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New Texas Immigration Law on Hold; Desperation in Gaza; Bridge Collapse Recovery Efforts Continue. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A long road to recovery.

Baltimore faces the challenge of reopening the port, which is the economic heart of the city and crucial for American commerce, while divers try to find the remains of the six missing workers who are presumed to have died in the bridge collapse.

We expect to hear from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and a key Coast Guard official at the White House this hour.

And desperation in Gaza, as Palestinians drown trying to recover food aid dropped in the ocean, the latest tragedy underscoring the threat of starvation, even as talks over a cease-fire have ground to a halt.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Plus: running out of time. The melting ice caps at the North and South Poles aren't only an environmental concern. They could actually be changing how we measure time itself.

We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: Today, the search for victims and the search for answers after the deadly bridge collapse in Baltimore.

Right now, federal investigators are poring over data from the ship's black box and they're moving to interview crew members. At the same time, divers are searching for the six missing victims who were doing construction the Francis Scott Key Bridge at the time of the collapse and are now presumed dead.

We're going to bring you live updates from officials throughout the day.

Now let's go, though, on the scene to CNN's Gabe Cohen.

Gabe, tell us what you're seeing. Does there look to be any terms of progress when it comes to clearing some of the wreckage or debris or even just investigating it?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I can tell you we are awaiting a press conference that's been pushed back. We're expecting it in the next hour or so, though that timeline is a little unclear. In terms of the recovery effort, that search-and-rescue that's become

a recovery, no word yet on any updates there. Those crews are dealing with really brutal conditions on the water, a lot of rain today, choppy waves, dark, very -- lack of visibility, dark conditions under the water, a lot of debris. So they're having a difficult time.

And, as of just a little while ago, they had still not found anything substantial. And as you mentioned, there are a couple dozen NTSB investigators who are here that have been on that ship. They have spoken with the crew. And they have been collecting electronics, including the data recorder, that black box you mentioned, that they're currently analyzing.

And they're hoping to release more information later today that can provide a bit of a timeline as to what went wrong here, what caused that terrible blackout, when the pilot of the vessel lost power, lost the ability to steer, ultimately creating that collision with the column of the bridge and the collapse.

So we're still waiting on a lot of information there.

KEILAR: And, Gabe, what are we learning about the victims?

COHEN: Brianna, we're learning much more about their stories today.

And, frankly, they're heartbreaking to hear. We have heard from the brother of one of the construction workers that's missing right now. That's 38-year-old Maynor Sandoval. He's an immigrant from Honduras. He's been in the United States nearly 20 years, described as one of eight siblings, married with two kids, an 18-year-old son and a 5- year-old daughter.

And the brother told our team that he is holding on to hope, as is the family, that his brother is going to be found alive. I want to read you what he said, a portion of it. He said: "We still have faith until this moment. God, grant the miracle. It would be beautiful. We still have hope. I know that time is our worst enemy."

We're also learning about a man named Miguel Luna, a father of three from El Salvador who has also lived in Maryland for nearly 20 years. That is just a snippet, Brianna, of the tragic stories that we're hearing, these six missing construction workers presumed dead at this point, as crews are still looking for them. And the area that they're searching has only grown wider because of the currents in that river, but, as you heard there, family members still trying to hold on hope and awaiting answers.


And, again, we are expecting that press conference in a little while. We're hoping to have some more answers as well.

KEILAR: Yes, they need those answers, for sure.

Gabe, we will be watching for that. Thank you so much -- Boris. SANCHEZ: Let's get some expert analysis on the recovery from Butch

Hendrick. He's a veteran rescue diver who founded and runs Lifeguard Systems.

Butch, thank you so much for being with us.

So, Maryland's governor described the conditions of the dive as treacherous. You have frigid temperatures, low visibility, and not to mention all the debris that's in that scene.

What is it like for divers going into water like that?

BUTCH HENDRICK, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER, LIFEGUARD SYSTEMS: It's extremely difficult, because we have to add a current.

And the current is going to be a very major factor in not only the ability for the divers to move around on the bottom, but be any -- near any type of debris that could be still dynamic and moving.

So, one of the things that's difficult as well for us is that we train public safety divers, police, fire, even military, to be able to find an object like a human body that's on the bottom, how to find evidence, how to work around a vehicle or two that have ended up in the physical water.

