President Biden offered comfort Thursday to grieving families who lost loved ones in the collapse of a high-rise condo building on Miami’s coastline, and said many of them brought up climate change as a possible cause of the tragedy that left 18 confirmed dead and 145 missing.
“Interesting to me — I didn’t raise it — how many of the survivors and how many families talked about the impact of global warming,” Mr. Biden said after meeting with the families for nearly three hours. “They talked about sea levels rising and … the combination of that and the concern about incoming tropical storms.”
The president conceded that there is no “definitive judgment” as to why the 12-story Champlain Towers South beachfront condo collapsed last week.
Rescue and recovery operations were suspended Thursday because of heightened fears that other sections of the building in Surfside, Florida, could collapse.
Before the search was halted, officials said first responders believed they heard the voice of a woman somewhere in the massive pile of rubble.
The president said hope is dwindling among family members and survivors that anyone will be found alive.
“They’re all realistic,” Mr. Biden said. “They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminishes slightly. But at a minimum, they want to recover the bodies.
“They’re playing and pleading to God, let there be a miracle. They had basic, heart-wrenching questions. Will I be able to recover the body of my son or daughter, my husband?”
The president was briefed on the recovery operation with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat, as well as the state’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Ms. Levine Cava said working across party lines during a disaster “is what gives us hope.”
Mr. DeSantis told the president that “cooperation has been great” from the federal government. He said the administration has “not only been supportive at the federal level, but we’ve had no bureaucracy.”
As Mr. Biden pledged federal help and touted the bipartisan nature of the response, he touched the governor’s hand to underscore the point.
“You know what’s good about this?” Mr. Biden said. “It lets the nation know we can cooperate. That’s really important. There’s no disagreement, no bickering. Everybody’s on the same team.”
The president and first lady Jill Biden also met with about 50 first responders who have been working around the clock in life-threatening conditions to find bodies and possible survivors.
“This is life and death,” Mr. Biden said. “We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference.”
The president also pledged that the federal government will pick up 100% of the cost of the search and cleanup for the first 30 days.
It’s “not done often, but necessary here, in my view,” Mr. Biden said.
The White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency deployed 60 staff and an additional 400 personnel across five search and rescue teams at the request of local officials. FEMA also gave $20 million to the state’s Division of Emergency Management to help deal with unexpected emergency measures surrounding the collapse.
Mr. Biden’s day was spent entirely in a hotel about a mile north of the building site. The White House emphasized that it was being careful to coordinate with officials at the site to ensure that Mr. Biden’s visit didn’t do anything to distract from the search and rescue effort.
• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.