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At This Hour

Officials Update Search Effort and Death Toll in Condo Collapse; Mayor Says, Death Toll Rises to 16 after 4 Bodies Found Last Night. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired June 30, 2021 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ATOROD AZIZINAMINI, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER PROFESSOR, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Forty years for structural inspection that's late.

[11:30:03]

We need to have a system in place. Another way, if you inspect, it shouldn't be just, say, I saw the crack. I think finding the cause of the crack and then follow up, making sure that those repairs are done on a timely manner with defined time. I think what in this case probably 2018 they did see some issues. It doesn't seem like there was a follow up.

So it's just like if you go to a doctor, if you have a symptom, if you treat it early, it's going to be less costly. So if we inspect these buildings more frequent and then if we find some signs of a problem and treat that, but have a system to make sure that, first of all, it's inspected by the qualified people, high-rise building that is inspected by -- let's say, a seven-storey building should be inspected by somebody with more experience than something like, let's say, a four-storey building. That's why I think we need to revisit the inspection procedures, the system, and the intervals.

In the case of the bridge --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Atorod, we're going to continue this. But the governor, DesSntis, is opening up the news conference.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): -- a lot of the search and rescue teams are now from all across the state being deployed here, the largest deployment in a non-hurricane-related response in the history of the state 24/7. And we appreciate that very much. And that will continue, and that work will continue.

And I've been meeting with a lot of the families privately to offer any type of support we can provide, offer any type of consolation the best that we can give in the difficult circumstances. And, you know, I think that while there's an overwhelming amount of grief, there's just still the apprehension about not knowing for sure. And I know there have been more identifications made today. But rest assured that those folks are going to be working on that pile, and it's not going to stop, and they're going to -- they're going to get answers one way or another. I also have been able to see the toll. You have some people that have lived remarkable lives, have tremendous families, and to be able to see the -- you know, the real raw pain and emotion that this has caused is something that I don't think any of us are going to ever forget. But it's also something for some are going to require some additional help.

And so we have mental health resources that are here in Surfside, have been here for a number of days now. We've been able to link individual families at their request for that support. But that support is there if folks need it, and we want to make sure that they're getting to the right places because everybody handles these things differently. And there's going to be a need, I think -- you've seen a great community support, but specifically with some of these resources, we anticipate that this is going to be something that is going to require a lot of attention and understandably so. So, our state agencies are in that for the long haul, as are the community groups who stepped up so well.

And then the final thing I'll point out is this is the attention of the state, of the country, and in some respects, the world, and rightfully so. But we also understand it's a big state. This is hurricane season. There's assets here that -- that could potentially be used in future disasters as those come. So the state government is monitoring all storms that are happening. You know, there are some -- Kevin Guthrie is going to provide a little brief on that. But suffice it to say we take those seriously and take -- we will take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we would be able to respond. We hope we don't have to. We hope it doesn't come to that. But 'tis the season, and you got to be ready.

So I want to thank our Florida Department of Emergency Management, all their personnel. This is a key mission, one of the most important in the state's history. They also over a year on COVID, and then they've been able to prepare to respond to storms, as well, should those storms present themselves for us. So thank you for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Governor. To provide comment in Spanish, we have Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez.

BLITZER: We're going to get right back to this news conference in just a moment. Atorod Azizinamini is still with us right now.

You heard the governor say it's going to be a difficult, difficult process what's going on right now. And he's already authorized additional mental health help to come in and deal with the families who are going to be suffering throughout this situation. So it's a very, very serious situation.

Dr. Ben Abo is with us as well. He's an emergency medical services physician with Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue.

[11:35:00]

When you see what's going on, Dr. Abo, right now, what do you think?

DR. BENJAMIN ABO, EMS AND URBRAN SEARCH AND RESCUE PHYSICIAN: I'm thinking multiple things in terms about my team and the people that are still down there. I'm worried about the weather, the structure and the conditions of everything going on at all times for floor pits and fire (ph), I have my dogs also.

BLITZER: It was pouring just a few minutes ago. You can -- it's still drizzling a little bit out here. How does that impact the search and rescue when there's thunder and lightning and all of a sudden it's pouring rain?

