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President Biden Meets With Surfside Families, Prays At 'Wall Of Hope'

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – On Thursday, President Joe Biden met privately with the families affected by the condo collapse in Surfside, at the St. Regis Hotel in Bal Harbour.

The meeting started around 12:30 in the afternoon and lasted about 3 hours. After the private meeting, President Biden shared some of what was said and his thoughts.

The public presser ran late because President Biden said he felt it was so important to speak with every single family member who wanted his time.

After he and his motorcade left the hotel, he and First Lady Jill Biden made an unplanned stop at the 'Wall of Hope' - a growing memorial of flyers, flowers, candles, printed out prayers.

It was a chance for the president to see first hand, some of the missing that he had heard so much about from the family members, putting the faces to the names and stories shared with him. He and his wife also prayed at the wall.

While the meeting with family was closed to cameras, family and friends inside shared with CBS4's Frances Wang some of what the president said to them.

He shared his own story of loss, first his wife and daughter from his early political days, and then more recently, his son Beau.

He spent about three hours talking to families altogether and then in smaller groups.

The President tried to take on a consoler-in-chief role, acknowledging how difficult it was to not have answers, wishing he could say that it would all get better.

He even empathized with how frustrating it can be for people who want to help, but say things like 'I know how you feel' - once again, touching on his personal history of grief, that he somewhat knows how they are feeling.

He said, "The whole nation is grieving with these families. They see it every day on television. Those that did survive the collapse as well as those that are missing loved ones."

"I thought it was important to speak to every person. Every person that wanted to speak to me. So after what you all covered and when I opened at the meeting, I spent the remainder of the time here with such incredible people."

"I sat with a woman who had just lost her husband and her baby boy."

"Another family lost almost their entire family. And to watch them praying and pleading that God let there be a miracle or something good happen for them."

Family members understandably had mixed reactions on a difficult day, as search and rescue efforts were paused for most of the day.

One couple was buried by their daughter. Another family held a Mass for their loved one who was recovered.

While some felt the president's visit was a distraction from search and rescue efforts, the nephew of the Bonnefoys, who was missing, said his family felt comforted, adding that his aunt Maria knocked on doors for Biden's campaign.

He said she would be very happy to know that the President met with her family.

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