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Bronx Apartment Fire Kills 19; Thomas Von Essen is Interviewed about the Bronx Fire; Remembering Bob Saget; Judge Clears Djokovic; Dr. Peter Hotez is Interviewed about Covid Hospitalizations. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In all of television, besides Brianna Keilar.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Right. Well, maybe even more so.

But, look, see, now I have a list because of you of things I need to watch

So that's right -- right going on there next. Also, English is hard for me today. I don't know why.

John Berman, have a great morning.

CNN's coverage continues right now.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga.


Heartbreak and now hard questions in the Bronx. At least 19 people, including nine children, have died, several other people injured, after just a massive fire ripped through a New York City apartment complex. It is one of the worst fires the city has seen in decades.

Right now, dozens remain hospitalized. Officials say their injuries mostly from smoke inhalation.


DAISY MITCHELL, FIRE SURVIVOR, LIVES ON 10TH FLOOR OF BUILDING: It was like we was going down and they had so many puppies and dogs laying in the exit, they was dead. And it was hard going down because there was no backup lights. Now I'm coming up -- coming out now they have lights. They're cleaning the building now. And it was really -- it -- it was really sad. I can't even talk about it, you know, because we just moved there. I just moved there and I just can't -- you know, I've never seen nothing like this before. And I hope I don't have to go through this again.


SCIUTTO: Just so disturbing to see this in the year 2022. We are going to speak with the person who used to lead the FDNY in just a moment.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, the details coming out of that tragedy are just horrific.

Also this morning, we are following developments out of Australia, where a judge has freed tennis star Novak Djokovic from his nearly one-week Covid detention. But the fate of his participation in the Australian Open is in the hands of the immigration minister.

Plus, the nation remembers Bob Saget. Tragic news over the weekend. The actor best known for his role as Danny Tanner in the sitcom "Full House" has died. He was just 65 years old.

SCIUTTO: Let's begin this morning, though, with the breaking news.

CNN correspondent Shimon Prokupecz. He is outside the apartment complex in the Bronx.

Shimon, officials saying now that a space heater -- and, gosh, so often we see this be the cause, caused this blaze. What more do we know about what happened and the response?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, right, they're saying that it's a space heater that possibility caused a mattress to catch on fire. Firefighters here arriving within minutes, Jim. And when they got here, they encountered huge flames coming out of a third floor apartment. It's a duplex. Also on the second floor. And just think, black smoke coming out from the building that then just went up the 19-story building, hitting every floor and through every staircase of this building, caused panic. People started smelling smoke. The smoke started coming into their apartment buildings because of a door. A door was left open to that burning apartment.

The mayor, this morning, saying it should have closed -- it should have been some kind of mechanism that forced the door to close, but it did not. They are investigating that.

Here's what the mayor said about that.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK: We have a law here in New York City that requires doors to close automatically. We were look at -- we were told and instructed that there were self-closing doors. We just need to look at the door to that apartment to see if there was any form of malfunction of -- and we can't make that determination until the fire marshals conduct their thorough investigation. But the doors in the building did have self-closing mechanism. We're just looking at that specific door.


PROKUPECZ: And what happens here, Jim, is that as that smoke is coming out of that apartment, it then just goes up into the building, the stairs of the building. People trying to get out. Many children, as you know, nine dead here, nine children, a total of 19 dead, all of them trying to escape through the stairwell of this building and they encountered thick, black smoke, blinding them, in many cases choaking them. As firefighters were going through the building, they were finding many of these unconscious bodies and they were then just pulling people out, pulling kids out, trying to rescue so many. Many still fighting for their life. Over a dozen still remain in critical condition.

Obviously, the cause of the fire, as we've been reporting, is this space heater. But it's the heroic efforts of firefighters, so many of them running into this building as they were rescuing people, themselves running out of oxygen to save lives. They were able to rescue many. But, sadly, so many did die. And as we said, many still fighting for their life, Jim.

GOLODRYGA: Oh, Shimon, it is just heartbreaking to see these images of these firefighters caring for these small children that are being taken out of the building.


Thank you so much.


GOLODRYGA: Shimon Prokupecz.

Well, I want to bring in former FDNY Commissioner Thomas Von Essen to discuss.

Commissioner, welcome to the program.

As Shimon said, heroic work there by New York firefighters. I was shocked to learn, they responded within three minutes of that first call, and yet that fire spread so quickly.


GOLODRYGA: What made this so devastating?

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER FDNY COMMISSIONER: Well, I think you -- you know, you hit on it, everybody has said it, the doors, and that's the key. The building is supposed to have self-closing doors. Were they closing? I don't know. I -- it doesn't make any sense to me that those stairwell doors were closing or you wouldn't have that much smoke throughout the building.

