Biden to visit Florida condo collapse site

US President Joe Biden will visit the site of a deadly apartment building collapse in southern Florida later this week, the White House announced Tuesday, as rescuers scoured the wreckage in an increasingly desperate search for survivors.

A 12-story oceanfront condominium in Surfside, a neighborhood near Miami, pancaked into rubble in the early hours of Thursday last week, with the official death toll of 11 expected to rise as hope dwindles for 150 people still unaccounted for.

“On Thursday, July 1, the president and the first lady will travel to Surfside, Florida,” the Biden administration said in a statement, adding that details for the trip would be provided later.

Residents in the part of Champlain Towers South that remained intact reported being awakened around 1:30 am (0530 GMT) Thursday by what sounded like cracks of thunder that shook their rooms.

Rescuers who arrived in the moments after the tower came down helped evacuate dozens of residents, and pulled one teenage boy alive from the rubble. 

But authorities have faced mounting anger in the days since the disaster from friends and family who have received no further news of loved ones feared trapped beneath the smoking wreckage.

Experts are looking at possible pre-existing critical flaws in the structure of the apartment tower as rescue teams from Florida and abroad work around the clock to scour the debris for signs of life.

The outlook has grown increasingly grim, with no one emerging alive from the rubble in the aftermath.

– ‘Unimaginably difficult’ –

“The search continues, and it will not stop until there is a resolution,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters Monday.

Friends and neighbors of the building’s occupants held a vigil on a nearby beach on Monday evening, clutching white roses and sobbing as a facilitator burned incense and played a gong.

Glow sticks and dirt laid on the sand spelled out the word “HOPE,” while down the coast at the ruins of the apartment block, the sound of rescuers’ power tools carried on through the night.

An October 2018 report released by city officials late Friday revealed fears of “major structural damage” in the building complex, from the concrete slab under the pool deck to the columns and beams in the parking garage.

Repairs had been set to begin soon in the 40-year-old building — but did not come soon enough.

Jean Wodnicki, the chair of the condo association, described “accelerating” damage to the building since then, in a letter to residents in April.

Israeli and Mexican engineers and search-and-rescue specialists have joined an army of American workers at the site, backed by two huge cranes and sniffer dogs.

Biden said Sunday his administration would coordinate with local officials and was “ready to provide any support or assistance that is needed.”

“This is an unimaginably difficult time for the families enduring this tragedy,” he said in a statement. 

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