We are not training them how to work on an operation that's this magnitude, the way the bridge is collapsed, the amount of debris that's interactive. And when I say interactive, if you don't mind, something of this sort, we visually see a bridge in our mind's eye, but, right now, every piece is twisted mangled, and turned in another format.

And something as simple as moving one piece can move multiples. So, if you open the door on a car that might be entangled in it, that -- with that combination of current, could very quickly change a whole dynamic and another series of pieces could break loose.

So they're searching on the outskirts of the debris, and they have certainly got to be very careful. With no visibility, everything is in braille.


HENDRICK: They're touching -- so they're not even sure if they're under debris because they can't feel it, they can't see it, but they're down there searching for, obviously, let's bring some closure to the families if we can.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Yes, you describing it as a braille is really instructive, because they're sort of feeling their way around the space.

Just looking at the images, on the outside, it looks like sections of the bridge are sort of precariously still perched on the vessel itself. And I'm wondering if you think that these divers or these crews have gotten any word from engineers that there's no concern over stuff shifting above them.

If not, it seems especially dangerous, right?

HENDRICK: It certainly is. I can only imagine, with the number of people who are there and the way the governor has handled this, that they have already made sure that anything that else that can move is being secured.

I just -- they're way ahead of their game out there. And, yes, the chances that one of the containers could be coming off, everything has got to be removed from the top up. And each piece -- when the commercial divers do get there, there's a good possibility they're going to be cutting portions of steel out to remove them, knowing that that piece can be moved without another piece, or they have got to secure one and two to move piece number three, or the whole thing will continue to re-collapse.

It's a dynamic, nonstop process.


So there is a scenario in which they start the sort of salvaging effort of getting stuff off the scene before they're able to recover the bodies of those that were still unaccounted for?

HENDRICK: If those bodies are entrapped in the physical structure, yes.

What's going to have to -- again, what has to happen is pieces of metal and steel and cement have got to be moved prior to the divers removing a vehicle or finding a body and trying to move a bunch of steel to get the body out. Another piece dynamically shifts, and you could have 20 parts that are suddenly going to change position.

The diver could be dead in a matter of seconds, and he wouldn't even know it.



Yes, it is a difficult scenario to process and just to imagine the danger that those divers and those teams are facing. Our hearts are with the families of those who remain unaccounted for.

Butch, we have to leave the conversation there. Appreciate your time.

HENDRICK: Thank you very much.

SANCHEZ: Of course -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Peter Goelz is joining us now. He was managing director of the NTSB.

And, Peter, can you talk to us a little bit about the kind of information and insights that these black boxes, these data recorders, may be giving investigators?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, probably the most important information, Brianna, will be the bridge voice recorder, which will give investigators a complete picture of what was going on during the minutes preceding the impact of the bridge.

And it will tell us whether there was chaos, whether the pilot was in command. And it appears as though early evidence says the pilot made all of the right calls in a timely manner. But the voice recorder will confirm that.

In the sinking of the El Faro, the NTSB recovered the voice recorder from that tragedy at 15,000 feet below the surface. And it gave them an incredible picture of exactly what happened. For the data recorder, it will tell you what was going on with the vessel's engine and why it apparently lost power and whether it actually regained power or whether that was the alternate generators kicking in.

I mean, I think this investigation, all of the pieces are in place to have a successful conclusion. The real challenge will be, how do you prevent this from happening again?

KEILAR: And the NTSB is obviously working to that end. They will be speaking with the members of the Dali crew, Synergy saying that it was a 22-person crew from India.

But we should note it was a local pilot from the harbor who was helping pilot the ship through this local area with that expertise knowledge to get it out into the bay. What questions would you have for crew members and for that local pilot?

GOELZ: Well, I think, for the crew members, your most important questions will be of the engine room crew. What was going on? What was -- were there any indications that the engine was coming into difficulty? What steps did you take to combat it?

And for the pilots, the question is, when did they realize that there was a potential tragedy coming? And what steps did they take to both warn the bridge and to try and avert the collision? And I think the voice recorder will lay that out in detail.

But it seems, early on, that the pilots were on top of it, and we just don't know what caused the engine to seize up and cease operating.

KEILAR: And so that is really going to be the focus. The Dali was last inspected in September, so several months ago, no deficiencies found at that time. But it did have a propulsion problem a few months before that, also a problem with auxiliary machinery like gauges.

