole floor on top of another floor. They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly.

    But at a minimum — at a minimum — they want to recover the bodies. They want to recover the bodies. There's a lot of very religious people who are in there. Members of the — the rabbis in the Jewish community were talking about the need to make sure that they recover the body and be able to bury them. Give them — and, you know, the — anyway.

    So, I think they're very realistic, Mike. But — but I don't think that that, in any way, suggests that it's too — that we should stop. I think that we should move on, continue to try to recover the bodies.

    In the meantime, that's why NIST and others are determining whether or not it's safe to send the first responders back. When they'd asked me about this, I'd point out that the last thing they would want and we would want is, in the process of trying to recover — and the possibility — there's still a possibility someone could be alive, someone could still be breathing, someone could be there — that the last thing you want to have happen is have that building collapse and kill 10, 20, 30, 50 firefighters or wound them, or first responders.

    So — but Mike, they're — you know, they're realistic. I — it just brought back so many — so many memories. It's bad enough — it's bad enough to lose somebody. But the hard part — the really hard part is to not know whether they're surviving or not — just not have any idea.

    When the accident took my wife and my family, the hardest part was: Were my boys going to get out? Are they going to make it? And not knowing. Not knowing, when you're flying home from Washington to get the news. You know, you just don't know. So, it's —

    But I was amazed — as you know, unfortunately, I've done a lot of these circumstances where I've met with families who have had great loss. And what amazed me about this group of people was the resilience and their absolute commitment, their willingness to do whatever it took to find — to find an answer. I walked away impressed by their strength. And —

    And Nancy, Bloomberg — do you have a question?

    Q:  Yeah —

    THE PRESIDENT: I was told.

    [ ... ]

    Read the full transcript HERE.

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