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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
First Responder Audio Released Of Condo Collapse; Condo Collapse Death Toll Rises To 12, 149 Unaccounted For; CDC Estimates Delta Variant Accounts For 26 Percent Of U.S. COVID Cases; Security Concerns Rising After Months Of Baseless Vote Counting In Phoenix; CNN Gains Access To North Tower Near Collapsed Condos. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 29, 2021 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: That's right, which is crucial and anyone with the J&J needs answers.
Thank you very much, Dr. Reiner.
And thanks very much to all of you. It's time now for "AC360."
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: John Berman here in for Anderson tonight in Surfside, Florida. We begin with newly released audio from a first responder trying to convey to his dispatcher the magnitude of what he was seeing here just moments after the tower fell.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a 13-storey building with most of the building gone. This is going to be a high priority. We're going to need TRTs. We're going to need a full assignment on this. Everybody.
This building does not look stable.
A quarter of the building that's left -- we still have people standing upstairs that still need to be evacuated.
I see many people on their balconies. The building is gone. There's no elevators. This is nothing. I mean, it's almost resembles the Trade Center.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That comparison was more apt than he knew when the immediate trauma in the sense of dread as the people -- a number of people unaccounted for first became known and then grew, and especially in the smallest detail.
One official today got choked up talking about a birthday card with butterflies found in the rubble. The card had blood on it. "It's so wrong," he said. Yet, even in the urgency of the dwindling time remaining to locate survivors, this and every newly uncovered item is being treated with the same kind of tenderness and reverence and care we all remember so well from what we saw at Ground Zero almost 20 years ago.
The Miami-Dade Mayor says 210 people are working the site in 12-hour shifts. We will be speaking to one of them shortly. Upwards of three million pounds of concrete had been removed from the pile, but it is slow going.
Tonight, as we've been doing, in addition to reporting on the latest on the search, we are focusing on two broad tracks -- the forensic effort to determine what caused this along with the stories of those who survived, those who did not, and everyone still unaccounted for.
Since we left you last night, the death toll has climbed by one, the name not been given yet; 12 now dead, 149 unaccounted for. In addition, we have learned the names of three more victims.
Marcus Guara was 52 years old. According to local station WPLG, he moved in less than a year ago. Also, identified Frank Kleiman, 55. According to "The Miami Herald," he had just married Ana Ortiz, a single mother with an adult son with muscular dystrophy. Their bodies were identified earlier yesterday.
Michael Altman's son, Nicholas tells "The Miami Herald," his father was born in Costa Rica, but moved here when he was four. He was 50 years old.
In a moment, we'll be joined by the structural engineer hired by the City of Surfside to investigate this collapse. First though, CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin with the very latest on what we know tonight.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As more lawsuits are being filed across South Florida in the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South Condominium, there is more evidence residents, engineers, and the Condo Board knew their building was deteriorating.
A letter emailed on April 9th, just three months ago from the Condominium Association Board President warned the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection. That initial inspection in 2018, just three years ago had determined failed waterproofing was causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below the pool deck and entrance drive.
It led to a major assessment: $15 million to repair years of damage.
ERICK DE MOURA, CHAMPLAIN TOWERS SOUTH RESIDENT: There were leaks in the garage. There were cracks on the balconies. So, yes, you need the money to fix it. You know, but unfortunately, it was too late.
GRIFFIN (voice over): Eric De Moura told CNN he received the letter in April outlining how the concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive, roof repairs had to be incorporated. The letter was helping homeowners to understand their share of the assessment, anywhere from $80,000.00 for a one-bedroom condo, up to $336,000.00 for the penthouse unit.
The bigger question remains why the maintenance on the building had been deferred for so long, and how and why no one foresaw the potential for collapse, almost unheard of in a modern U.S. building.
JOEL FIGUEROA-VALLINES, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER, SEP ENGINEERS: It's extremely rare for a structure that's been standing for 40 years to all of a sudden collapse in this way, but I'm sure that forensically, we structural engineers will figure out what happened and we'll get to the bottom of it.
GRIFFIN (voice over): Records show a Surfside building official had reviewed the 2018 report detailing major structural damage, yet told residents that it appears the building is in very good shape.
The records made public showed no sense of urgency to launch repairs, as the homeowners association took three years to review inspections, hire engineers, and begin assessments to start work. An attorney for the condo board cautions, patience.
