Biden supports federal investigation into Florida condo collapse
WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden would back a federal investigation to determine what caused a condo to collapse in Surfside, Florida last Thursday, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
As of Monday, 10 people have been confirmed dead. More than 150 people remain missing.
"He does believe there should be an investigation," Psaki told reporters Monday. "Certainly, we want to plan for a constructive role we can play with federal resources in getting to the bottom of it and preventing it from happening in the future."
Psaki added that there are no immediate plans for Biden to visit Florida but he will remain updated on the tragedy.
Her statements came after Biden said he spoke with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell Sunday regarding her visit to the site.
"What I heard from Administrator Criswell was excruciating," he said in a statement Sunday. "She reiterated that words can’t describe the scene on the ground and she gave me an update on meetings she had with state and local officials to ensure they have everything they need."
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"My heart goes out to every single person suffering during this awful moment," he continued.
Rescue workers continued to dig for a fifth day into the remnants of the collapsed condo building. They stressed Monday that they could still find survivors in the rubble, a hope family members clung to even though no one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the structure fell.
Despite an engineer’s warning of major structural problems, a town building official told board members their Florida high-rise condominium was in "very good shape" almost three years before it collapsed, according to minutes of that meeting released Monday. The Surfside official, Rosendo "Ross" Prieto, was quoted as making those comments at a meeting of the Champlain Towers South board on Nov. 15, 2018. That was just over a month after engineering firm Morabito Consultants issued a report describing key flaws in the structure.
The discussion with Prieto came as Champlain Towers was beginning to explore what work was needed under city and county ordinances for the building to meet a 40-year recertification that was to arrive in 2021.
Condo owners were just days away from a deadline to start making steep payments toward more than $9 million in major repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier.
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An itemized bill sent by the condo board in April to owners of the building’s 136 units showed that much of the planned work was in the pool area and the façade. Installing new pavers and waterproofing the pool deck and building entrance would cost $1.8 million, with another $1 million going to "structural repairs" and "planter landscaping," according to a condo board email obtained by The Associated Press. A line item of "miscellaneous repairs" that included work on the garage was estimated to cost $280,000.
Engineers and construction experts say the Morabito documents that focused just on the structural work make clear there were several major repairs that needed to be done as soon as possible. Other than some roof repairs, that work had not begun, officials said.
That came as news to Susana Alvarez, who lived on the 10th floor of the doomed tower and said a Surfside official assured residents in a 2018 meeting that there was no danger. It wasn’t clear who that official was.
"The Town of Surfside told us the building was not in bad shape. That is what they said," Alvarez said on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition program. "No one ever told us that building was in such bad shape."
An attorney for the Champlain Towers South condominium association, which was in charge of the repair work, did not immediately respond to the Associated Press Sunday to an email seeking comment. Surfside officials also did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.