President Joe Biden will visit Surfside, Fla., on Thursday following the collapse of a condo building in the coastal suburb, a departure from the White House’s position a day earlier that the president had no immediate plans to visit the site of the disaster.
The president told reporters of his plans to visit South Florida “hopefully as early as Thursday” as he left the White House on Tuesday to head to Wisconsin. The White House later confirmed that the president will travel to Surfside with the first lady on Thursday, but did not share additional details on the trip.
The president spoke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis the day after the building collapse to offer support for the area. That day, Biden also approved an emergency declaration for Florida.
On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden did not yet have any set plans to visit the building collapse because the administration wanted to make sure it was not pulling resources away from ongoing rescue efforts.
“We don’t want to draw resources that are needed in the ongoing search and rescue operations,” Psaki said on Monday.“We will remain in close contact with officials on the ground,” she added.
This caution surrounding visits to disaster sites is not new for the White House. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, then-President George W. Bush did not immediately visit the affected area, opting instead for a fly-over in Air Force One. Bush was heavily criticized for his failure to visit hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.
This criticism was not unique to Bush, as Americans have long expected their presidents to visit disaster sites in their aftermath. Bill Clinton visited tornado-ravaged areas in Oklahoma, Barack Obama went to Louisiana following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and Donald Trump visited Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, famously flicking rolls of paper towels into a crowd at the latter stop.
As of Monday, 11 people were confirmed dead in the condo collapse that occurred early morning Thursday. One hundred fifty individuals are unaccounted for as the search and rescue mission continues. Biden has been briefed by FEMA Director Deanne Criswell on the disaster, Psaki said Monday. The press secretary also said the president supports an investigation into what happened last Thursday at Champlain Towers South.
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