DONNA DIMAGGIO BERGER, ATTORNEY, CHAMPLAIN TOWERS SOUTH CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION: There are other buildings out there with engineering reports as they near their 40-year certification that revealed more drastic spalling and pitting, delamination, rebar corrosion. We need to figure out what were all the factors that went into making this building fall.
BERMAN: And Drew Griffin joins us now. Drew, there's word that a Florida grand jury will soon look into this tragedy. What does that mean exactly? Is this a criminal investigation or just fact finding at this point?
GRIFFIN: Yes, it's more fact finding. Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the State Attorney for Miami-Dade County is going to have this grand jury look into everything about this to, as she says potentially strengthen the laws, strengthen the codes, straighten the safeguards to prevent this from ever happening again, John, very similar to what took place after Hurricane Andrew wiped out so much of the housing down in South Florida.
BERMAN: No, but it did lead to regulations that have made a big difference after, maybe the same thing could happen here.
Drew Griffin terrific report. Thanks so much for that.
Joining us now is Allyn Kilsheimer who brings enormous experience to bear as Surside's designated investigator on this. He was part of the 9/11-Pentagon attack investigation, as well as the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
Allyn, thanks so much for being with us. When you look at what's left of this building, a huge pile of rubble, it can be overwhelming. So, where do you even begin your investigation?
ALLYN KILSHEIMER, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER HIRED BY CITY TO INVESTIGATE CONDO COLLAPSE: The first thing you do is you take a look at what you see still standing in the air, and then you -- to the extent it's possible -- you try to find structural drawings of the original design of the building. And then you begin, at least, what we do is make a little list in our head of all the things that we think -- we could think of that might have caused this kind of problem.
And then we begin doing materials testing, ground investigations, structural analysis of the design as shown on the drawings. We look at the history of the building's exposure to hurricane winds, and any other stuff like that.
As you do all that, the list that you start with of say 20 or 30 things based on experience gets reduced. You have some things that you can -- you could say, well, that isn't what caused it. What you're looking for is a trigger because this -- as you all said, this building sat here for 40 years and it didn't come down during that 40 years, so something specifically (AUDIO GAP).
And so the idea is, essentially, you look at all these things, you will find things that were wrong in the building, because every building just like a body, when somebody -- when a doctor comes to look at you, he might be looking for one thing, but he's going to (AUDIO GAP) your own health.
Long story short, as you go through all these analysis, you get rid of some of the things that you can prove to yourself that are not a cause, and then you add more things as you go along.
What you're looking for is you're looking for the trigger event, and then as you do that, you look and see, well, if, say we find four things that are not perfect, which like every building has that, but (AUDIO GAP) but it still would have fallen down with the trigger event.
You go through all those different combinations. And when the buildings -- when buildings we've looked at were hit by planes or bombs or things like that, you know what the trigger event was. Here, you don't know what the trigger event is. And generally speaking, sometimes you can't get down to one particular cause unless you are a vet, and that's what we're going to be doing over a long period of time.
BERMAN: Sorry, Allyn, I'm having -- there's a thunderstorm here. So, your sound to me is going in and out and I don't mean to interrupt you. You say you have as many as 30 different theories as what might have happened here. What are a few of them?
[20:10:00] KILSHEIMER: Well, you know, you goes through -- looking for triggers, you know, and I'm -- this is just me thinking this, not any thought. I have nothing that tells me that the any of these were even possible, but you don't know, so you have to find out.
Things like a bomb explosion (AUDIO GAP) things like that either trigger kind of event. Foundations moving around a bit more than a certain amount. All those things are trigger events.
Sometimes, (AUDIO GAP) buildings talk to you if you can know -- if you can listen to them. And so what happens is, it is possible that slabs in the building were deflecting for long periods of time, that means bending downward and nobody knew anything about it or didn't understand it. All those things can eventually lead to a problem. (AUDIO GAP) there are other issues that precipitated in the collapse. What you want to do is try and find the trigger.
BERMAN: Allyn, yes. If you can hear me, Allyn, you've obviously seen the pictures that went in "Miami Herald" from a pool contractor that showed, you know, spalling in the concrete, cracks in the concrete, water on the ground there. You know about the 2018 report that was done by the engineer. Does any of that jump into and you raise red flags for you?
