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Search for Survivors Goes on 40-Plus Hours after Collapse; Derek Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years for George Floyd's Murder; At Least 4 Dead, 159 Unaccounted For in Condo Collapse. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 25, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

I appreciate it. Sunday morning, we should watch the State of the Union. I will be talking exclusively to Utah's Republican Senator Mitt Romney and the senior adviser to President Biden, Cedric Richmond, will also join me. That's at 9:00 A.M. and noon Eastern on Sunday.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in The Situation Room. I'll see you Sunday morning.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States, and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in The Situation.

We're covering two major breaking stories. In Surfside, Florida, right now, crews are heading into another night of a massive search-and- rescue operation. They are sifting through the twisting rubble of a collapsed 12-storey condo, as families desperately hope survivors are found. The death toll now up to four and expected to rise, with 159 people still unaccounted for. The cause of this horrific disaster, still, unknown.

We're also getting new reaction to Derek Chauvin's punishment for the murder of George Floyd. The former Minneapolis Police officer sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.

Let's begin, though, with the condo collapsing, as Randi Kaye is on the scene for us in Surfside, Florida. Randi, the search for survivors has been hampered throughout the day by rain, fire and smoke. So, where does the operation stand right now?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is still, very much, an active search-and-rescue scene. They are on the scene of a rubble pile behind me still working very, very hard to try and find survivors. We are just getting word, though, a confirmation from the medical examiner that Stacie Fang, 54 years old, did die in this condo-building collapse. She is the mother of Jonah Handler. That was that 15-year- old boy who we have seen the video of, who was pulled successfully out of the rubble.

We're also getting word about FEMA. FEMA did approve, Wolf, the emergency declaration for this building collapse that was requested by the state of Florida. It means that federal emergency funds and assistance will be coming here to the state of Florida.

But as I said, it's a very active scene. You can -- smoke is quite thick in this air. They have had a very difficult day here but they are not giving up. Four confirmed dead, dozens still unaccounted for. And they are carrying, in this Florida heat. The rescue teams are carrying 80 pounds of gear. They are refusing to leave that rubble pile, determined to find survivors, Wolf.


KAYE (voice over): Tonight, the desperate search-and-rescue operation is intensifying, a race to find survivors in the rubble from the partially-collapsed building in Surfside, Florida. Search-and-rescue teams not stopping for a moment.

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D-FL), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: These are the best first responders in the world. These are the ones that are sent to trouble spots. They have been to 9/11. They've been to Haiti. They've been wherever there is a disaster and they are bringing that expertise to bear right here, for our residents, for our visitors, in Surfside.

KAYE: The death count now at four. Three of the bodies have been identified, according to the medical examiner's office. Both, heavy machinery, as well as small buckets, being used to carefully lift and move around debris to access search areas.

While 120 people are now accounted for, the number of unaccounted for has increased to 159. Rainy weather and intermittent fires breaking out on the site, complicating an already-difficult rescue effort, an effort that is not without risk to those who are involved.

CAVA: Debris is falling on them as they do their work. We have structural engineers on site to assure that they will not be injured. But they -- they are proceeding because they are so motivated.

KAYE: President Joe Biden today promising continued assistance.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I promise you, the administration, Congressman, will do everything possible to be of assistance now and after.

KAYE: Families standing by trying to hold out hope that their loved ones will be found alive.

MARIELA PORRAS, FRIEND OF MISSING SURFSIDE WOMAN & FAMILY: How buried are they in there? Is there a possibility that they are alive? Like, truthfully, look at this mess. I mean, what are the chances?

KAYE: Building resident Kevin Spiegel was out of town when the collapse happened. His wife was at home.

KEVIN SPIEGEL, WIFE IS MISSING IN BUILDING COLLAPSE: I was just there this weekend. We had the most wonderful, wonderful weekend with our granddaughter, Scarlet. It was wonderful. And how, from one second to the next second, a dramatic change in life, it's unbelievable. KAYE: So many families with questions about how this could possibly happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Building falls down in a third world country where they don't have building codes. And with all the strict building codes in this country, a building shouldn't collapse like that.

KAYE: And promises being made that the answers will come.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): There's a lot of other people throughout this community and really throughout Florida who want to know, well, how could a building just collapse like that? Whenever the local efforts are under way with that, the state will support whatever we can to do this right but also to do it timely so that we get the answers to the families and that we get the answer to the people of Florida.


KAYE (on camera): Families, of course, Wolf, are trying to remain hopeful but it's getting harder and harder as the hours tick by. And now, they are also being asked to give DNA samples of -- in case they can find some of these bodies that need to be identified, if they are recovered. They can use those DNA samples to help identify them.

They're also being asked to offer any distinguishing characteristics about their loved ones who are missing, possibly, in that rubble, like tattoos or scars or maybe some dental work. So, Wolf, certainly, harder and harder for these families as the hours tick by.

BLITZER: It's so awful, indeed. All right, Randi, we will get back to you. Thank you very much.

I want to bring in CNN'S Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He is now on the scene for us. Sanjay, thank you so much. I understand you had a chance to just speak with the medical examiner there. What are you learning about how they are identifying victims?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I am learning that it's going to be challenging, Wolf. Of the four people who have been confirmed to have died, they were only, for example, able to identify three of them conclusively, right away, just through facial features. But now, they're gathering all the data that Randi was just talking about, any distinguishing characteristics.