Duplex in those buildings is unusual. So that created a problem, I guess, for the firefighters, not knowing exactly where the fire was when they first got there. Then they went to the third floor, I'm sure. The second floor was also involved. The bottom of the apartment.

So it was a difficult job for the guys, but I'm sure they -- they got it out pretty quickly. The amount of smoke, though, throughout that whole building, it just doesn't -- it's not computing that it could -- the doors could have been closed, especially in the stairwells. The stairwell is supposed to be a safe place for people. We tell them not to use the elevators, to use the stairwells. But you really have so check the stairwell to see if it's overcome with smoke before you get in it. And if it I in it, get off at a -- at a -- at a lower floor. Just don't get trapped in there. It's a chimney when it's this kind of exposure.

SCIUTTO: I know it's early, Commissioner Von Essen, here in terms of that and the possibility of other causes being contributors. But do you see any issues in this fire but also in your experience with the code? Are there requirements that need to change, in particular for buildings like these, and public housing, not just with automatic closing doors, but, for instance, sprinkler systems, et cetera. Do you see broader issues from a deadly fire like this one?

VON ESSEN: Well, it comes up every time there's a horrible fire like this. Somebody will say, why aren't -- why don't we have sprinklers? People in wealthy apartments have sprinklers. Higher-end condos have sprinklers. These are apartments that are used a lot for city housing. They don't have sprinklers in this. They should have it, I would think, at least in the -- in the hallways, in the stairwells. But that's -- in the apartment would be ideal. But that's an ideal situation. It's expensive. Nobody ever wants to do it. We passed some legislation over 20 years ago when we had an incident like this to force people to put sprinklers in after they were doing serious or extensive renovations. But in these buildings, it's not required and that certainly is a solution, but it's very expensive and it's not going to happen.

GOLODRYGA: Commissioner, does it surprise you that it appears the cause of this fire was an electric space heater? We've heard this time and time again in pervious fires. They're banned in some corporate offices and college dorm rooms as well.

Should they be banned in residential apartment buildings?

VON ESSEN: I don't think so. I think a lot of people use them safely. It's usually not the space heater. It's not a malfunction. It's because we put them in an overloaded socket. And I don't know if that was the case with this one or if it truly was a malfunctioning space heater.

If you put it in a -- in a receptacle by itself and it's the proper voltage, it provides heat when people really need it, makes them more comfortable and it's safe. If you are careless and you leave it next to a mattress and I's an overloaded receptacle and it sparks, well, then you have a potential for a tragedy like this.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

VON ESSEN: But to ban the space heaters, I don't think so. We do a lot of things in commercial buildings that we are able to force the commercial owners to do because they're willing to spend a lot of money.


VON ESSEN: But in private buildings, it's different. SCIUTTO: Yes, gosh, and so often comes down to money, doesn't it, and

thee poor children.

Thomas Von Essen, thanks so much for joining us.

VON ESSEN: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Well, we are also following another story this morning, taking time to remember actor and comedian Bob Saget. He died yesterday in Orlando, Florida, at just 65 years old. Saget was in the middle of a standup comedy tour and had just performed a two-hour set Saturday night. He tweeted "loved tonight's show."

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it's such a shock to get that alert on our phones last night.

Saget is best known for his role as the wholesome TV dad Danny Tanner on "Full House." In June he told our Jake Tapper that "Full House" actually mirrored another classic sitcom, "Happy Days."


BOB SAGET, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: I was doing audience warmup for "Bosom Buddies" as a comedian when I lived in L.A., trying to get my career going. And then "Full House" was an accident. I got fired from a job on CBS and was asked to be in "Full House" and wasn't available (ph) and then I got the show. And it was made by the producers of "Happy Days," which was another show. It was Tom Miller and Bob Boyett. And they made "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," all of these classic sitcoms. And so I was kind of the Richie Cunningham on "Full House" and Stamos was Fonzi and Dave was Ralph or Potsie.



GOLODRYGA: And together they created magic. His close friend, John Stamos, tweeted, I am broken, I am gutted. And I am in complete and utter shock.

And Dave Coulier wrote, my heart is broken. I love you, Bob. Your forever brother, Dave.

SCIUTTO: We're joined now by Brian Stelter, CNN chief media correspondent.

Brian, just a huge outpouring this morning I think because a lot of folks grew up with Bob Saget, right, going back to the '80s. But, you know, even through his comedy career in the years since then. Tell us what his place was.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a mainstay on television for decades. Someone who united generations, whether you watched "Full House" with it was originally airing, whether you watched the reruns, or, more recently, watched "Fuller House" on Netflix. And that's just one of the franchises that Saget was known for.