KILSHEIMER: (AUDIO GAP). You know, while some of those things -- I've seen things like that in lots of buildings. You know, the bottom line is, you have -- this particular building and a lot of buildings, you have the building tower, then the first floors and the basement stick out further than the tower in plan and that's where you have planters and driveways and stuff like that.
So, you have waterproofing on those things. Waterproofing only has a useful life and after some period of time, you have to replace it. The North building I think last year or the year before, if I understand it replaced all their waterproofing. They dug up all their planters and landscaping and replaced all the waterproofing.
The issue is that when water gets into a crack because all concrete cracks, it's made to crack, water gets into a crack. In the North, you worry about it freezing and thawing because when water freezes, it expands and that makes the crack bigger. You also worry about (AUDIO GAP) then you can get rust to the reinforcing steel, the reinforcing steel when it rust, the rust expands.
But when you see rusted reinforcing steel, it might at first glance look like it's really severe. But remember, it's an expanded material. You take a wire brush and you brush off that rust and you might find that you only lost a 16th of an inch or a half inch or five eighths of an inch of a piece of rebar.
So, just seeing rusted reinforcing steel and just seeing cracks and spalls in limited areas doesn't mean that that caused the collapse. It could (AUDIO GAP).
BERMAN: It is the beginning. It will contribute, I understand --
KILSHEIMER: ... thoroughly --
BERMAN: And you're just beginning. Allyn Kilsheimer, I appreciate you joining us tonight, talking to us about the investigation you're just getting started. Vast experience to bear. Thank you.
Next, the mother who came home just in time to save her two children's lives. This is such an amazing story, a feeling something simply is not right and then acting on it.
Later, the story that's emerging behind one of so many images that will not be forgotten. What we are learning about the woman who lived here and is unaccounted for tonight.
BERMAN: In all the heartache here for all the questions that may never have answers, and for everything we've yet to learn, there is this and we couldn't be happier to bring it to you.
A mother and her two children are safe tonight, and they might not have been.
Sara Nir was at home not long before the tower fell like seconds before the tower fell along with her daughter, Chani, one of the two children who were there. Thank you both so much for being with us.
Sara, I want people to understand how close this really was. It was -- it was late, you know, early in the morning, 12:30 or 12:40 in the morning. You were doing e-mails, and then you heard a sound. What happened?
SARA NIR, ESCAPED BEFORE CONDO COLLAPSE: Look, I kind of just came from a party, like a spiritual party it was -- and it was 12:30 and my -- it was a little bit noisy. My son and my daughter been around me, so I didn't pay attention to the surrounding.
So, about 12:45, she went to take a shower and my son was busy. So, suddenly it was quiet. I was sitting and checking my e-mails and my messages. And then I started to hear knocking sounds -- knock, knock, knock here and knock, knock. And I said okay, somebody is probably hanging pictures on the wall.
Then, it was more intense. I said, oh, probably they're doing some small renovation. And then suddenly around, 1:10, I hear like smash, the wall is collapsing, the wall above me. And I said, wow, they are really doing major construction. I need to take care of this problem.
It was already 1:10 in the morning, so it doesn't make sense. So, I ran to the security guy that -- I live in the ground floor. So, it's first floor. So, it's really -- a wall separated between my apartment to the security guy and I ran to him and I said, do you hear this sound? It doesn't make sense in the middle of the night and early morning people doing construction. So he said yes, I hear these sorts of noises. So, I said, so what do you do about that? The minute I said what do you do about it. There was a big boom. And I was running to see where the sound came from. And I saw all the garage collapse.
NIR: I couldn't believe it. I thought, I am in a movie. I look again and I went back to the hallway. And I saw my two kids standing next to the door, the entrance of my partner and don't move. And I was screaming, it's earthquake, an earthquake. I was thinking very fast. I said, it's not construction. It's an earthquake.
And while I was running, I told the security guy, call the police with the alarm. So people will, you know, be aware about this.
So, when my daughter was looking at me and said, but I am with my bathroom. I said, I don't care. Run, run as fast as you can. She was running with her brother towards the exit of the building, and the security guy, he was shocked.
He didn't know what to do? I said, call the police. And he said, but what is the address of this building?
BERMAN: He didn't even know.
NIR: He didn't know, he was so confused. And he said, no, write for me. And I told my son, write for him. And he wrote, and we ran out of the building. And I told my kids run as fast as you can crossing the street and crossed Collins. We just crossed Collins. God watch us. God watch us. God was waiting for us to leave the building, and then another big boom, then we didn't see anything.