How much of a red flag does that raise for you?

GOELZ: Well, it's certainly important to look at. I mean, were the repairs that were put in place correct? Were they monitored? Was this a reoccurring problem? These are all questions that the investigation will examine. And I can

tell you, Brianna, across the country, this was a low-probability, terribly high-consequence event. There are port directors that are looking at their own risk assessments to see whether they have got something similar on the books and how to avoid it in the future.

KEILAR: Yes, there is a sense that this could have happened anywhere, so they certainly do need to be looking at that.

A lot of focus about the lack of buffers or fenders around the pillars of the bridge. Do you think that would have even mattered?

GOELZ: I think this vessel was far too large. I mean, the bumpers or the dolphins requirements and the protection of the pylons really came into being after the Sunshine Skyway collapse in Florida in 1980.

And this bridge was open for business in advance of that. So its construction did not have to accommodate the new recommendations. But they will look at whether dolphins are splayed out in front of the pylons could have prevented it.


But I think this was such a massive ship, that that's probably a fool's errand.

KEILAR: Yes, we can see the perspective of it. It is gigantic. And that pylon really was no match for it.

Peter, great to have you. Thank you so much for your insights.

GOELZ: Thank you.

KEILAR: And ahead this hour on CNN NEWS CENTRAL: on hold again. Why an appeals court just stopped Texas from enforcing its controversial border law that would allow state officials to bypass federal law and arrest and deport undocumented immigrants themselves.

And as cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas reach a stalemate, another attempt to get aid to Palestinians turns deadly.

Plus, Diddy's attorneys speaking out after the star's homes are raided as part of a federal sex trafficking investigation.



SANCHEZ: The block will remain.

Overnight, a federal appeals court ruled against Texas, extending a hold on the state's controversial immigration law known as S.B.4. The measure would allow Texas officials to arrest people they suspect of entering the country illegally.

This is another temporary win for the Biden administration, which has been locked in this high stakes tug-of-war with Texas over the border crisis.

Let's take you now live to Houston with CNN's Rosa Flores.

So, Rosa, why is the Fifth Circuit keeping this hold in place?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Boris, it's for the same reason that the lower court had an issue with this law.

And that's because of issues of constitutionality. Let me get you up to speed here, because in the majority opinion, the chief judge made it very clear that it is likely that this law, S.B.4, is not in line with the Constitution.

Here's an excerpt from that majority opinion. It states -- quote -- "The Texas removal provisions bestow powers upon itself that are likely reserved to the United States."

Now, to a degree, the chief judge acknowledges that Texas is frustrated, because Texas argues that it is -- quote -- "being invaded" and that the federal government is not doing enough. And, of course, the state of Texas maintains that this is a constitutional measure.

Well, the chief judge acknowledges that and says, the thing is, one of the root causes for the executive branch not to take enough action is because of the legislative branch, because of Congress, because Congress is not funding it properly, so that there could be a proper response at the border.

And here's what the justice says -- quote -- "Texas nobly and admirably, some would say, seeks to fill at least partially the gaping void. But it is unlikely that Texas can step into the shoes of the national sovereign under our Constitution and laws."

The judge takes it even further and it says, look, it doesn't just impact domestic policy. It impacts foreign policy. Here's what the judge said -- quote -- "The dynamic nature of relations with other countries requires the executive branch to ensure that enforcement policies are consistent with this nation's foreign policy with respect to these and other realities."

And, Boris, of course, the plaintiff's here and civil rights and human rights organizations have issued statements saying that they agree with this decision by the appeals court, and they know that the fight is not over.

I should add that the appeals court will have oral arguments on this on April 3. So it's not over, Boris.

SANCHEZ: It is not.

And, Rosa, how is Mexico reacting to all this back-and-forth? There was some criticism from the Mexican side when this law passed.

FLORES: You know, Mexico, has maintained that they condemn this measure, they believe this measure is unconstitutional, that it is unjust, and that it could be -- it could be applied in a discriminatory manner.

Now, Mexico has said that this measure could impact U.S.-Mexico relations and if S.B.4 goes into effect that it could have significant ramifications in that bilateral relationship. Now, Mexico has issued a statement saying in part -- quote -- "Enforcement of S.B.4 would inappropriately burden the uniform and predictable sovereign-to- sovereign relations between Mexico and the United States and creating diverging removal requirements between and among individual states and the national government."

