Rescue efforts at a partially collapsed Florida apartment building have been halted due to concern about the stability of the remaining structure.
Search crews that have been on top of the pile of rubble for the last week stopped work shortly after 2am local time, Miami-Dade county mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference.
The stoppage came on the same day that crews and relatives of those still missing were scheduled to meet President Joe Biden in a visit that many hoped would provide some measure of comfort to a devastated community.
Mr Biden and First Lady Jill Biden planned to thank first responders and search and rescue teams. They also planned to meet the families of victims, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
The president’s visit comes a week after Champlain Towers South, a 12-storey beachfront building in Surfside, suddenly came crashing down.
Searchers going through the ruins found the remains of six people on Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 18. The number of residents unaccounted for stands at 145.
Miami-Dade police director Freddy Ramirez said he hopes Mr Biden’s visit will be a morale booster for the entire community.
“We’ve had several challenges from weather, sorrow, pain. And I think that the president coming will bring some unity here for our community, support, like our governor, our mayor, all of us together,” he said.
During a meeting with families on Wednesday, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue assistant chief Raide Jadallah said officials are concerned about the stability of part of the building.
“What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are kind of, of concern, not compromised, but just right now of concern,” Mr Jadallah said. “Hypothetically, worst-case scenario: if these columns are truly really bad, we are worried they could collapse right back into the parking garage.”
Families were asking if they could add tensions rods but he said structural engineers say that is not possible.
Ms Psaki said the president and first lady also want to make sure that state and local officials have the resources and support they need under an emergency declaration approved by Mr Biden for Miami-Dade.
She emphasised on Wednesday that the White House is being careful to coordinate with officials on the ground to ensure that Mr Biden’s visit does not do anything to “pull away” from the ongoing search and rescue effort.
State fire marshal Jimmy Patronis said he hopes to emphasise to Mr Biden that there is a need for mental health resources to treat rescue workers for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“These guys are so blindly focused on the mission of saving lives, and unfortunately they see things they can’t unsee,” Mr Patronis said.
“We want to make sure that when they ultimately do go home, that we’re giving them the strength … to be able to get back to work without fear of nightmares and challenges.”