It was suddenly quiet after the big boom, and it was white cars all over. And I thought, I'm by myself in this world, and I thought we were still running. And I told my son, call the police again, call the police again.
And finally, my son was looking, he was very curious to see. I didn't tell them to watch what's going on in the back. But probably he looked, and he saw the building collapse. But I said, it's an earthquake. We don't know what is safe. Where is the ground that's safe? Run. And we were still running and running.
I couldn't breathe, I couldn't do anything. And I said, God help. God help. And I didn't know what to do. We've been really running like three, four blocks away from this building, and then I said I need to breathe.
So I said, I need to knock at somebody's house tell to help me, to help me. I couldn't do anything anymore.
So my kids said, mommy, it's already late. Nobody will open the door. I said it is an earthquake, people needs to know, maybe to help us. Suddenly, a guy came with his big dog looking at the window, and I said please open a door I cannot breathe. Said no -- BERMAN: So, Connie, when your mother -- when you heard the sounds and your mother tells you, you have to go. What did you think was going on?
CHANI NIR, ESCAPED BEFORE CONDO COLLAPSE: I just in the beginning because I was in the shower, I thought like in the beginning, someone was doing construction also, so I thought when I was going to go out of like the bathroom, I was going to see inside the living room like planks of wood. Because like maybe a construction like I thought like someone like was like doing damage into our apartment.
And then I ran out and I see like, just like white particles just like coming out at me. And then I was like, this is not normal. So, then I just -- I ran out of the apartment. But I was like, I was asking my mom, I'm like, I'm with a robe in a towel. Like I'm not really going out in public like this.
So like, no one really thinks that in the beginning -- in the moment, you're just like, you're just shocked, you're like what's going on? Like, things are just collapsing. But you don't know, is the whole building about to collapse? Like you just you don't know what's going on.
BERMAN: I know this is your first time back anywhere near the building. Just what does it feel like to be here?
S. NIR: Now, I see how great the miracle was, it is painful and scary, because I see what really, really happened. And how many people -- we don't know what's happened to them, really. I don't want to say, we don't know.
Again, always I said, how lucky we have been and thank God what's happened, and we really had been safe of this trauma. But we are still in trauma, the recovery, the pains that we and probably other people going through. You cannot even measure, you cannot really say -- I really -- especially, I don't know what to tell you because it's -- when I entered this site over here, I said the first time, I'm very close, I didn't want to come. I didn't want to come close to the area even. And it's so much pain like I'm going through now like --
BERMAN: I know how you feel. I know how you feel that God is watching you. And I'm so glad that you made it out. I'm so glad you listened to your intuition. And for you, Chani, listen to your mother. I think that's one of the lessons here.
I'm so glad you're well and I wish you the best going through this.
S. NIR: Thank you so much. I want to just to thank also, God really help us and also all the crews that is really helping the community. It is amazing. Trying to help in any ways they can do. So really, I think everybody that is here and try to do their best.
BERMAN: Thank you very much both of you. Be well.
S. NIR: Thank you. BERMAN: Next, the story behind one of the most indelible images of this tragedy and the woman who lived in this apartment and tonight is among the 149 still unaccounted for.
BERMAN: Tonight, we're also learning more about those still unaccounted for including the woman who lived in the apartment that's now become an indelible image of this tragedy, a bunk bed on the edge of what's left of a penthouse apartment in the building. 360's Randi Kaye spoke with a friend of this woman and is now able to share some of her story.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This was the view that drew Linda March to Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida. The 58-year-old lawyer left New York City in March and rented a penthouse here just three months before the condo tower collapsed.
CINDY HINTON, FRIEND OF MISSING WOMAN: Linda saw the pictures. She absolutely fell in love with it. It was the penthouse level. It had balconies, it had a view of the water. And it was, you know, a building that had everything she wanted. So she was really, really excited about moving there.
KAYE (voice over): Penthouse number four. This is what's left of it today. One of the most haunting images of the Surfside building collapse, with the wall sheared off and the building ripped wide open.
Those bunk beds in Linda's apartment are now teetering on the edge of the top floor. The pink and white flowered sheet and pillowcases remarkably still intact on the bottom bunk.
For days, many have wondered if children lived in that unit. But Linda's friend tells me she rented it furnished and lived there alone.