ABO: A little bit of rain would actually kind of be nice, it helps with the dust so we can see a bit better. But when there's thunder and lightning, we actually have to change how we do things. We sometimes even get off the rubble pile because it's too dangerous for everybody. And then at the same time, if the winds are too strong, we need to adjust what we're doing, as well.

BLITZER: So, there has to be a pause. What's the latest information that you have, because you're in touch with all those search and rescue teams?

ABO: So, the latest, there hasn't been much change in terms of -- that I can talk about in terms of the numbers that we've pulled out. We're just continuing to go through things with our grids and underneath and continuously reassess those structures.

BLITZER: You heard the Israeli commander earlier today say there seems to have been some sort of trench or something like that that was discovered. Have you heard about that?

ABO: Yes. I've been here since Thursday --

BLITZER: Hold on. The mayor is now speaking.

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D-MIAMI-DADE, FL): -- to make headway through the rubble, and I want to thank them once again for their tremendous, tremendous effort. The world is watching their bravery, putting themselves in harm's way to find people in the rubble.

The weather has continued, unfortunately, inclement, causing definitely some challenges, but they have continued, they have persisted. The operation is moving forward. We pray for their safety on this mission.

We've now recovered four additional victims. The number of deceased is at 16. 12 next of kin notifications have been completed, that is four families still waiting to hear.

Please join me in continuing to pray for those who have lost their lives in this unthinkable tragedy and all of their families who are grieving and all of those who are still waiting and waiting and waiting for news.

As I mentioned, we are conducting an audit of the list of those accounted and unaccounted for over the last few days. Our detectives have been working around the clock to reach every single person who we have been told may be missing by a loved one. We need to verify every report and to remove duplicates wherever possible. Please, this takes some time, and we will continue to update you.

As of now, the number of accounted for is 139, the number of unaccounted, 147. And to remind you, we were previously including the number of deceased in the accounted for number, but for clarity, moving forward, we're separating that. And so we have deceased, accounted and unaccounted.

As I mentioned yesterday, the process of verifying every names on these lists is very slow and methodical. So we are calling everybody, all family members and sometimes we receive incomplete reports, we don't have the full information. It's difficult to reach some of the people who have provided reports. And so our detectives are continuing to work and will continue to provide the best possible numbers, the best updates as we get them. So the numbers are fluid and will continue to change.

Please, anybody who has information, provide that information to us as soon as possible. It could be about a safe person or a missing person. Please call our hotline, 305-614-1819, 305-614-1819, and the website is miamidade.gov /emergency.

We've also continued to expand operations at our Family Assistance Center. My deputy incident commander, Charles Cyrille, will give further details about that next. And we are monitoring two systems, storm systems, in an abundance of caution and Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie will give us an update about the storms that we're monitoring.

So, as we continue our search and rescue efforts, 24/7 without stop, we're also taking immediate action to provide answers and accountability.

[11:40:04]

I've been in close contact with our state attorney, Kathy Fernandez Rundle, and her office will be spearheading, we hope, she'll be asking the grand jury to do an investigation into the collapse.

And we're also moving forward with our county audit of those buildings and the recertification process, and we're collaborating with our partners in the cities to support them as they conduct similar audits in their cities. We have 34 cities in Miami-Dade County.

As I mentioned yesterday, my team and I are also meeting with subject matter experts on the issues relevant to this investigation. This will be from leaders in our coastal cities as well as experts from every possible angle. So we're going to get inputs and develop a set of recommendations for changes that need to be made here in the building process at the local level to ensure that this tragedy can never, ever happen again. And we know that our city partners, our state and federal, as well, will be doing the same.

So, I'm grateful, beyond grateful for this incredible team, for this deployment, and for this community. And we are doing everything humanly possible and then some to get through this tragedy, and we are doing it together. BLITZER: We're going to continue to monitor the news conference. We'll get back to it shortly. More of the authorities are going to be speaking, and then they're going to be answering reporters' questions. The news, sadly, the number has gone up, 16 now confirmed dead. 16 confirmed dead, four additional victims have been found. The number still unaccounted for, 147 people unaccounted for.

