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At This Hour

Search for Victims Resumes After Rest of Building Demolished; Tropical Storm Takes Aim at Florida, Watches and Warnings Issued; U.S. Falls Short of Biden's 70 Percent Vaccinated Goal. Aired 11-11:30a ET.

Aired July 05, 2021 - 11:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Boris Sanchez, in for Kate Bolduan.

Here is what we're watching at this hour. The search resumes, a renewed effort at the site of a Florida condo collapse after the rest of the building was demolished overnight. More than 120 people still missing.

Plus, taking aim at Florida. Tropical storm watches and warnings for most of the state's West Coast. We'll tell you where the forecast has it tracking.

And patriotic duty. President Biden calling on Americans to get vaccinated as health officials grow more worried about the delta variant and the unvaccinated.

Welcome to a special holiday edition of AT THIS HOUR.

We begin with this search for victims at the site of the deadly condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. Overnight crews demolished what was left the building 11 days after much of the condo came crashing down. Twenty-four people are confirmed dead, 121 others still missing, their families awaiting answers with hope for a miracle, all but gone.

The demolition comes as Tropical Storm Elsa takes aim at Florida. Watches and warnings now up for the Keys and much of the state's west coast. The outer bands of the storm expected to have a broad impact.

Let's take you now live to Surfside, Florida, and CNN's Natasha Chen live with our top story.

Natasha, bring us up to speed. What is the latest?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boris, the search and rescue mission really resumed shortly after that demolition at 10:30 p.m. last night. I'm told they got back on site 20 minutes later and continued searching and the families have been very grateful for that action, so urgently resuming. So right now, that controlled demolition has really helped in making sure that they could access areas that they weren't able to get to before.

Prior to the demolition, it was difficult for the search and rescue teams to get to the part closest to the remaining structure because of the instability of that building. And there was concern, of course, that the storm would take it down in the wrong direction or on top of people. So doing this in a controlled manner, that way they could now get to more areas and that is going to be a more productive and safer way to go about this experience right now.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County has explained to people why this was the best course of action.


MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, MIAMI DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We brought down this last tower in a controlled way that did not in any way interfere with the site that we're searching and, in fact, it opened up an area that we have not been able to search before. So we owe it to all those that are waiting to give this pile -- open it up for search. We understand that families realize the fact that time has gone by and realize that the chances are growing all dimmer and dimmer.


CHEN: And, of course, the families, this is very emotional. You're seeing that tower come down and one of the officials yesterday said typically a demolition could be a spectacle. Something people want to watch as a show. But they said this is the furthest from that.

What you're watching are these people lives that were in that building, people that had hoped to perhaps retrieve things but understand now that they can't and that is for a good reason there. Search and rescue teams telling us about finding furniture and teams really being careful with multiple sweeps and use thermal imaging technology to make sure that no pets, no animals remained in that structure either, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, had to be excruciating for families of the missing to that.

And, Natasha, stand by, we're expecting a press briefing within the next 30 minutes or so. So please, stand by for us. Thank you for that report.

I do want to share with you now part of a conversation this morning with a man who is leading the Israeli rescue team in the search for victims. He talked to CNN about how the demolition has impacted search efforts. Listen to this.


COL. GOLAN VACH, LEADING THE IDF NATIONAL RESCUE DELEGATION: This demolition effects in a way that we are -- we have to work several directions. We have to -- we have to search from above, from beyond, from the sides because we are fighting against the clock. Each day that passes, reduces the chances to find somebody alive.


SANCHEZ: Joining us now to discuss this search and the demolition, the mayor of Surfside, Florida, Charles Burkett.

Mayor, appreciate you joining us this morning. There is a press briefing coming up in about 20, 25 minutes. I wanted to get your impressions, any information and any new details that you could share with us before that briefing?


MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: Well, you know, I met with the families this morning after I took a walk on the site. And I could confirm that I've never seen the site so busy with men, women and equipment. It is really encouraging to see how aggressively they are attacking the pile.

Up at the family meeting, when the family was told that the search resumed 20 minutes after the demolition, there was applause. I believe there was great relief and gratefulness towards the search and rescue workers who have been just tirelessly sort of plowing ahead against all kinds of difficult situations.

As I've said, there is not a resource problem, we just had a little bit of a luck problem and now with the storm moving away and with this building that was a looming danger and preventing a lot of work from being done, being gone we're now at 100 percent full strength, full on, pulling everybody out of that rubble pile.

SANCHEZ: And, Mayor, you've said Tropical Storm Elsa was a blessing in disguise.

Help us understand why it was so important for crews to demolish the remainder of the condo ahead of the storm, even if it is moving west, the outer bands could have an effect, right?

BURKETT: That storm initiated a conversation about the necessity to bring that building down because the worst thing that could have happened was to have a storm come in and blow that building down on top of the pile.

I met with Governor DeSantis personally and we -- he and I discussed fact that it needed to be taken down immediately because it was the problem and if there's a problem, we need to make that problem disappear. I went to Mayor Cava who was told by experts that it could not be done and to her credit, she asked the hard questions. She made a 180 degree turn and made a very admirable decision to move forward with moving that, taking that building down. It was tough, it was gutsy. It was the right thing to do and I commend her for it.