This is really a heartbreaking loss. And you hear all those folks in Hollywood, all of his former costars, his colleagues referring to him as being so kind, so sweet, not words you usually hear about comedians. But Bob Saget was a unique talent. And that is, I think, why some folks even went out to the Tanner house in San Francisco last night. Some folks arriving, bringing flowers to that famous town home.

Here's what one fan said outside.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's definitely sad news. He was like the dad of the '90s so -- for everyone. You know, just loved the show very much. And not just "Full House," but everything else that he did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was sort of -- raised a generation throughout the country. I think he left a big impact on people. As children, you know, as the Tanner family, and then as adults as Bob Saget in his sort of comedy career as well. I think he touched a lot of people and he was a cultural icon.


STELTER: And not just America's dad, but a single dad. That's who he was playing on "Full House." It was significant at the time. He took that role seriously. He put on a wholesome face. And then, of course, later in his career, as we talked about, he then went into raunchy humor and challenged his family persona and provided a different identity. And, as you mentioned, just started touring once again. This weekend in Orlando and near Jacksonville. These were the first of what were going to be at least six months' worth of tour dates for Bob Saget. So far, no known cause of death.

GOLODRYGA: And, Brian, as you mentioned, some of our most beloved figures on camera had more of a complicated reputation off camera. And this doesn't appear to be the case with Bob Saget. We're hearing from fellow comedians across the board who have worked with him how much they really loved him, his work and his personality.

STELTER: Yes, and that is what is really unique in this case. Here's what Norm McDonald, for example, said during a roast on Comedy Central.


NORM MCDONALD: Bob was the first comedian that I ever saw perform when I was a boy, live, and I loved him. But one thing that bonds us as comedians is we're bitter and jealous and we hate everyone else that has any success. But Bob, honestly, has never had an unkind word for anybody. And I love him and I hope everyone else does. So, I just want to say that.

Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: That's a great note about Saget and it's a good reminder for everyone about how you carry yourself in life. You know, this was a Philly boy who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, who, you know, in some ways got very lucky, lucked into this extraordinary career and then made the most of it and he wanted to keep working through the decades. And his family, in a statement overnight, saying, he was everything to us and we want you to know how much he loved his fans, performing live and bringing people from all walks of life together with laughter.


STELTER: You know, the notion that he was out there on Saturday night, he was tweeting at like 3:45 in the morning on Sunday, coming off the high of being on stage, performing in Florida. What we don't know is what happened between 3:45 in the morning when he tweeted and then about 4:00 p.m. when the authorities were called to his hotel.

It is notable that detectives said overnight, no signs of drug use, no signs of foul play. So, we have more questions than answers at this point about Saget's death.


GOLODRYGA: And as the investigation continues, of course, our thoughts are with his family.


GOLODRYGA: But, listen, Jim and Brian, every Friday night, as a kid in the '90s, it kicked off TGIF for me.


GOLODRYGA: I spent time with the Tanner family and so many memories watching that wonderful show.

STELTER: TGIF. I love it.


STELTER: What a flashback.

GOLODRYGA: Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

Well, over the last hour, tennis star Novak Djokovic has tweeted that he's hoping to play at the Australian Open after a judge released him from Covid detention. We're live in Melbourne as we wait to hear the final word on whether the government will let him compete.

SCIUTTO: Plus, nearly a quarter of hospitals are now facing critical staff shortages as the omicron variant spreads across the U.S. Our next guest says we should have been giving extra boosters to health care workers.

And police body cam video captures just an amazing rescue. You'll want to see it. A man pulled from a crashed plane just moments before it was hit by a train. It's remarkable.



GOLODRYGA: Tennis star Novak Djokovic tweeting this morning that he wants to compete in the Australian Open after a judge overnight overturned a decision to cancel his visa releasing him from his nearly one week hotel quarantine in Melbourne.

SCIUTTO: However, not necessarily over. Officials from the country's immigration office say he could still be deported. Djokovic was detained after the authorities determined he did not qualify for an exemption to the country's requirement that all non-citizens be vaccinated against Covid-19.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has been covering.

Paula, new court documents released today reveal that Djokovic knew he had Covid last month, but still then went to events en masse and was pictured with players, including young players.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim and Brianna. This is really raising some questions. There was an affidavit from Djokovic saying that December 16th was when he tested positive for Covid-19, but December 16th was also when he was photographed in public maskless at a panel discussion with an audience, also maskless. And we also know on December 17th, so the day after, he was at a tennis awards ceremony surrounded by a number of young players, again without wearing a mask.

This is a question that everybody is asking and it was one that journalists had a chance to ask his family in Serbia. They did hold a press conference but they chose not to -- not to engage on that question. His father mentioning that that was something for the courts. But it's certainly a question that is being asked very closely.

So, Novak Djokovic is a free man tonight. We heard from his family as well that he's already been on the tennis courts this evening. It's about 1:00 in the morning now Tuesday here in Melbourne. But he is clearly setting his sights now on next week and the Australian Open. The judge deciding that he did have to be released immediately because they said there were procedural issues with what happened at the airport, the fact that he was unable to speak to his lawyer, he was unable to speak to tennis organizers as well, and that simply was not good enough.

SCIUTTO: Paula Hancocks there, thanks so much.

GOLODRYGA: Well, the omicron variant is pushing hospitals across the nation to the brink. Right now there are more than 141,000 coronavirus patients hospitalized in the U.S. That falls just short of the record 142,000 patients admitted at the previous beak in January of 2021. Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor and dean of

tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Hotez, always great to have you on.

The primary concern really appears to be with children now and the increased rate of hospitalization that we have seen with children. We should note that the majority of these children are not vaccinated. That having been said, are you concerned about the number of children you've had hospitalized?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: I'm concerned about three or four things, Bianna. First of all, with regards to kids, you're right, we are seeing an increase in hospitalized kids, some of them as incidental findings. They're admitted for another purpose and found to be positive as part of routine screening. But a lot of young kids being hospitalized with what appears to be more upper respiratory illness similar in some ways to bronchitis, an airway disease. And the concern among some of my colleagues is that this could lead to longer term problems in terms of restrictive airway disease or asthma-like symptoms or hyperreactivity. So I think that's going to be something to watch for in terms of the pediatric hospitalizations.

And then on the adult side, just the overwhelming number of people having to wait six, seven, eight hours, sometimes 12 hours for routine emergency room care for procedure, or the -- or just because so many of our hospital work -- much of our hospital workforce is getting knocked out at home with symptomatic Covid. So you've got that one, two, three punch. You've got, first of all, omicron is not as benign as people like to talk about. There is an increase in hospitalizations. People are getting sick from omicron, especially unvaccinated. We're getting the kids admitted and the hospital workforce is getting knocked out.

We also have the problem that two of our three monoclonal antibodies do not work against omicron. We do not have Paxlovid. Diagnostic testing is in shambles. And so when you add up all of that together, we've got a very serious situation facing our nation this month.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, Paxlovid won't come to market for at least another few months.

But this all comes to the question about schools, and whether or not they are safe to open during a surge. We continue to see the standoff in Chicago between the teachers union and city officials there. City officials and the mayor saying that she's following the science and the science tells her that they do have the mitigation factors in place to reopen schools.

And I was struck by what Dr. Ashish Jha said over the weekend just on this issue and whether he thinks schools are safe to reopen.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: The question is, can you still have school in the middle of a surge. And the answer is you can because if people are vaccinated -- teachers should be all vaccinated and boosted -- if people wear high-quality masks, even without those other upgrades which I would like to see, it still is safe for kids and teachers to be back in school. So, I think at this point there's really no good explanation for having remote schools.


GOLODRYGA: Do you agree with Dr. Jha?

HOTEZ: Well, he -- well, he's kind of right, but with an asterisk. And here's what the asterisk is, Bianna. All of that information is based on past experiences with the original lineages in delta. And the problem with omicron is this is so much more transmissible. We're talking about a virus with the level of measles transmission.


So what that means is, when you're trying to do this at the -- in the -- in the throes of this screaming level of transmission testing and contract tracing become really problematic, you have teachers, bus drivers getting breakthrough Covid infections. And the question is, when you have so much -- so many staff and teachers and bus drivers and everyone you need to support the school, the cafeteria workers out, can you actually run the school? That's -- I think that becomes a big issue as well. And, as we just discussed, there are pediatric hospitalizations.

So what I've been saying is, I think each school district has to make its own decisions. It's really the choice between a bad decision or a bad decision. Which bad decision do you want to make? Keeping kids out of schools? We know the mental health effects of that. We've heard that from the surgeon general before the end of the year. It's devastating. At the same time actually trying to manage this kind of level of transmission with such a highly transmissible variant I think is really, really tough.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, staff shortages is something I know that you've been focused on as well and had warned earlier that boosters should have come sooner.

Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you, as always, for your insight. We appreciate it.

HOTEZ: Thank you. Thank you, Bianna.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, crucial U.S./Russia talks are now underway in Geneva after months of Russia's military pressure campaign against Ukraine. Are they making any progress? Coming up, I'm going to speak with a senior Biden administration official and ask those questions.

GOLODRYGA: And we are also minutes away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures pointing lower this morning as investors are awaiting key inflation data expected this week, as well as the start of the fourth quarter earnings season. Fed Chair Jerome Powell is expected to testify before a Senate panel tomorrow for his nomination hearing to serve a second term.

Markets will, of course, be watching that closely, and so will we.

Stay with us.