Going through hell: Biden visits Florida condo collapse, families

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SURFSIDE, Fla. — President Biden on Thursday said that family members of people who died or are missing in the collapse of a condo building in Surfside, Florida, told him that global warming might be responsible.

“Interesting to me — I didn’t raise it — but how many of the survivors and how many families talked about the impact of global warming,” Biden said after spending nearly three hours with the relatives of people who died or are missing.

“They didn’t know exactly, but they talked about sea levels rising and about how — and the combination of that and the concern about incoming tropical storms,” he said.

Although there are reports that the building’s concrete was in need of repair, some Democrats say those flaws may have been the result of or worsened by global warming.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday that climate change may have doomed the beachfront building. “Obviously, we don’t know fully, but we do know that the seas are rising. We know that we’re losing inches and inches of beaches, not just in Florida but all around,” she said.

Some conservatives blasted Granholm, saying that she was flirting with conclusions for political reasons, including to push for funding in Biden’s infrastructure plan that would improve infrastructure resilience to extreme weather.

Biden emphasized that he isn’t sure what caused the building collapse.

“I don’t think there is at this point any definitive judgment as to why it collapsed and what can be done to prevent it from happening and what other buildings may have to be inspected to determine if they have the same problems,” Biden said.

Biden visited the disaster zone on the eighth day of rescue operations. So far, 18 bodies have been recovered from the rubble and 145 people remain missing. Nobody has been rescued since last Thursday.

Biden also said that the families are “realistic” about the likelihood of finding survivors more than a week after the collapse, but added that “hope springs eternal” with the rescue mission.

“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 those will be fine. Hope springs eternal,” he said.

Biden added later of the families: “They’re all realists. They all look and they see those floors, just literally cement upon cement upon cement.”

Rescue efforts were paused Thursday due to what authorities said were safety concerns.

“The whole nation is mourning with these families. They see it every day on television. They’re going through hell,” Biden said.

Biden said that meeting with the families reminded him of the aftermath of the 1972 car crash that killed his first wife and daughter, but not his two sons.

“It just brought back so many, so many memories. It is bad enough — it’s bad enough to lose somebody. The hard part, the really hard part is to not know whether they are surviving or not, just not having any idea,” Biden said.

“The accident that took my wife and my family, the hardest part was, ‘Were my boys going to get out? Are they going to make it?’ Not knowing, not knowing when you’re flying home from Washington to get the news.”

Kevin Spiegel, whose wife Judith is missing, told The Post that “I thought [Biden] did a good job” in his talks with families.

“The whole nation is mourning with these families. They see it every day on television. They’re going through hell.”

President Joe Biden

“He was well received, both by Democrats and Republicans,” Spiegel said. “He took time and he met with family members. He was not familiar with the rescue operation. He just was explaining stories about his own personal experiences with tragedy, and how he was relating to what happened here.”

Louisiana resident Ashley Dean, whose sister Cassie Stratton is still missing, didn’t meet with Biden, but told The Post, “I just hope him being down there isn’t hampering any of the efforts. I appreciate him going down there. I just don’t want anything to get in the way of the search and recovery efforts.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a Thursday morning press conference that Biden’s visit would have no operational impact on the search for potential survivors.

Biden was joined by first lady Jill Biden and a diverse group of elected officials who also met with the families.

The group included Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R-Fla.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Cava, a Democrat.

Biden “stayed until everyone had a chance to speak with him,” the White House said. The meetings began at 12:26 pm and concluded by 3:12 pm.

Earlier, around noon, Biden thanked police and emergency personnel who are sifting through debris for bodies and victims, telling them the work was “hard as hell,” but that “I truly appreciate what you do.”

Although the nonpartisan nature of the rescue operation was apparent, Biden framed it as something “good” to emerge the disaster during a morning briefing with local officials.

“We’re letting the nation know we can cooperate — and when it’s really important,” Biden said.

At that briefing, DeSantis — a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024 — thanked Biden for what he said was an efficient federal response.

“You guys have not only been supportive at the federal level, but we’ve had no bureaucracy,” DeSantis told Biden. “When we’re dealing with FEMA, we’re literally getting requests routed from local to state to federal in no time and the approval is happening.”

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