When Cindy saw the building collapse on the news, she quickly compared the address to the return address on a birthday card Linda had recently sent her.
CINDY HINTON, FRIEND OF MISSING WOMAN: I matched it to the building, and my heart sank. We just didn't know what to do. We're like, we felt so helpless.
KAYE (voice-over): Cindy called her friend, no answer. Then she sent this text asking her friend to make contact. It's your address, and I'm worried now.
HINTON: Every time I look at that picture, I -- we try to look at diagrams and, you know, floor plans. And what if she was in this room? What if she was in another room? There's a possibility if she slept on the couch in the living room. We were just all praying that, you know, maybe just but the love of God that she is in another room that she somehow is somewhere else and not where those, you know, the shaved off part of the building is.
KAYE (voice-over): Cindy Hinton has known Linda March for nearly 40 years and refuses to give up hope.
(on-camera): Do you think she has the strength to survive something like this?
HINTON: You know, one thing we know about Linda is she's strong. And you know, even though she's 104 pounds, and she's petite, she is one of the strongest people I know. And I know she can feel our vibe of that we're pulling for her, it's come on Linda, we know you can pull through this. And so, you know, we keep the hope.
KAYE (voice-over): Linda's friends describe her as intelligent, compassionate, and the most generous person they know. Always active and full of life. Riding round Surfside on this bright pink bicycle.
HINTON: She got this new pink bike, and we were laughing because it was just, you know, totally Linda.
KAYE (voice-over): So many questions amid the prayers. They'll one day hear Linda March laugh again.
HINTON: She had a very infectious laugh. I mean, when you heard Linda laughing you couldn't help but laugh and laugh with her and just there's so much goodness in her heart.
BERMAN: An infectious laugh. Randi Kaye joins us now.
What about Linda's family, Randi, they've been given asked to give DNA samples like I know so many families are?
KAYE: Well, John, it's been a really difficult situation. Of course, her friends don't want it to come down to a DNA identification. That's the last thing they want. But it turns out that Linda has no immediate family, her sister passed away from cancer, her parents are both gone.
So there's no immediate family to offer any DNA or friend certainly can't give DNA. She has an ex-husband, she's divorced. He can't give any DNA. But I've learned just tonight, that they have located an elderly uncle who spends much of his time in Rome. In fact, Linda went to visit him not so long ago. And he is now in touch with authorities, he has given a DNA sample.
So of course, again, they don't want it to come to that they pray that it doesn't but they do now have a DNA sample to match to Linda March, John.
BERMAN: Important developments. I mean, what so many people do want is closure here. Randi Kaye, thank you so much.
At this moment, there are eight search and rescue units, whether 18 requested from other states.
Perspective now on their mission from Eddy Alarcon, a search and rescue specialist and Captain of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.
Captain, thank you so much for being with us and thank you for what you're doing. Just so people know, you go to work at midnight tonight. It's just before your shift. You're about to go work for the entire night. So thank you for what you're doing. What's the hardest part about this right now?
EDDY ALARCON, CAPTAIN, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: Well, I think they just the hardest part is, you know, the first day that we got here, and just seeing just how devastating, everything was. It's just -- I mean, we're all trained to kind of maintain our composure and do our jobs the way we're supposed to.
But and I'm sorry, I've been working on very little sleep right now. But and, and it's hard not to get emotional about this stuff. But we're, you know, it's hard not to put yourself in that situation, you know, not to put yourself in a position that these families, right.
We start thinking about it in that way. And that what would I do? How hard are we going to work to save our family members or something like this would happen?
BERMAN: You're there for the families.
ALARCON: Yes sir.
BERMAN: What are you finding mostly?
ALARCON: It's just so hard to -- I mean, unless you're there you -- you don't understand how difficult this is what all. I can say is that, I thank God for the support of my teammates, all of the rescue specialists, they're doing an amazing job. I've never seen so many people come together. I'm sorry.
BERMAN: No, I get it. I mean, I get it, it's exhausting. It's physically exhausting. It's emotionally exhausting. You know, you want to find people. That's what you do. You're a rescue coordinator and that -- that's not what's happening here. Is it just chunks of cement at this point?
ALARCON: Listen, I can tell you that none of us have lost hope. Because I know miracles happen and I believe in a higher power. And I believe that if somebody is going to find them, we're going to do it. You know, we're going to make it happen and working together as best we can. We train for this kind of stuff all the time you just and pray that you never have to use it.
