PHOTOS: First Lady Jill Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis find common ground at Surfside remembrance ceremony 1 year after collapse

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First lady Jill Biden, center, leads a round of applause for first responders during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Florida.
First lady Jill Biden, center, leads a round of applause for first responders during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Florida.Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo
  • It's been one year since the Champlain Towers South partially collapsed in the middle of the night.

  • Hundreds gathered for a remembrance ceremony with First Lady Jill Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

  • Speakers also included first responders and loved ones of the victims lost.

SURFSIDE, Florida — Hundreds of people gathered here Friday at a remembrance event to mark the one-year anniversary of the Champlain Towers South collapse.

The event featured top speakers and attendees from across the aisle, including First Lady Jill Biden, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The Champlain Towers South partially collapsed in the middle of the night in Surfside, killing 98 people.

A memorial displays the name of people who died in the Surfside condo collapse.
A memorial displays the name of people who died in the Surfside condo collapse.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

The collapse of the 13-story beachside building set off a desperate search for survivors that lasted 32 days. At the end, 242 people were accounted for.

The tragedy horrified the nation as viewers all over the country watched the rescue mission unfold.

 

Families and friends of the victims gathered for a remembrance ceremony on June 24, 2022

Hundreds of loved ones gathered in Surfside for a remembrance ceremony.
Hundreds of loved ones gathered in Surfside for a remembrance ceremony.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

The ceremony lasted two and a half hours and featured emotional testimony from loved ones and from first responders tasked with searching through the rubble.

First Lady Jill Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis each spoke at the ceremony

First lady Jill Biden, center, leads a round of applause for first responders during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Florida.
First lady Jill Biden, center, leads a round of applause for first responders during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Florida.Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

The Biden and DeSantis administrations frequently clash over policy. But the two camps put aside their differences on Friday even as back in Washington, DC, the Supreme Court issued a controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Biden did not mention the decision during her remarks, which took place just minutes after the Supreme Court's opinion was released to the public.

Biden instead focused on the people who helped and supported the families who were mourning in Surfside.

"We honor the light you found in each other, a fellowship you never wanted to be part of but draw strength from just the same," she said. "If there is something strong enough to help us carry this burden of grief forward, something able to break its gravitational pull, it's love."

DeSantis unveiled details of the Surfside memorial

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a sign dedicated to the 98 people who lost their lives during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Florida.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a sign dedicated to the 98 people who lost their lives during a remembrance event at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Surfside, Florida.Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

DeSantis signed a bill into law this year that will allocate $1 million toward a memorial on the site where the building collapsed. On Friday he held up the sign that will dedicate the area, calling it, "98 Points of Light Road."

"Every time people drive by they are going to be reminded that there were great people that lived in the tower and this is a tragedy that wounded this community and our state, but we are not going to forget what they meant to this community and our state," he said. "This sign is a small token to do that."

The tragedy spurred new state laws

State Sen. Annette Taddeo at the Surfside memorial.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo at the Surfside memorial.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

Florida state lawmakers did not address condo reforms during their general session but did pass a bipartisan bill — that DeSantis signed into law — during a special session in May. The law requires condos to have more regular inspections and requires condo associations to have reserves to pay for maintenance.

"Thank goodness that we are here and at least something was done," Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who is running for Congress, told Insider ahead of the ceremony. "But it was because of the pressure of the press that it finally was done."

Families and survivors are set to receive a $1 billion settlement

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, attended the Surfside remembrance ceremony.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, attended the Surfside remembrance ceremony.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

On Thursday, a circuit court judge approved a $1 billion settlement, the second-largest class-action lawsuit in Florida state history, according to the Miami Herald. The settlement will go toward family members and survivors of the partial collapse.

"I'm sure there are a lot of conflicting feelings about it because there are people that also survived," Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told Insider before he joined the ceremony. "There are families who there is no amount of money that will ever recompense them for what they lost."

Next to the ceremony was the site of the collapse

Rubble where the Champlain Towers South once stood.
Rubble where the Champlain Towers South once stood.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

"It's the kind of thing that we see in third world countries," Taddeo said. "It's not something that we expect to see in America, that an entire building collapses 98 people die. It really was a shock to our understanding of our laws, our safety, and where did we fail."

The community celebrated and mourned the lives lost

Loved ones wrote notes to those that were lost on headstones outside the ceremony.
Loved ones wrote notes to those that were lost on headstones outside the ceremony.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

Surfside is a tight-knit Jewish community in Miami-Dade County and organizers said loved ones tuned into the live ceremony from all over the globe.

Leaders urged people to come together

Beach outside the rubble from the Champlain Towers South in Surfside.
Beach outside the rubble from the Champlain Towers South in Surfside.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

During remarks at the ceremony, Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo shared ways he'd worked with the GOP governor's office and the support he received from the Surfside community after his father's recent death.

"Let's not make tragedy that we get together and not have petty partisanship," he said.  "Let's not have loss be the time that we get together and embrace and get things done. Let's stick to the stuff that's important. Because every single one of us here would like to take the days back that we lost with our loved ones."

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