The mayor, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, saying the numbers remain fluid. They're trying to determine all these numbers, but the search and rescue operation, she assures us, is moving ahead, in her words, 24/7 without stop.

Dr. Ben Abo, the emergency medical services physician with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, is here. You can confirm that the search and rescue operation is moving ahead 24/7.

ABO: Yes, 24/7, since the collapse.

BLITZER: What's your reaction on this day seven of this horrendous disaster, to what we just heard from Mayor Levine Cava?

ABO: So it's kind of multiple because other than this community, and I also personally have a few that are missing, so I have a little bit more closure as I try and find things and figure out more of what's going on and get ideas of where else we should search. But at the same time, the sadness is growing even stronger and the worries about if there's going to be chances of survivors is, of course, going down further.

BLITZER: So, among the 147 unaccounted for, you say you know some of them?

ABO: Yes, I do.

BLITZER: How many?

ABO: Four that I know. Until last night, it was three. And then I saw the list of those missing and realized --

BLITZER: There's four people still missing who you personally know? Tell us about that.

ABO: So, two of them are physicians that I worked with here in Miami Beach when I was a resident, and others are those that I know from volunteering around the community or social outings, that all just were great, solid people.

BLITZER: Just happened to be living in that building --

ABO: Just happened to be living in the building.

BLITZER: -- and at 1:30 in the morning, within 11 seconds, the building collapses. Have you spoken with family of those four individuals that you know?

ABO: I have briefly for two of them. Two were related. I spoke to those family members. But both out of preservation for the family's sake and my own as I have a mission to accomplish with my team, I haven't reached out to the other two yet.

BLITZER: You have got a full-time mission that's under way now, as the mayor just said, 24/7.

Atorod, when you hear these stories, and you're a professor, a structural engineering professor, and everybody's wondering, you know, how possibly -- you know, how could this happen here in the United States? What's your reaction?

AZIZINAMINI: Well, first thing comes to my mind as I hear all these personal experiences and all this tragedy, of course, I think about them, I have two teenage daughters that could have been in that building. What comes to my mind is that, more than anything else, what do I need to learn from this tragic accident, what changes need to be incorporated in our building codes so this doesn't happen. And I think this building is going to be a milestone. Unfortunately, this is going to be milestone avalanche of changes that's going to come in different aspects.

[11:45:00]

I think the design philosophy for high-rise buildings in certain locations, like reclaimed land and so on, I think needs to be changed. We --

BLITZER: The Emergency Management Authority is now speaking. I want to listen in.

CHARLES CYRILLE, DEPUTY INCIDENT COMMANDER, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: -- nearly seven days have been an all-hands- on-deck effort led by Miami-Dade County in close collaboration with our federal, state partners.

I want to provide you with a few updates beginning with the Family Assistance Center. As of this morning, we now have 26 organizations present at the Family Assistance Center. Together, these organizations in their first full day has served 30 families, offering an array of mental health, grief counseling, financial, lodging, travel, and logistical assistance, as well as many other services.

I want to thank the 26 organizations who are working with us to provide this support. And I'd also like to thank everyone who has continued to generously support the relief efforts from your contributions that you are making. They are welcomed and greatly received.

There have, unfortunately, been some people trying to take advantage with fraudulent GoFundMe accounts. What we can do is to assure that you are properly -- properly submitting funds or donating to the appropriate agencies. We express that you go to www.miamidade.gov/emergency. Anyone watching at home can visit this site and choose one of the -- the agencies to support and to donate.

You can also sign up here -- there to volunteer and respect (ph) that. It's important to sign up in advance to volunteer. Please do not show up at the site without signing up first. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Commander. To translate for the deputy incident commander, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Public Information Officer Erika Benitez.

BLITZER: All right. That was the deputy incident commander, Charles Cyrille, emergency authorities. And he did reveal some new information there. There are fraudulent GoFundMe accounts out there. These people will be charged, obviously. They'll be going after these fraudulent accounts. So just when you want to make contributions, make sure you go through the proper authorities in order to make a contribution.