But I can tell you there, like I said, we got teams from all over the country from all over the world, working together with us and doing an amazing job and just being so supportive each other and just looking out for each other. BERMAN: Walk me through what your shift is, like, when you go on at midnight tonight. What would you be doing?
ALARCON: Well, we'll start with a briefing, they'll let us know what exactly happened, the shift before. And then they'll put us at a staging are, forward staging area, where they'll give us our assignment.
And then we'll match up to that piling and start hammering away and fading away and hopes that we could find somebody and hopefully, we're always praying for somebody to be alive. But at the very least, to give some closure to the families that are waiting to hear from their loved ones.
BERMAN: Have you had moments over the last several days where you thought you might get that miracle?
ALARCON: All the time. We don't stop thinking that. That's what we do.
BERMAN: Any signs, any visible or physical signs, though?
ALARCON: I personally haven't seen any. But it doesn't mean that it can't happen.
BERMAN: And how long do you think this will go on at this point?
ALARCON: That's hard to say. It's an enormous amount of work. It just seems the endless, the pile seems endless. We're working night and day. And we almost feel like we're just barely scratching the surface. But I know we're making a lot of progress. I know we are.
BERMAN: You say you're trained for this. Did anything prepare you, when you walked onto that pile for the first time, anything prepared you for that?
ALARCON: When I say we get trained for this kind of stuff, I'm talking about the actual, you know, the specialties that we do. You know, working with the tools and everything that we do to try and move debris and but nothing could ever prepare you for what we witnessed when we first got here. There's just no way to describe.
BERMAN: If you could say something to the families who are waiting tonight. You know, what do you want them to know?
ALARCON: I just want them to know that we're doing everything we can. Everything in our power, every single one of us that are here doing everything in our power to either bring somebody out alive, or to, like I said, just to bring some type of closure and to let them know that we're doing everything we can for them. That's all.
BERMAN: Listen my friend, you know, if they were here, I know they would thank you and I know they'd say they'd appreciate what you're doing.
ALARCON: Thank you. BERMAN: Please take care of yourself. And this -- I know you're working as hard as you possibly can to take care of yourself in this also.
ALARCON: Thank you.
BERMAN: It's not easy.
ALARCON: Thank you.
BERMAN: Eddy Alarcon and please give our best to everyone you're working with this time.
ALARCON: I will. Thank you very much.
BERMAN: Thank you, sir.
ALARCON: Thank you.
BERMAN: We're going to have more on the condo collapse coming up. First, some other major events making headlines today a sharp spike in the spread of a virulent strain of the coronavirus here in the U.S. Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the Delta variant in the state of vaccinations in this country when "360" continues.
BERMAN: We're here in Surfside. We want to take a moment to check on some of the other major headlines today including news on the rapid spread of the deadly Delta variant of coronavirus. The CDC today reported the variant now accounts for an estimated 26 percent of cases in the United States.
Varying concerns are now behind L.A. county's decision to recommend masking inside when in public areas even for those vaccinated. And worldwide Bangkok is reimposing restrictions. Also several cities in Australia are in the middle of a lockdown due to the rise of this strain and a low local vaccination rate.
CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me now. Sanjay, terrific to see you. I want you to know everyone down here is still talking about how wonderful you were with them when you were here in Surfside. But I want to talk about the Delta variant, 26 percent of COVID cases now in the U.S, what does that mean? Put it in perspective?
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're starting to get an idea of the trajectory of growth. And this is not going to surprise you because you know that this is a more transmissible variant, we can show you sort of the progress, it was a small percentage in the beginning, we were sort of keeping an eye on it. Over time, the percentages have grown.
And now, you know, 26 percent, as you say, that was as of roughly a week ago, some models now say it could be as high as 40 percent. John in L.A., you were just mentioning probably closer to 50 percent. At the same time, the Alpha, which was the UK variant that we were talking about used to me the dominant strain here is now no longer the dominant strain here.
So that's -- this is sort of expected because this is a more transmissible strain this Delta, it's sort of it's sort of crowding out, if you will, the other strains.
BERMAN: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that some people in Israel who were vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, that they have become infected with the Delta variant infected. What exactly does that mean? Is that alarming to you?