And that's what is going on at these reunification centers, Wolf, where families are now being asked to bring in DNA samples, dental records, if someone has an orthopedic implant, X-rays, anything to provide some clues, Wolf.

The medical examiner said something to me, Wolf. She said that hasn't been since the value jet airplane crash in 1996 where they dealt with something quite like this. This was the metaphor she used was an airplane crash, to basically describe how they were sort of approaching this. It can be really hard. Obviously, this is a more confined location, versus an airplane crash but that gives you a sense, Wolf, of just how significant the injuries are.

BLITZER: I know you have also been speaking, Sanjay, with trauma surgeons who are standing by. What expertise do they bring to this kind of a situation? What are they finding?

GUPTA: Well, you know, Wolf, first of all, it's interesting because, here in Miami, you know, you do have teams of search and rescue and trauma surgeons who are often part of those teams that have been all over the world doing this sort of work. I actually knew some of the folks who have been doing this work here from Haiti when I was covering the story in Haiti. So, you know, they have this expertise.

But I had a chance to talk to Dr. Howard Lieberman, specifically about his role onsite. Listen.


DR. HOWARD LIEBERMAN, TRAUMA SURGEON AT HOSPITAL TREATING PATIENTS FROM CONDO COLLAPSE: We are always hoping we're going to, you know, turn over something and find someone, you know, buried there alive.

GUPTA: The people who have been rescued, what sorts of injuries have been seen?

LIEBERMAN: Yes. So, mainly, it's been crush injuries, orthopedic injuries, you know, I'm sure you've seen pictures of the building kind of pancaked on itself. So, a lot of people just heavy debris, getting pinned.


GUPTA: It's what you'd expect in many ways, Wolf. But one thing that they are here for, in addition to being part of the team, is if somebody, for example, and this is grim, Wolf, to talk about, but somebody who has been pinned. When they have one of these crush injuries, maybe a situation where an amputation has to be performed in the field, here, in order to actually extricate.

In other situations, maybe an amputation doesn't need to be performed but it's not as simple as just lifting the rubble off. Because when someone has been pinned or crushed like this, they can develop these toxins in the damaged tissue, which are then released into the body and that can cause significant shock. Sometimes, they have to give I.V.s even before they extricate. It's a very involved process.

Again, they are probably the best in the world at doing it. But, Wolf, there hasn't been many stories like that because, you know, they're not finding many survivors, as you know.

BLITZER: So sad, again. All right, Sanjay, I am so glad you're there for us. Thank you very, very much.

Let's get an update right now from the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue chief, Andy Alvarez. He is joining us now from Surfside. Chief Alvarez, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for everything you and your team are doing. We are so grateful.

Can you walk us through, exactly, what rescue teams at the site, what are they doing right now, are they combing through? Obviously, they are looking for victims.

CHIEF ANDY ALVAREZ, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: Evening, Wolf. That is correct. I mean, we're still actively searching for survivors. And we're doing everything that we can, in our efforts, to go and comb this building and try to find anyone that is still viable that we can save. We've had the hundreds of rescuers from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue since the early morning, on Thursday.

And today, we were joined by other rescuers from local fire departments in Miami-Dade, Broward Counties, and also other task forces from the state of Florida, which are, all, actively working the scene, in the efforts of bringing out people that are still in the building that we can save and extricate from the rubble.


BLITZER: And we hope that happens. Officials have cautioned, as you know, Chief, the number of people missing is fluid. That's the word they use, fluid. Is it still 159 unaccounted for or have there been any updates?

ALVAREZ: The last number that we got is still 159. But like you said, it is fluid. It's a very fluid situation. We don't know if there were occupants in the building that were friends, just here to spend a couple of days. We don't know the unknowns, right?

So right now, everything still is fluid. The police department has come up with a number of 159. That is the same number that we still know of on the fire department side. And our efforts, again, is still to search the entire building, continue to search and continue to looking through those voids and see what we can do to possibly rescue anybody that's still viable in the building.

BLITZER: Just how unstable is this 12-storey -- what's left of this 12-storey building. What sort of conditions are rescuers risking right now to carry out this search?

ALVAREZ: That's a very good question. Obviously, there is a lot of things that you can see from helicopters, drones and/or the media on scene. Unfortunately, what you don't see or don't see a lot is what we are doing underneath this building.

And right now, I mean, what the rescue efforts that are going on underneath this building, trying to go, basically, from the parking garage, which is the basement of the building, into the actual building from the ground up, it's a miracle what the rescuers are doing and the work that they are trying to accomplish.

Risky. You're down there. You're searching. You're breaching. You are trying to get in through walls. And there's concrete and other debris falling around you. So we are trying to do something, as the building continues to fall around our rescuers. So, I mean, on a degree of one to ten, and I have been to a lot. I have been to Haiti. I've been to Barbados for another collapse. I have been to multiple large-scale incidents and this one ranks up there, right with the most dangerous that I have been in, personally.

BLITZER: The worst of the worst. There is a lot of smoke. I understand there have been some fires that have erupted there and some water issues. Tell us about that.

ALVAREZ: So, the smoke that you are seeing is -- we don't know how the smoke started. But, obviously, it's coming from an area or a source that we have not been able to reach and/or penetrate. We're keeping it at bay with, you know, basically a water blanket that, hopefully, we are aiming in the area where the smoke is being produced. And we'll find its way through the crevices and keep it at bay.

There is no active fire that we've seen but it could be as easy as one mattress that caught fire that would create that type of smoke. I mean, mattresses, as you know, are made out of foam and that would burn for days, on end and smolder. Even though it looks like a lot of fire, there isn't, you know? So, the smoke is something that we, again, continue to try to mitigate that.

I mean, this is -- it's one scenario, after another, after another. I mean, the obvious is the building collapse. But we, still, have major issues with the building, obviously, crumbling around us. We got issues with the smoke that we are trying to detain that and bring that to an end.

We got, you know, access issues. So, you know, the parking garage is -- was full of cars because it happened early in the morning. So we got cars that are literally on top of other cars. So we had to penetrate through cars to get to the other side. So the obstacles are pretty incredible, as far as what the rescuers are doing and what our teams are doing from the state of Florida.

BLITZER: What more can you tell us, Chief, about the different teams involved in this search-and-rescue operation, the technology that they are using?

ALVAREZ: Well, the technology was touched on a little bit earlier. You know, being from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, I am humbled to say that we do work for one of the best agencies, if not, the best agency. And everybody is obviously going to be biased to their department. But besides what Miami-Dade Fire Rescue brings to the table of having over 72 fire stations, over 2,500 sworn personnel that are working 24/7, and a department that has a lot of resources, we also have Florida Task Force One, which is a part of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. And they have the highest, you know, technology when it comes to equipment, when it comes to rescue tools, when it comes to anything that deals with this type of incident.


Florida Task Force Two also has the same, identical equipment because they are a Florida team, just like us. We got Florida Task Force Four and Florida Task Force Six that are onsite. They, also, bring with them, additional cache and additional equipment. So, all of that put together, I mean, we have a mountain of tools and equipment at our disposal. And, obviously, we are using what we need for this type of disaster because the tools include, you know, for any type of disaster. But, specifically, when it comes to a building collapse, we obviously have brought out every single tool in the cabinet. And we're using everything that we humanly possibly can to try to get into this building and, again, execute those rescues.

BLITZER: Chief Alvarez, what's your message for the family members, the loved ones, who are so desperately anxious, they're waiting for information?

ALVAREZ: Have hope. There's always hope. I was in Haiti, and eight days after we were there, we took a girl out of a collapse. And you got to have hope. And we're doing everything that we can to bring your family member out, alive.

BLITZER: It's so emotional. And I really appreciate, Chief Alvarez, what you and your colleagues, your teams have done, not just in this operation but over the years. And all of us remember what happened in Haiti and so many other places. But it happens in other places and you don't think there's going to be a building that's going to collapse in Surfside, just north of Miami Beach right now.

But I know this is a really powerful moment for you and your team. Walk us through a little bit what the men and women who are working with you are thinking right now.

ALVAREZ: It's hard. I mean, we all have families and, you know, we -- and leadership, obviously, everybody has a role to play. And leadership roles, as you know, it's personal. And our job is to get people out safely. And, you know, it's stressful, obviously, on the frontline workers because they're in the building. But it's just as stressful when you are in the command room making those tough decisions of putting these people in harm's way to try to save those that are inside.

BLITZER: Chief, we are grateful.

ALVAREZ: I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Our thoughts are with you and the men and women and we totally, totally appreciate what you are doing. These are the hardest kinds of decisions that leaders like you have to make because we know you are putting the men and women who work with you potentially in grave danger as well as they search for life, for life in the rubble of what was once this 12-storey condominium building. Chief, thank you so, very much, Chief Andy Alvarez. We are grateful to you, once again.

ALVAREZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us. And please give our best wishes and our thanks to all the men and women who are involved in this search and rescue operation.

ALVAREZ: Thank you for having us.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Chief Alvarez.

We are going to stay on top of this story throughout this hour. There is so much more unfolding right now.

But right now, I want to turn to another, huge story we're following. The former police officer, Derek Chauvin, sentenced today to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd.

Our Senior National Correspondent Sara Sidner is in Minneapolis for us. She's covering this story from day one. Sara, Derek Chauvin now knows his punishment. Update our viewers on what happened today.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, you know, there was a lot of emotion in the court, as you know, Wolf. There were people from the family that made those victim-impact statements. One of them, George Floyd's little girl through video, very poignant, very touching.

We also saw a sentencing memo from the judge, and he was very pointed. And in it, he said that Derek Chauvin, rather than pursuing the Minneapolis Police Department's mission, he treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity that is owed to all human beings.


JUDGE PETER CAHILL, HENNEPIN COUNTRY DISTRICT COURT: The court commits you to the custody of the commissioner of corrections for a period of 270 months.

SIDNER (voice over): Former Police Officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder and taken back into custody today. The sentence includes a ten-year addition to the state sentencing guidelines but less time than the 30 years requested by prosecutors.

BEN CRUMP, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: This is the longest sentence that a police officer has ever been sentenced to in the history of the state of Minnesota.


But this should not be the exception when a black person is killed by brutality by police. It should be the norm.

SIDNER: Before the sentence came down, Derek Chauvin publicly spoke to the Floyd family for the first time.

DEREK CHAUVIN, FORMER MINNEAPOLIS POLICE OFFICER: I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. There's going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest. And I hope things will give you some peace of mind. Thank you.

SIDNER: Earlier, emotional victim impact statements starting with Floyd's seven-year-old daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you wish that he was still here with us?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Through his spirit?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you could say anything to your daddy right now, what would it be?

GIANNA FLOYD: It would be, I miss you and I love you.

SIDNER: Floyd's brothers and nephew repeatedly demanded the maximum sentence for Chauvin, describing the harrowing impact of his murder on their lives.

BRANDON WILLIAMS, GEORGE FLOYD'S NEPHEW: Our family is forever broken. And one thing we cannot get back is George Floyd.

SIDNER: And George Floyd's brother, Terrence, addressed Chauvin directly.

TERRENCE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck?

SIDNER: In Chauvin's corner, after a motion to reconsider the case was dismissed earlier this morning, Chauvin's mother spoke out for the first time publicly about her son, describing him as a good, thoughtful, and honorable man.

CAROLYN PAWLENTY, DEREK CHAUVIN'S MOTHER: The public will never know the loving and caring man he is, but his family does.

SIDNER: Outside of the courthouse, at Cup Foods, where George Floyd was murdered, a mixed reaction to the sentence but a feeling, by some, that justice was done.


SIDNER (on camera): That mixed reaction people talking about whether 22.5 years was long enough, some hoping for the full 30 years that the prosecution asked for. And there's this. To the folks here, this really isn't over, especially not in this neighborhood. If you just read the sign, it lets you know what people are thinking. One down, they are talking about one officer being convicted, and three to go, recognizing that there are three other officers who are charged and awaiting trial in this case. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you very much, Sara Sidner with her excellent reporting, as usual.

Let's talk a little bit more about the Chauvin sentence with CNN Senior Legal Analyst, the former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates, and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, the former Philadelphia Police commissioner, Charles Ramsey.

Laura, you're from Minnesota. You are well-versed in the state law there. What's your reaction to this 22.5 year sentence? Does it fit the crime?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, remember, Derek Chauvin's attorney wanted no time served. They wanted to have no actual time, only probation, and the state actually asked for 30 years. The maximum is actually 40 but I think it did warrant an upward sentencing guideline adjustment here because of the aggravating factors.

Now, this judge pointed out not all four essentially that the court was talking about, that the state was talking about, doing it in front of a child, having it happen in a group of people, but pointed to the particular cruelty that he spoke about. The idea -- and he actually called it the psychological abuse of what was going on and the gratuitous infliction of harm. These are the words of Judge Cahill in this case, who accompanied his ruling with that opinion.

I look at this case, Wolf, and I compare it to another case in Minneapolis, Officer Mohamed Noor who shot into the dark in an alleyway behind a home and killed, by shooting in the stomach, Justine Damon, who asked the cops to come to respond to what she thought was a sexual assault in an alleyway. He was serving 12.5 years on a third degree murder conviction. This is an elevated second degree as the highest charge here and it's extension in an upward departure here. I think this is in the realm of what needs to happen.

But I also want to note and echo the words of Attorney General Ellison, who said this is part of a holistic response to the way in which we rebuild the trust between police officers and communities that have been marginalized and also treated disparately in terms of excessive force and violence.

BLITZER: Chief Ramsey, what's your reaction to this 22.5 year sentence?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I thought it was going to be a bit higher. I actually thought somewhere between 25 and 30 would have been, ultimately, what Judge Cahill would hand down. But 22.5 years, that's his decision. You know, you have to live with it. It came through the court of law. I mean, that's the process.

And so, you know, 22.5 years is not a short sentence for a cop in jail. Believe me, it's not going to be an easy time.


So, no matter what the sentence, there would be some that agree and some that would disagree. But the bottom line is that Chauvin really -- I mean, he not only tainted the Minneapolis Police Department, he tainted the entire profession of policing. I mean, he doesn't represent what policing is all about. I mean, what he did was nothing short of murder. Watching that video for 9.5 minutes was actually watching murder, in slow motion. I mean, so, is it enough time in the judge's mind, it was, and I certainly accept it. But, you know, if I were making the decision, it would have been a little harsher.

BLITZER: You know, Laura, in the 22-page sentencing memo, Judge Cahill writes that Chauvin treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings. How much weight do you think those words carry?

COATES: Extraordinary weight. I mean, this is something that was obvious to all of us who are following this trial so closely, day in and day out. The idea that -- I remember there was a question that was raised by -- and asked in the victim-impact statement portion of sentencing, the brother of George Floyd, when he said, he turned to Derek Chauvin and said, why? What was going through your mind? Why did you do it? Why didn't you just -- when you knew he was not posing a threat, why didn't you just get up? That question was lingering in everyone's mind and this judge's statement really addresses the meat of that matter and essentially, talks about that really depraved indifference, the idea of the psychological abuse that was being forced there, the idea of the fundamental betrayal of trust.

But I will say one thing. There is one thing about this sentence that's handed down. But then there is the sort of technicalities that allow you to be released early on what's called good behavior. And in Minnesota, you can serve just two-thirds of that sentence. So, although we're now talking about whether the 22.5-month was long enough, remember, it could be reduced in terms of the ultimate amount of time he serves to about, what, 15-or-so years. And you think about that, and compare to 12.5 years given to Mohamed Noor, as I mentioned, when somebody was shooting into an alleyway, as opposed to nine minutes of sustained force on someone's neck.

Now, both human beings were victimized. Both lives mattered there but, remember, there are still federal cases that are pending here and those have an upwards of a life sentence and they could be tacked on if they are talking about an independent case involving that teenager he may be indicted for as well for violence with a -- and it was a flashlight, or it could be added on and treated concurrently, meaning it will be a part of the same underlying action and would be part of the existing sentence. So there is two different ways to think about this in terms of the fairness of the sentence.

BLITZER: As you know, Chief Ramsey, the Floyd family attorney, Ben Crump, says this is one of the longest sentences ever given to a former police officer. So, what message does this send to police officers who go ahead and abuse their power?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, it does send a message. And obviously, you should never abuse their power and authority. But remember, Wolf, this is not a case of an officer making a split-second decision, or, you know, debating whether or not the use of force was more than what was actually needed. I mean, this is a clear cut case here. But, again, it's not a reflection of policing, in general.

I've done this for 47 years. And does it -- I mean, we've got some police officers that never should wear the badge. There's no question about that. But the vast majority, do their job and do it properly each and every time.

And so, you know, I just hope that people maintain that balance, in terms of trying to judge policing, in general. But Derek Chauvin certainly got what he deserved. There's no question about that. And anyone who acts like Derek Chauvin should take note that they will be held accountable.

BLITZER: So, Laura, look ahead now, other police officers are about to go through a legal process, as well.

COATES: They are. Remember, there are three other officers who were on the scene. And although, we talked about this during the actual trial, the focus was necessarily on Derek Chauvin because he was the one.

But the other three officers who were noted as his subordinates, they still have a trial coming up in March. And, of course, they have gone to some lengths to try to separate themselves, to have that clear delineation between his conduct and their own conduct. One of the officers, as you remember, actually said, shouldn't we turn to his side, was concerned about the ideas of this prone position, but it did not, when talking about what the assistant attorney general mentioned today. He still called them out. It was as if to say we are not done with this particular case. There were others who knew that George Floyd was pulseless, others who knew they had that same duty of trust to a community and a betrayal.

And I note, to Charles's point here.


They almost began the prosecution sentencing segment by thanking the officers for testifying, for not adhering to this notion of a blue wall of silence.

And you know what was not found on the other side of that? In the defense's statements and support of Derek Chauvin, we heard from his mother, which was to be expected and there was a moment there, I think, people understood the notion of a mother's pleas for her son. It was ironic, given the last words that we heard from George Floyd, who was appealing and calling out for his own mother. But you have no officer who stood to say and defend or speak on behalf of Derek Chauvin today. And that was a fascinating point.

BLITZER: Very important, indeed. All right, Laura Coates, Chief Ramsey. Thanks to both of you, very, very much.

All right, we are following breaking news right now, the search for 159 people missing after the collapse of that 12-storey condominium building near Miami. Let's bring in one of the top officials, on the ground, in Surfside, Florida, right now with Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for everything you are doing for the men and women who work with you.

I know this is so personally and professionally complicated and so painful. It's a dire situation, as we all know. Mayor, are you holding out hope that others will be found alive in this rubble?

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D-FL), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: I am holding out hope because our first responders tell me they have hope. They are the ones on the ground. They are in the tunnels. They are in the water. They are on top of the rubble pile. They are helping to sift through using the cameras, the dogs, the sonar, and they say they have hope.

They've been all over the world on rescues. They've rescued people after more than a week. And so, I have hope.

BLITZER: What sort of services and support are available right now to the survivors and to the family members, the loved ones, of these victims?

CAVA: It's incredible, the outpouring of support that has come from every corner. We are here, united cities all across this country. The law enforcement is working collectively, the firefighters. We've just received the president's report for FEMA funding. The regional FEMA administrator has shown up on the scene and is staying for several weeks. It's incredible.

So, for the families who are suffering and waiting anxiously for news of their loved ones, we have hotels, food, counseling, preparation for whatever is coming next for them, as well FEMA assistance in the future.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, the last time you spoke, you said there were four confirmed dead, 159 people still unaccounted for. Are those numbers -- I know those numbers are fluid but are they -- are those the latest numbers that you have?

CAVA: Unfortunately, those are the numbers that we have.

BLITZER: And there has been no change since earlier today?

CAVA: Correct. But they're in there. They are searching, round the clock, through the rain, through a fire, through the night and 12-hour shifts. They are coming in now from the city of Miami and other places for backup. And it's an incredible operation.

BLITZER: The focus, Mayor, of course, is on finding possible survivors. And, God willing, we hope that you and your team find survivors there. But where does the investigation stand into what actually led to this deadly collapse?

CAVA: Yes. So, of course, we want to make sure that this never, ever happens, again. For now, we're focused on the search and rescue. And we have our engineers on the scene to make sure that there is no risk to our search-and-rescue team. We have to make sure that the building is not going to fall down on them. We have to make sure that they -- the rubble pile doesn't get displaced and put debris on them, which has already happened, fortunately, with no major injuries but that is where we are focused. But we have structural engineers onsite and we have teams getting ready for the investigation and we're gathering all the evidence so that we can spring into action to fully understand what happened. BLITZER: We spoke, earlier this hour, with one of your Fire Chiefs, Andy Alvarez, who, understandably, is very emotional, he and his -- the other leaders, they have to make these life-and-death decisions to send these men and women in this search-and-rescue operation into what could be extremely dangerous situations. We don't know how stable the rest of the building is going to be and we don't know about that rubble. These are painful, very difficult decisions, aren't they?

CAVA: Incredible. I just cannot tell you, the admiration and respect I have for these fine men and women.


And they are eager, they are motivated to get in there. We can practically not stop them and require them to take breaks. They are there to get it done. They are determined.

BLITZER: We are so, so grateful to those men and women. How concerned are you, Mayor, that other buildings in this area, not just in Surfside but in the other towns in the area, so many of those condominium buildings were built in the 80s, for example, and the 70s, how concerned are you that they, potentially, could be at risk?

We are going to be definitely pivoting to understanding what were the factors in this collapse and understanding what is required for these 40-year re-certifications of buildings that must occur, make sure that they're done correctly, on time, and that recommendations are followed. We're not facing an imminent collapse of other buildings by any means. That is not what's top of mind. But we are going to be diligent in making sure that anything we learn from this tragedy can be applied to avoid future tragedies.

BLITZER: I'm sure, Mayor, you've gotten the same fear expressions from your friends and neighbors in this area that I have received. I know this area, very, very well. My parents used to live down there. So I am very familiar with those buildings. A lot of folks, especially older people that live in those buildings right now, they are very nervous. Should they be nervous?

CAVA: I think that they don't need to be nervous because we are going to go in and there is going to be a review, as I said, of the building conditions, the re-certification requirements. Clearly, we have lessons to learn from this and we will apply those lessons.

Again, we're focused, right now, on the immediate search and rescue. We can spare no effort to be sure that we can save as many lives as possible.

BLITZER: Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, I will be coming down there. I will be there tomorrow reporting from Surfside. I want to continue this conversation with you through the weekend and into next week, if that's okay. I will look forward to getting to meet you, as well. And I am grateful for everything you are doing. Thanks so much for doing what you are doing. And please thank your colleagues as well.

CAVA: Thank you. I'll be here. BLITZER: All right. Good. I know you will be. You're not going anywhere and I will be there, as well.

Right now, I want to bring in my friend and colleague, Anderson Cooper, who has just arrived on the scene there in Surfside. And he will be joining us for the rest of the hour as well.

Anderson, I know you've got a lot of thoughts on what has happened. Likely, you know this area very, very well.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yes. I mean, it's really startling to see when you actually get onsite here. The thing that you don't kind of see through the television is just the scene is kind of otherworldly. There is this kind of white smoke emanating off the building that you can see from several blocks away. It's a kind of a cloud that's hovering over the area.

And as you walk through it, there's people who are coming just to kind of take a look. There's people out walking their dogs. And yet, just, you know, a block and a half or so over there is the scene where, you know, more than 150 people are still unaccounted for. And there's that smell, that kind of metallic-metal smell that you -- that we often get used to smelling in situations like this, where steel and concrete have come crashing down. There is, obviously, a lot going on, Wolf.

We want to bring in two folks who are very experienced with emergency management and with search and rescue. Michael Fagel is a Certified Emergency Manager. Dave Downey is the former Miami-Dade Fire Chief.

Chief Downey, let me start with you. At this point, on a scene like this, how difficult is it for the first responders? Because there's been water that's pumped into this building, in order to put out fires, which accounts for some of the smoke. That water adds weight. And there is a lot of concern, obviously, about the safety for first responders working a structure like this.

DAVE DOWNEY, INTERNATIONAL FIRE CHIEFS, URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE COMMITTEE: Well, thanks for having me. And you're exactly right. I mean, the biggest concern, the concern still is for those rescuers, making sure that the risk is measured, that the risk is calculated and understood. That's why things are happening so meticulously. Some people watching think things are happening slow. But there is a tremendous amount of work that's going on in order to try and uncover any void spaces that could exist for the rescuers.

But, Anderson, this is what they have been trained to do. This is where their expertise comes in. And these problems, while, I have never, in my 40 years, seen a building collapse as this did, the aftermath, we have dealt with before.


And they are trained to deal with these problems and work through the problems.

COOPER: Chief, when you say you have never seen a building collapse in this way, can you elaborate?

DOWNEY: I, like the rest of the folks in my profession, are going to be very interested in the research that comes in the aftermath of this to help us understand how this building collapsed. I've watched over and over again the security footage. And it just amazes me how this building collapsed without any weather events, earthquakes or anything else. This is truly going to be something unique that I have never seen, and I've been to a lot of collapses.

COOPER: And, I mean, that's what, I think, one of the things that so concerns a lot of people in seeing this is that there was not an earthquake, there was not, that we know of, a sinkhole. Maybe, perhaps, there was but we have no evidence of that, at this time. And so, the concern, of course, is, well, why did this building collapse.

Michael, there is a number of different kinds of collapses of buildings. There's the pancake collapse. It is -- we've seen that here. But there is also other kinds of collapses, I understand, sort of, a lean to collapse and a V-shaped collapse, I understand, all of which, gives hope to families who are waiting for news because there is the possibility, with different kinds of collapses, of pockets of air, pockets of space where somebody could survive for a long period of time.

DOWNEY: Is that for me?

COOPER: Yes. No, I'm sorry. That was for Michael.

DOWNEY: Sorry.

COOPER: Well, Chief, how about for you? Have you seen -- I mean, as you said, you have seen a lot of collapses. You've seen people being pulled out week after a collapse.

DOWNEY: Absolutely. I was the team leader in Haiti. And we rescued, as you heard earlier, a small child eight days after the earthquake. So, that's why these rescuers continue to have hope. If void spaces can be detected, there is the possibility that people are still alive. We're not outside the window of survivability in this type of collapse.

A pancake collapse as this, one of the worst types of collapses you could have. As you said, the lean to, where perhaps maybe one wall pushes out and you have the floor drop down, or a V-type collapse, where it collapses in the center, gives you much more void space. These types of pancake collapses still could be supported by furniture in a residence, refrigerators, air-conditioning units, beds, anything, like that could have created a void space that allows victims to survive. And that's why these rescuers are risking so much, and working so diligently in order to affect live rescue.

COOPER: And, Michael, I think we have you now. You are a certified emergency manager. You have seen collapses, before. In terms of the danger for the first responders and the actual search that is underway. How active can that search really be when the concern of -- in a collapse like this is -- I mean, at this stage, would they even be able to be removing pieces of the structure or is it too early for that?

MICHAEL FAGEL, CERTIFIED EMERGENCY MANAGER: It can be done. But as the chief has indicated very carefully that this is a risk-reward kind of a concept, where the rescue crews are working meticulously, inch by inch. That void might be a refrigerator. It might be a car. It might be another piece of metal that may move, which is what we experienced when I worked at September 11th at ground zero. Every movement has another movement. So, these people working in smoke, fire, rain, and they are, again, crawling through, inch by inch, to do their level best to work their way through this.

This is not an easy task. It's not a fast task. And these crews are working in a very, very methodical pattern, sir.

COOPER: Yes. And, Chief, just finally, I remember, in Haiti, going out with, I think it was L.A. County search and rescue, and they were called to a building where a mother thought her little girl was still alive in the rubble. They spent -- I can't remember the exact amount of hours but, I mean, you were there for at least six hours as they -- I mean, they just would not leave that scene until they could determine, for sure, if she was alive or not. They had a dog. They had listening devices. They would -- everybody, they would quiet the whole area down and just listen and yell out and listen for any tapping sound. And that's going on here, as well.


I mean, they are using -- they're using all the tools that they have.

DOWNEY: Absolutely. We've seen the dogs working. They're -- they're an incredible asset to our USAR capability. We always use two methods to verify. So if a dog alerts on an area, we still use a listening device or search camera or even hailing, calling out in order to determine a location.

But if there is any possibility, at all, which is where we're at here in this collapse. There's, still, possibility. We're going to work. We are going to continue to work to try to uncover those areas. With the heavy equipment is going to start to be used but in a very surgical and precise process, to start removing some of these larger slabs that could, also, reveal the void spaces.

So, as we heard earlier, rescuers are working underneath. Rescuers are working from the top, in every effort to uncover the void spaces. That's what we're looking for.

COOPER: Yeah. Yeah. A lot of good people working as fast and as hard as they can.

Chief Dave Downey, appreciate it. Michael Fagel (ph), appreciate it as well.

We are going to take a short break and our coverage continues, in just a moment.


BLITZER: Continuing our special coverage of the breaking news. The search-and-rescue effort underway right now near Miami, where 159 people are still missing in the collapse of a 12-story condo.

Anderson Cooper is on the scene for us.

Anderson, I know this is difficult for you. It's difficult for everyone who is there. But walk us through what you are seeing, what you're feeling, and I know you have two special guests.

COOPER: Yeah, there are -- there are hundreds obviously of family members here in this area. There is a center to go and get updates every four hours. There is a lot of people staying in family's homes around this neighborhood waiting for word and obviously, families around the country and frankly, around the world there are a lot of people from different countries living in this complex or having apartments in this complex.

So, this is something, there are -- there are people right now missing their loved ones all around the world and watching what is happening right here. I want you to meet Ronit Felszer and Carlos Niabryf. Their son Ilan Niabryf and his girlfriend Debra Beriz Devin (ph), excuse me, I'm just getting the names.

Ronit and Carlos, thank you so much for being with us. I'm so sorry for what you are going through, what your family is going through. When was the last time you spoke with your son?

RONIT FELSZER, PARENT OF ILAN NIABRYF, MISSING IN COLLAPSE: Wednesday morning, I spoke with my son. Wednesday 1:00 my husband saw my son.

COOPER: And I know your son and his girlfriend were here for a funeral, girlfriend's family has had an apartment here. Are you -- are you getting information in a timely manner from authorities? How are you holding up in these hours?

FELSZER: I know authorities, every four hours there is an update. As a family member, we really are not receiving updates. You know, I know the governor and there are updates in general of what is going on but names, what is accounting for me and four bodies, the names haven't been released.