And it's so, so important, Dr. Abo, when we hear that people try to take advantage of a horrible situation like this on day seven, and they want to steal money for all practical purposes. It's heartbreaking knowing these personal stories, and we heard the mayor say 147 people are still unaccounted for, 16 are now dead.

But let me go through those numbers with you because you're an expert in this area. First, there was one confirmed dead, then four, then five, then nine, then 11, and now 14 -- 16, excuse me, 16 confirmed. Some of the family members have told me why is it taking so long.

ABO: It's really complex and complicated in order to be able to do things. If we all just rush in, we're on top of the pile and just kind of pulling things out, we might make it more unstable. And any survivors could then even be hurt or possibly killed. So we need to carefully do it and do it meticulously so we can do it as swiftly as we can.

BLITZER: Let's go back to the news conference.

: As part of this planning, the division requested a federal USAR team that we mentioned yesterday. The reason for this is that we -- we will need that team to augment the efforts here so that we can free up some of our state assets to be able to respond to a tropical cyclone. That team will be here later today.

Again, I want to be clear that this is contingency planning, and at this point in time, we're working with our state meteorologist, we're working with Dr. Ken Graham at the National Hurricane Center. I talked to Dr. Graham just before this news conference. He is keeping his team well aware of what's going on here. My team is very aware of what's going on here. And we will be closely monitoring the tropics.

However, if a system does develop, I want to assure you we have contingency plans which include facility relocation, communications, backup plans of how we will continue to respond here while responding to a hurricane.

Our state emergency response team back at Tallahassee, you heard the governor talk about, that they've been responding for well over 470 days.

[11:50:02] A handful of them, about 20, went right into this response as well and have been working that ever since last Thursday night. So we are well aware and we have done this before where we have responded to multiple emergencies in the state at the same time. The state emergency response team is extremely experienced in handling multiple emergencies at one time.

The Florida Department of Transportation has brought in additional district staff to assist with round-the-clock debris removal. FDOT is also deploying additional heavy equipment from other areas of the state to assist with this effort.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued an emergency final order waiving permitting requirements for the storage and processing of solid waste. This emergency final order will remove any requirements that may hinder the debris removal process. The emergency final order also includes guidance for disaster debris to assist the heavy rescue operations.

The Florida -- I'm sorry. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation has identified more than 120 multifamily rental developments to provide emergency housing to displaced individuals impacted by the collapse. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation has also requested that the Department of Housing and Urban Development at the federal level waive income limitations and other provisions to allow families affected by this tragedy to reside in any vacant unit home funded properties.

The state has also deployed additional human services personnel from the Florida Department of Education to respond to the Family Assistance Center to support the county's efforts. Overall, the state is continuing to fulfill all requests by our local partners.

I also want to ensure, to encourage all individuals impacted by this disaster to visit surfsidestrength.com. Again, that is surfsidestrength.com. This website provides resources for immediate emotional support and assistance.

During this difficult time, the state is encouraging individuals to prioritize their mental health. The website is also available to families, survivors, first responders. Please remember to take care of yourself. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Director. Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle.

DANE EAGLE, SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF ECONMIC OPPORTUNITY: At the governor's direction the department of economic opportunity continues to assess the economic impact to the area with individual businesses.

The update this morning is that the SBA, the Small Business Administration, has accepted the governor's request to draw down additional funds. This will allow local families, businesses, nonprofits to qualify for low interest loans. They will be deploying personnel to the Family Assistance Center where we also have a team deployed. And our two mobile units will assist in identifying businesses who express a need for assistance.

We want to continue direct businesses, families, nonprofits in need to floridadisaster.biz, where they can access these resources. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sir. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett.

MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORDA: Good morning. I started my day today, as I normally do now, with a tour of the site. I wanted to respond to the families who have been asking me questions about the dogs. Are the dogs being used, are the dogs active? And I made it a point to visit with several of the handlers. And, yes, indeed they are very, very active.