GUPTA: Not necessarily, you know, so these are these breakthrough infections, which, which basically means you've been vaccinated, you get an infection anyway. A lot of times, they're found just on routine screening, people get screened for all sorts of different reasons. They feel fine, they have no symptoms, they get tested, and they actually are surprised to find out that it comes back positive. That is a breakthrough infection.
John, as we've talked about for so long, the real efficacy effectiveness of these vaccines is in terms of preventing you from getting sick, needing to go to the hospital or dying. What I think we got to keep a close eye on in Israel, and it's going to be really important is that around 60 percent vaccination, so bit higher than we are in the United States.
Do you start to see a corresponding increase in hospitalizations or evidence of severe illness? We're not really seeing that as of yet. And I hope that we don't, and there's a good chance that we won't, because of what we know about the effectiveness of the vaccines.
Let me just show you real quick, because this is the good news that has held up in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccines. We have the graphic, basically, it shows that if you're looking at these vaccines, whether it's Alpha, whether it's the Delta that we're talking about, you're still getting really good protection against severe illness. Just keep in mind the flu vaccine and they given years, you know, John 40, 50, 60 percent, maybe effective. Look at the numbers, they're much better.
BERMAN: Much better. And in fact, just to be clear in Israel infected doesn't mean sick or hospitalized. Right now, that's a very important distinction. L.A. County, where the health officials are saying, recommending, not requiring but recommending that people wear masks everyone even vaccinated people inside again, they want to better understand how into who the Delta variant is spreading they say. What do you make of this decision?
GUPTA: Well, you know, I think there's the precautionary principle that it's being applied here. You know, I mean, I think that they don't want to get caught behind here not suggesting they will. But, you know, the CDC has not yet said change their recommendations. They still say if you're vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask indoors. [20:45:14]
I think there's a couple of things to keep in mind. A lot of times, you're might be walking into a situation where you simply don't know if people around you're vaccinated or unvaccinated. If you are vaccinated, you should still feel very comfortable that you are well protected that's the good news. If you start to get increasingly transmissible variants, could you potentially be someone who gets a breakthrough infection? Still unlikely, but the chances go up as there's more and more of that virus spreading.
So I think what they're talking about in L.A., and what the World Health Organization has said as well is that we're not arguing the efficacy of the vaccines, but we're talking about at this point is we want to put the fire out of this pandemic.
And the way that we do that is to really contain it strongly, which means for a period of time, give this virus nowhere to go. Give it no suitable options, even a vaccinated person who may be the product of a breakthrough infection stop that from happening. Unvaccinated people get vaccinated and we can put the fire out. That's what they're essentially saying.
BERMAN: Getting vaccinated is still the best thing that everyone can do. Sanjay, super helpful. Thank you so much.
Ahead, more on the condo collapse here in Florida.
Plus, rising concern about possible violence whenever the so-called results from Arizona's so-called audit of last year's election results are released. And some significant news as well about the next election. All that coming up.
BERMAN: More on the condo collapse here in Surfside Florida in just a moment. First though, some other news on our radar. Officials in Maricopa County, Arizona say in their next election, they will not reuse any of the voting machines that had been in the hands of contractors running that so-called audit in Arizona's most populous county.
The county attorneys say the machines could pose a risk to free and fair elections after being subjected to inspection by a private firm called Cyber Ninjas. As for the vote count itself, no word on a precise timetable for results, if you can call them that.
But tonight, there are serious concerns about possible violence whenever totals are released.
With that, here's CNN's Kyung Lah who has been following this drama since the very beginning.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, in the past, America had a very good solution for dealing with such traders. Execution.
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You are listening to a thread against election defenders, stated on far right outlet one American news network. Maricopa County supervisor and Republican Bill Gates tweeted his response to this video calling it hateful, dangerous and aberrant. This kind of rhetoric is why, at the Maricopa County elections department in downtown Phoenix, democracy here braces for what may be coming.
The month long so-called Arizona audit is in its final hours on this coliseum floor. A partisan driven exercise reviewing Maricopa County's 2020 ballots despite two previous audits that showed no evidence of widespread voter fraud. The Republican controlled State Senate promises it will release what it calls a report in the coming weeks as rhetoric grows more violent. It is why the elections building is being fenced by two layers.
We've seen attempted breaches before, last November as we watched election workers counting the vote. There has been a security situation. The Maricopa County Elections Department was suddenly surrounded.
(on-camera): The security situation.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS: Stop the steal, stop the steal.
LAH (on-camera): This is.