We're anxious. We're anxious. We're frustrated. We're angry.

We're hopeful where we have faith but it's difficult. It's very difficult.

COOPER: There are -- I know a number of families and religious groups set up kind of phone services, kind of a phone tree to have people keep in touch. Are you able to talk with other people who are also going through what you are going through?

FELSZER: We are. We are in touch. You know, the south Florida police community, the support has been beyond -- I lived in nine countries. It doesn't happen. It's amazing. It's amazing.

CARLOS NIABRYF, PARENT OF ILAN NIABRYF, MISSING IN COLLAPSE: We've feel -- we feel their support. We do believe that if they could pass us on complete information, I think, but they don't have it. I mean, it's very hard. You know, it's frightening.


NIABRYF: They are -- the building is not stable. FEMA (INAUDIBLE) just today I believe or yesterday night, I mean, everything on a process, and they go through protocol and we are hoping the best.

COOPER: Yeah. As you know, we have seen people in other situations be found days after an incident like this so there certainly is hope, and I know you know that and you feel that very strongly with your faith. What do you want people to know about your son?

FELSZER: So, Ilan (INAUDIBLE) is my husband wants (INAUDIBLE) criminology. He's still 21-year-old, turning 22, 9-11-99. He was -- he was at the university or is at the University of Chicago, physics major due to graduate next summer, next May 2022. President of the Chicago (INAUDIBLE), a loyal friend, a passionate good kind generous young man.

NAIBRYF: If he was --

COOPER: Well --

NAIBRYF: Loved by --

COOPER: Go ahead. I'm sorry.



He was loved by all of his friends in Hawaii. He went to a boarding school in Hawaii. Then he (INAUDIBLE) Chicago three years ago, he's just -- he was going (INAUDIBLE) but suddenly he was at the funeral of a guy that passed away because of COVID. So, he flew from New York and got together the day before and coming back home, they prefer to be closer to the funeral in Surfside. (INAUDIBLE)

I can't believe it.

COOPER: There are people all over the world praying for your son and his girlfriend, for you, for all of those waiting and for all of those missing right now and being searched for.

I will continue to keep in touch with you and our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Thank you for talking -- for talking with us. Let's go back to Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, thank you very much. Our hearts go out to those parents. Wonderful son, obviously.

There is more breaking news. The desperate search for 159 people after the collapse of that condo building near Miami.

At the same time, the search for what caused this disaster is intensifying tonight.

CNN's Brian Todd is working that part of the story.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, structural engineers and other experts scrambling to find answers as to how this collapse could have occurred, in an area with some of the strictest building codes in the world.

PROF. SHIMON WDOWINSKI, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: It's very unusual to see a building collapse like in this way. It reminds me of building in countries where they have the earthquakes and constructions. It's not in good conditions.

TODD: Professor Shimon Wdowinski of a Florida International University released a study last year that said 40-year-old building, the tower south had been sinking or subsiding as he calls it at a rate of about 2 millimeter as year between 1993 and 1999.

WDOWINSKI: It's not clear if the land was moving or the building was moving into the land but it was -- obviously, the building itself moved very small portion which is about over the measurement period of six years is about half an inch.

TODD: Wdowinski said that sinking didn't occur in buildings around that complex. He said the sinking alone likely would not have caused the building to collapse. But experts say it could be associated with tension and possible cracks inside the structure. Local officials say there was roof work being done on the building. They are careful to say that may not be the cause of this disaster but experts say it could have been a contributing factor.

KOBI KARP, ARCHITECH: Collusion effects of potentially working on the roof, potentially the non-maintenance of certain parts of the building where the connections could come together fail and create a pancake effect that happened.

TODD: The location and climate of that area experts say also have to be considered.

KIT MIYAMOTO, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Especially the corrosion of the steel and the area collapse is the ocean side, right? That's what the corrosion is. So corrosion of the reinforcement will compromise the capacity of column. If the column fails, everything fails essentially.

TODD: An attorney for the condo residence association says over the past several months, the building had undergone what he called thorough engineering inspections in preparation for its 40-year certification.

KENNETH DIREKTOR, ATTORNEY FOR CONDO ASSOCIATION : Nothing appeared either to the engineers or to any of the residents that would suggest anything like this was imminent, nothing.

TODD: Experts say it make take several months before we know the real causes and as for the possibility of one smoking gun.

ATOROD AZIZINAMINI, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING: Usually, a collapse like this doesn't happen just because of one factor. Usually several factors is combined and like a perfect storm.


TODD (on camera): And we've just learned a class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, accusing that group of, quote, failures to secure and safeguard the lives and property condo unit owners. That suit seeking in excess of $5 million in damages, cites a statement from the Condo Association's attorney Kenneth Direktor saying that repair needs had been identified but had not completed.

Now, in response to the suit, Kenneth Direktor said he doesn't know and engineers don't know with certainty what caused the building to come down. So, quote, how is it that this lawyer knows with certainly what caused that building to fall town -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, whatever it was that they will learn, they will learn to make sure it doesn't happen again. Brian, thank you very much for that report.

I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be reporting live from Surfside, Florida, beginning tomorrow as we continue our special coverage of the building collapse disaster.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.