And we have two sets of dogs there. We have dogs that are looking for people who are alive and we have dogs that are looking for people who have passed on. And they rotate those dogs in and out.

An interesting question that came up in our conversation was whether or not the winds and the rain are inhibiting the dogs. And the handlers told me no, the dogs are not inhibited. As a matter of fact, they practice and they pick up scents from great distances and the winds actually just -- apparently the dogs are able to follow the scents to the destination. So that was good.

I will tell you this is day seven, I believe. And in all the days that I've been going to the site three times a day, I've never seen this many assets in place on that site. We've got heavy, heavy equipment and it's actively lifting gigantic pieces of concrete out of that pile.

[11:55:02]

We've got waves of first responders and rescue people all of the top of that mound, all over the side of that mound, and I'm told, underneath that mound. So that's really good.

Following that, I went up to visit with the families. I want to commend Mayor Cava. There's a revision in the way that the reports are now given twice a day to the families. It's very restrictive and it's only families that are getting inside. And I believe that the families do appreciate that because the questions are coming exclusively from the families, they're getting the answered that they want, so that's very productive.

With respect to -- there has been some talk by the families. They've asked me if the search going to stop. Are we going to turn this from a rescue to a recovery? And I appreciated the governor's comments just a few minutes ago, where he basically said, we're not leaving anybody behind. This is going to go until we pull everybody out of there. This is our number one effort, and I very much appreciate that and I know the families appreciate and we'll all keep working to make that happen. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, mayor. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky.

CHIEF ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: Well, good morning.

I just wanted to emphasize the hard work that all our personnel are doing here on scene. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and their efforts in relentless time, our task force, all our support is nothing but amazing. Again, it's extremely, extremely difficult situation, nothing has changed.

As you see, we're dealing with inclement weather, as I speak, but we keep moving forward to keep looking for signs and specific things as we're checking areas, focusing on our grids, those rescue grids, as I mentioned so many times, the delayering process, a very, very difficult situation. But we're working collaboratively in a group to try to attain that goal, and that's to save someone's life.

It's been tough. I just want to emphasize that. It's been tough. Talking to our personnel, the spirits are high, we're still moving forward. We see the resources coming through. We're exhausting every avenue here. But it's a very, very dangerous situation. And I can't understate that.

And so I appreciate all the efforts and all the support. And I just want to share with everyone that, as a team, as a total team, between Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Miami-Dade County, all our task force state assets, our federal assets, we're all working together collaboratively hopefully for a positive outcome. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Chief. I call upon Public Information Officer Erika Benitez who give the Spanish translation.

BLITZER: All right. So the news, once again, let's just repeat the news. The mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, now reporting the death toll, sadly, has gone up to 16 confirmed dead, 147 people are still unaccounted for right now, but the search and rescue operation continues 24/7 nonstop. She says those numbers, the numbers of the unaccounted are still fluid. They're checking, they're rechecking to make sure that all of those people, 147 people who are officially listed as unaccounted for were, in fact, in that building. And it's a sad, sad situation unfolding.

Let's get some final thoughts. Dr. Abo, you're there, you're working. I'm just curious what we heard about the dogs. They're playing a very critical role, aren't they?

ABO: Absolutely. The search and rescue teams are a combination of firefighters and paramedics, physician, engineers but also our dog handlers. And they've actually been -- everything has been in phases, absolutely going in different areas, putting some things back, dog in the tunnels as much as we can and then decide what we need to move around and then continue doing that again.

The dogs have been here since the very beginning just as we have and have been playing a very active and critical role.

BLITZER: Atorod, when you heard all these -- the thoughts going on right now, you live down here, you're a professor of structural engineer at Florida International University, give us your final thought.

AZIZINAMINI: My final thought is that I think we have lots of work ahead of us. This building is going to be milestone for changes that's going to come. And we need to learn from here and make sure that nothing like that happens again.

BLITZER: What worries me also, Dr. Abo, the weather. I mean, it's about to start pouring again and there are hurricane warnings, tropical storm warnings.

[12:03:00]

How will that impact the search and rescue operation?

ABO: Just as we've been dealing with the weather in and out.