(voice-over): A large arm mob was shouting to break into the election center.
(on-camera): You can see a line of law enforcement here, the sheriff's department and a very large crowd.
(voice-over): A few sheriff's deputies were all that protected election workers as more scramble to protect the vote. Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone.
(on-camera): When you see that fence go up, what do you think?
PAUL PENZONE, SHERIFF, MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ: Well, symbolically, I think it's a slap in the face to everything that we have been as a nation. That's what we see in nations where there is civil unrest, and there is a true democracy and there's a true respect for each other. But now it's a necessity. And that's a sad statement.
LAH (voice-over): Nearly six months after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Penzone says the release of the report gives extremists another rallying event. And like the lead up to January 6, the Arizona audit has been fueled by weeks of disinformation and extreme anger.
PENZONE: They want to know when the right time is working kind of that combustible moment, they want to know what location is most impactful?
LAH (on-camera): Are you getting any indication of timeline or the timing of when all of this may be happening?
PENZONE: No and we should. Law enforcement should be in the loop when it comes to timeline, so that we can best prepare for how we address potential issues of escalation of violence. And by failing to do so, you are being negligent and almost reckless on behalf of a community.
LAH (voice-over): Penzone says a Republican controlled Arizona Senate has shared zero information on what to expect in the audit report. He's left largely guessing planning for the unexpected with federal agencies.
MATT MASTERSON, FMR SR CYBERSECURITY ADVISOR, DHS: Not an audit is what's happening there. It's performance art. It is largely a clown show.
LAH (voice-over): Even if this bamboo hunting, UV light using, Lazy Susan spinning exercise appears ludicrous says former Department of Homeland Security elections expert Matt Masterson, the conspiracy believers take this as truth.
MASTERSON: January 6 is what's the ultimate symbol of the rise of extremism, domestic extremism here in the United States. Right. So it is -- if that can happen at the U.S. Capitol on the day that election results are scheduled to be certified. We all need to be aware of that can happen anywhere and take the necessary precautions for sure.
LAH (on-camera): While Arizona awaits the release of this so-called report the rhetoric is not calming down. After some significant outrage that OAN personality tried to explain the threat, but he did not apologize.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.
BERMAN: Our thanks Kyung for that amazing reporting.
Up next, from here in Surfside the companion building to the one that collapse with similar design what CNN found as we went inside to investigate the North Tower.
BERMAN: Here in Surfside, there's been a lot of attention to the North Tower, an identical building near the one which collapsed in questions about whether the North Tower is now safe.
CNN's Brian Todd was allowed inside to have a detailed look around and Brian joins me now. So, Brian, what did you see?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I saw a place where maintenance and upkeep were kind of an obsession with people in the North Tower and their condo association, president and vice president we talked to both of them today. They showed us the garage, the roof, the balconies and the pool deck. It's immaculate.
I mean, they're at the garage, you know, we said we've seen garages like at the sunny isles, condominium and other places. And that there were of course reporting on the garage at the South Tower, how it was in such disrepair.
At the garage in the north tower, it was pristine, no cracks, no water, no exposed rebar, there was a sump pump down there that was brand new. I mean, you could have eaten a meal off the floor of this garage at this place. The roof, everything was sealed.
And from the roof, they showed us the balconies. The balconies are an interesting story because you saw the Miami mayor -- Miami-Dade mayor said they had to shut down some balconies in another building here.
Well, they told us that three years ago, at the behest of the condo association president, they ripped off the tiles of the floors on all the balconies, he saw it and he said this is too heavy. And it's building too much moisture and damage on the floors of these balconies, and it's going to cause problems. And he, three years ago saw this problem.
He was very precious. And he just -- he said we're going to have to -- you're going to have to incur these costs. That each unit had to pay a little over $10,000 for it, but they got it done. Those balconies are completely fortified. And again, they look perfect.
BERMAN: And in just 10 seconds or less to the people and that's how we're feel confident about their safety?
TODD: They do now. Now some of them left and they told them they didn't want to return, but they had inspectors go through after this collapse and gave them a very clean bill of health and give them very high marks that led to the return a lot of the residents there.
BERMAN: I got to say it's really interesting and you went and looked at other buildings in this area in the North Tower at your eye look even better than those other buildings. Brian Todd, thank you so much for that. Your report isreally important.
All right, that is all from Surfside for us tonight. The news continues. So let's head over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME."