By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – The families of those who remain missing following last week's partial collapse of a Florida condominium are "realistic" about the chances of finding survivors, US President Joe Biden said Thursday.
Biden earlier met with the families and said he was "impressed by their strength," even as they "know that the chances" of finding someone alive under the piles of rubble "are, as each day goes by, diminishing slightly."
"At a minimum, they want to recover the bodies," Biden told reporters. "I think they’re very realistic. But I don’t think that that in any way suggests that we should stop. I think we should move on, continue to try to recover the bodies.”
The president made the remarks after meeting with state and local leaders as well as members of Congress and hailed the unity that has prevailed despite partisan differences.
"Our message today is that we’re here for you as one nation," he said. "There’s no Democrat or Republican out there, just people wanting to do the right thing for their fellow Americans."
Authorities early Thursday halted the search over safety concerns after a large column that is hanging from the structure shifted about 6 – 12 inches (15.2-30.5 centimeters).
Should it fall, it would cause damage to the support columns in the subterranean garage area, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky told reporters.
There is also "slight movement" in concrete floor slabs that Cominsky said "could cause additional failure of the building."
The remains of five more people were pulled from the debris Wednesday, raising the death toll to 18 as 145 victims remain missing. No survivors have been pulled from the concrete and metal debris since operations began last Thursday after a wing of the 12-story Champlain Towers South complex pancaked with floors crashing down into one another.
The collapse happened in the early morning hours when many residents were likely asleep.
“It’s bad enough to lose somebody, but the really hard part is to not know whether they’re surviving or not, just not have any idea,” said Biden. "They all look and they see those floors just literally cement upon cement upon cement.”
The president was referring to the nature of the collapse in which floors normally separated by about 14 feet (4.3 meters) were reduced to mere inches (centimeters) apart at most.