SANCHEZ: And speaking of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, I want to play for you a sound bite, what she said this morning about how officials are trying to help those whose homes were destroyed in the demolition. Here she is.


CAVA: Millions of dollars have been raised thanks to the generosity of people all around the world. We're relocating people -- they're staying in hotels, we're relocating them into more permanent setting and when we have been asking them to catalogue all of their precious belongings so that as soon as they are recovered, we'll be able to make a match.


SANCHEZ: Mayor, I'm wondering what kind of concerns the residents that lived in that part of the building and shared with you about the demolition?

BURKETT: Yesterday I met with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the families who escaped that building with their lives and listened to what they had to say to us and listened to their concerns. I've been able to address some of them. But we'll continue to work at our very, very best, our very best effort to make sure that they get what they need in the form of support from the federal government, the state government, the county government and the local government.

We're all working together. It is a symphony of effort. I've never seen anything like this. All of the politicians are focused on supporting the families and getting everybody out of that rubble pile and reuniting them with their families. It's really a beautiful thing. There is a lot of love here. There is a lot of love here.

SANCHEZ: That outpouring of support from the community and that unity, a silver lining in this tragedy, no question.

Mayor, one more question about the demolition. I spoke to an engineer, a structural engineer over the weekend who said that it could have some impact on the investigation, on the ability of investigators to analyze the potential causes for the collapse.

What have you been told about the impact of the demolition on that effort?

BURKETT: I haven't. I had a brief conversation with our structural engineer. The town of Surfside hired its own engineer. This is the gentleman who did the Pentagon after 9/11 and the FIU bridge.

So this man is imminently qualified to assist us. He's working hard to give me the information that I need to share with you.

I had not heard that this demolition would impinge upon that investigation. But that being said, our primary, primary obligation is to get the victims out of that rubble and reunite them with their family, no matter what we have to do to do that and that is exactly what is happening here in Surfside.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, officials remaining clear this is a search and operation. Mayor Charles Burkett, we appreciate the time. Thank you so much.

BURKETT: Sure. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: So tropical storm watches and warnings have been issued for the Florida Keys and much of the state's West Coast as Elsa moves across Cuba today and into the Keys as early as tonight.


CNN's Chad Myers is following the storm. He has the brand-new forecast track.

Chad, what are you seeing?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Just nine minutes ago, the storm is about 20 miles south of the southern Cuba border or the beach area there. And as it moves across Cuba today, it will likely lose a little bit of strength. That's because hurricanes want to be in water. They don't want to be over lands.

Now, the land isn't very thick, just a couple of hundred miles probably over that land. And so, we still have these tropical storm warnings all the way now from Cedar Key, including Tampa, which is brand-new and all the way down to the Florida Keys. Nothing really on the East Coast because Surfside is right here and the and the cone is well to the west.

But there could be something that goes on with these squalls that come off the ocean not only tonight but tomorrow, about 6:00 your closest approach to Key West for tomorrow. Likely some surge along the lower and middle keys.

Also here by tomorrow night up toward Tampa, very heavy rainfall. Some of these storms could have even the potential for a water spout or a tornado because we do have the potential here as those storms come on land, they have a little bit of spin. The whole storm has spin.

Four to six inches of rain, some spots could be ten. That could be inland, freshwater flooding and then the surge could be the salt water flooding. There is the wind field. Most of the wind is to the east of the center of the eye, or the center of the storm. There really isn't an eye.

But that means that most of Florida's west coast is in that little part of where the wind will be the strongest. Two to four feet, this doesn't matter if you're inland but if you live along these coasts, two to four foot storm surge is something you'll need to watch, Boris.

SANCHEZ: All right. Chad Myers, appreciate the update. We know you'll keep watching the storm for us. Thanks.

MYERS: You bet.

SANCHEZ: Up next, a concerning trend of new coronavirus cases in communities with low vaccination rates. How the delta variant is posing a major threat to gains made against the pandemic. Stay with us.



SANCHEZ: We're 16 minutes past the hour.

President Biden used the Fourth of July holiday to appeal to Americans to get vaccinated. Insisting it is the most patriotic thing they could do. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: COVID-19 has not been vanquished. We all know powerful variants have emerged like the delta variant. But the best defense against these variants is to get vaccinated.

My fellow Americans, this is most patriotic thing you can do. So, please, if you haven't gotten vaccinated, do it, do it now -- for yourself, for your loved ones, for your community and for your country.


SANCHEZ: About 67 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That is falling short of the president's goal of 70 percent by Independence Day.

And the delta variant has health officials concerned so much so that in the St. Louis area, they're urging all residents to wear masks indoors.

Joining us now so discuss this and more, coronavirus related issues, Dr. Carlos del Rio. He's the executive dean of the Emory School of Medicine at Grady Health Systems. And also with us, Dr. Faisal Khan. He's the director of St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

Dr. Del Rio, let's start with you. With slowing vaccine rates, the increasing spread of the delta variant, how would you describe the risk we're facing of potentially erasing some of the gains that have been made so far?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXEC. ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY HEALTH: Well, Boris, first of all, let's say that we have done a lot in this country to contain the virus and I think vaccination has really been the key to that.

Now, the problem is that you have areas of the country where there is significant vaccination and there are areas where vaccination is lagging. In the areas where there are people that is vaccinated, I think the delta variant is not a concern. So if you're vaccinated, I don't need to worry.

The problem is in areas where you don't have a significant percentage of the population immunized particularly young people and in those places, the delta variant is going to spread because it is highly transmissible, and it is going to infect a lot of the people that are not yet vaccinated or have not been infected with COVID. If you've been infected with COVID, you're in a way somewhat also protected just like if you were vaccinated.

SANCHEZ: We'll dig deeper into the pockets of the country in a second with Dr. Khan.

But staying with you, Dr. Del Rio, the number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 has gone down but the majority of people who are dying are unvaccinated.

Here is Biden adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and what he said about this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, if you look at the number of deaths, about 99.2 percent of them are unvaccinated, about 0.8 percent are vaccinated. No vaccine is perfect. But when you talk about the avoid ability of hospitalization and deaths, Chuck, it's really sad and tragic that most all of these are avoidable and preventable.


SANCHEZ: Ninety-nine-point-two percent are at least theoretically preventable. At this point, Dr. Del Rio, what else could be done to get more people vaccinated?


DEL RIO: Well, I think it is really important that we work very closely with locally with the communities, with those areas that are not vaccinated. And Dr. Fauci is right. I'm currently on the consult service at the hospital and I've seep a couple of cases of COVID, every single one it an unvaccinated person and it's not only that person, but their relatives and their community. They're close contacts that are not vaccinated.

So, we need to get then get to those people and try to explain, well, you've got one person in the hospital right now, let's make sure everybody else in your family and close contacts get vaccinated so they don't end up in the hospital. So we really need to do a very targeted approach, because, you know, just giving mass messages is simply not getting to the people that need it the most right now.


Dr. Khan, let' dig into the situation in Missouri. Your state lagging behind the United States average, only 39 percent of people fully vaccinated there. The rate actually much lower in certain specific parts of the state. The number of new cases in Missouri also increasing while the overall numbers in the United States are relatively steady.

Why is this happening there?

DR. FAISAL KHAN, DIRECTOR, ST. LOUIIS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, it is for a variety of reasons, Boris. The fact is that we began to plateau out in terms of vaccination at least a month ago. And we decided at that point in time that we were running into this iceberg of people that were resistant to the vaccine message.

And we have to go hyper-local to have those conversations individually and at community levels and barber shops, beauty salons and supermarkets, et cetera to try to get them the vaccine. We made progress but it is a glacial pace and it might already be too late. We are now seeing the results of that low vaccination rates and the spike in cases related to the delta variant.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. Dr. Khan, you and your counterpart in the city of St. Louis on Friday called for everyone to wear masks indoors. How confident are you that people will follow those guidelines?

KHAN: That is a good question, Boris.

And let me just go back to the way the CDC handled the message around masks and, Dr. Del Rio, my apologies if I disagree with you on this, but the fact is that it was a muddled message, it was a confuse message when the restrictions were relaxed. The fact is that people are now not listening to public health advice.

I was out yesterday to go and see fireworks in an outdoor setting in St. Louis as most of us were, and as I drove along restaurants and bars, they were teeming with people, very few were wearing masks and it is as if people put COVID in the mirror and decided that it was all behind them. Nobody is paying attention to them because of the fumbled messaging around masks an we last though battle for the narrative.

So our plea with people is please wear masks. But I don't know if that -- they will listen.

SANCHEZ: Doctor Khan, I want to keep the conversation forward looking. How would you like the federal government to help. Is there something more that the White House could do that you think would help the situation in Missouri?

KHAN: I think more vaccination opportunities is certainly one thing. But we need to tweak our communications a little better. We need to reach out to individual neighborhoods, we need to go door-to-door to convince people and that requires resources that we currently do not have. That is the kind of effort it will take to take our vaccination rate from 42 percent to 70 percent or more.

SANCHEZ: Dr. Khan, Dr. Del Rio, we have to leave the conversation there. Thank you both so much for the time.

KHAN: Thank you, Boris.

DEL RIO: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Up next, U.S. military forces leaving Afghanistan. This morning, we're learning new details about how the U.S. embassy in Kabul is preparing for a potential future evacuation. Details and a live report from Afghanistan, next.



SANCHEZ: Three days after the last American troops left Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, officials are updating their evacuation plans for the U.S. embassy in Kabul as concerns grow about the potential for escalating violence, even a civil car once the total U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete in the weeks ahead.

Let's take you now to Kabul and CNN's Anna Coren.

Anna, Taliban fighters have taken control of dozens of new districts in the last few days. What kind of effort is being made to stop them? Is there one?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a really good question, Boris. And one we've been asking the government. We were at Bagram Air Base today, that is the first time we were allowed there since U.S. and NATO forces left last Friday, essentially ending U.S. presence here in Afghanistan.

Yes, they're keeping 650 staff to protect the embassy, but as far as a physical foot print, it has virtually vanished.