Boris, Mexico is so concerned about this, especially about the potential of racial profiling of Mexican nationals here in the state of Texas who might be here legally, they are having all of the consulates in this state that are Mexican consulates provide services to individuals who are Mexican nationals just to make sure that they feel that their government is supporting them -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Rosa Flores live for us in Houston.

Thank you so much, Rosa.

KEILAR: Turning now to the Israel-Hamas war, cease-fire talks between the two sides have reportedly hit a stalemate, with one diplomat calling the negotiations stuck, but ongoing.

Israel had agreed to release around 700 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 40 Israeli hostages as part of a six week cease-fire, but Hamas is pushing for more, including a complete cease-fire and the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza. Those demands are nonstarters for Israel, as it vows to destroy the group in the wake of the October 7 attacks.

In the meantime, Palestinian officials say Israeli airstrikes on a residential building killed at least 11 people today in Rafah. In response, though, Israel's military said it wasn't aware of any strikes during that time and place.


And, in Northern Gaza, at least 12 Palestinians who tried swimming to some airdropped supplies that had landed in the sea drowned. We have to warn you, some of the video that we're about to show you is hard to watch.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has this report.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As they spot a plane and the aid begins to drop, they run as fast as they can.

It's the rush of a people so desperate, so hungry, who would do anything to feed their children now on the brink of starvation. This is what survival in Gaza has come to, fighting for food, that little bit of aid that makes it into the north, where a manmade famine now looms. People chased parachutes that fell into these choppy waters. It is desperation that drives them into the sea. What you're about to

see next is disturbing. It's the reality of a war growing more cruel by the day. The fastest, the fittest emerged with boxes of American- issued meals ready to eat. Others didn't make it out alive. People gather around the thin, frail body of a man who drowned trying to reach that aid; 12 people drowned, according to paramedics.

"The parachutes fell into the water," Abu Mohamed says. "But people went to eat. They went into the water and drowned. The current was so strong. They didn't know how to swim. It's what you do when you have nothing left to lose."

"A man goes in swimming to get food for his children. He returns dead," this man says. "Bring us aid through the land crossings. Our children are dying. We are dying. What are you doing? Where is the world?"

The world has been piling up lifesaving aid into trucks stuck at land crossings, seemingly powerless in the face of Israel that's accused of using starvation as a weapon in this war, a charge it denies, forcing the international community to resort to dropping aid from the sky. Several countries carried out aid drops on this day, deliveries that have been criticized for being ineffective and sufficient and unsafe.

Earlier this month, another airdrop disaster, when a parachute failed and aid packages came crashing down, killing at least five people. It's a war that's testing humanity. And many say this is what failure looks like.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, London.


KEILAR: We're going to head to the White House now, where the White House press secretary is being joined by Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, and also a key Coast Guard official, Vice Admiral Peter Gautier, involved in the bridge recovery and obviously what's going to be moving forward here, an incredibly long project for the American government.

Let's listen.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has remained in close contact with Secretary Buttigieg, who was in Baltimore yesterday, to start the discussions about long-term rebuilding efforts and help the on-the-ground response.

The president has directed a whole-of-government response. The Coast Guard has set up a unified command, and the Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board, and Federal Highway Administration are all on the ground supporting state and local authorities in their recovery and rebuilding efforts. Joining us today, as you all can see behind me, to provide additional

details about this administration's whole-of-government response are Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Vice Admiral Gautier, deputy commandant for operations of -- at the Coast Guard.

With that, I will turn it over to Secretary Buttigieg, followed by the vice admiral.



I want to start by thanking the vice admiral and the whole Coast Guard for their extraordinary partnership and recognizing the leadership of President Biden, who, from the very beginning, has been acting to make sure that we have a whole-of-government response to support the people of Baltimore.

Yesterday, America awoke to shocking images of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsing after it was struck by a Neopanamax container vessel. By the time most Americans saw those images, first responders and rescuers had already been at work for hours to save lives.

That quick work unquestionably made an enormous difference, and they have our gratitude. In fact, if not for several factors, including those responders' efforts, the mayday call, the maintenance closure that was already under way, and the time of day of this impact, the loss of life might have been in the dozens.

But, tragically, six people did lose their lives, and a seventh was badly injured.