President Biden will resume his role as consoler in chief on Thursday by traveling to Florida, where workers continue to comb through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo complex one week after the building partially collapsed, killing at least 18 people and leaving 145 unaccounted for.
In Surfside, Fla., the president will meet directly with family members of those killed or missing in the still unexplained destruction of the residential structure.
For Mr. Biden, who has faced his own personal tragedy — including the deaths of his wife and daughter, and later his grown son — it is a role that is all too familiar. His successful campaign for the presidency was built in part on his ability to display an empathy for those suffering that often eluded former President Donald J. Trump, especially in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed 600,000 American lives.
When space shuttles explode or mines collapse, presidents have often expressed grief, horror and sadness with the cameras running, hoping to help the public grapple with the difficult emotions that flow from tragedy. But Mr. Biden’s task on Thursday may be among the trickier ones in recent memory.
Because rescuers have not publicly given up the possibility that survivors may be found under the rubble, the president cannot simply eulogize the dead. Families are clinging to hope, no matter how slim. And yet, Mr. Biden’s visit is an indication that the efforts at the collapse site are moving to a new, less hopeful phase.
No survivors have been found since last Thursday, shortly after the collapse.
The visit comes just three months after the president traveled to Georgia to express grief for the victims of a mass shooting that left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent, amid a spasm of racial violence across the country.
“I know they feel like there’s a black hole in their chest they’re being sucked into, and things will never get better,” Mr. Biden said after a meeting with leaders of Atlanta’s Asian American community. “But our prayers are with you. And I assure you, the one you lost will always be with you, always be with you.”
White House officials declined to say much on Wednesday night about what the president will say in Florida.
After arriving in Surfside in the morning, Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, are scheduled to receive a briefing by Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, and Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and frequent critic of the president.
Mr. Biden will thank emergency workers after the briefing, and then will meet privately with family members for several hours at the St. Regis hotel in Miami Beach. After those closed-door sessions, the president is scheduled to deliver remarks to the nation from the hotel before leaving to return to Washington.
The White House did not say whether Mr. Biden would visit the actual site of the building’s collapse. Earlier in the week, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the president was determined not to let his presence get in the way of the search-and-rescue teams.
For most of the families, the visit will be a high-profile interruption of their desperate vigil as they wait for word from the pile of crushed concrete and bent steel that used to be the homes of their loved ones. For a handful of them, Mr. Biden’s appearance will serve as a kind of grim exclamation point.
Stacie Fang, 54, was the first victim identified in the condo collapse. She was the mother of Jonah Handler, a 15-year-old boy who was pulled alive from the rubble in a dramatic rescue as he begged rescuers, “Please don’t leave me.”
Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, were confirmed dead by Mr. Lozano’s nephew, Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist on WSVN Channel 7 in Miami. Mr. Ferro wrote on Instagram: “They were such beautiful people. May they rest in peace.”
Luis Andres Bermudez, 26, lived with his mother, Ana Ortiz, 46, and stepfather, Frank Kleiman, 55. Mr. Bermudez’s father confirmed his son’s death on social media, writing in Spanish: “My Luiyo. You gave me everything … I will miss you all of my life. We’ll see each other soon. I will never leave you alone.”
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a businessman who worked with Latin American companies. His former wife, Adriana LaFont, described him as “the best dad.” Mr. LaFont’s son, 10, and daughter, 13, were with Ms. LaFont when the building collapsed.
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Cristina Beatriz Elvira, 74, were from Venezuela and had recently moved to Surfside, according to Chabadinfo.com, which said they were active in the Orthodox Jewish community in greater Chicago, where one of their daughters lives.
Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, lived with his wife, Ana, who remains missing, and their two daughters, Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4, who were pronounced dead. He was remembered as a kind and generous man, a godfather to twins and a fan of hard rock music.
Hilda Noriega, 92, was a longtime resident of Champlain Towers South who enjoyed traveling and whose family described her “unconditional love.” Hours before the collapse, she attended a celebration with relatives.
Michael David Altman, 50, came from Costa Rica to the United States as a child, and was an avid racquetball player as a youth. “He was a warm man. He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top,” his son, Nicholas, told The Miami Herald.
Also killed in the collapse were Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21.