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The Situation Room
Miami-Dade Mayor: Death Toll Rises To 11, 150 Unaccounted For; Trump Organization Attorneys Meet With Prosecutors As Charges Loom; Barr Says, Trump's Voter Fraud Claims All B.S.; Owners In Collapsed Building Were Facing $15 Million In Assessments For Building Repairs. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 28, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our deepest condolences to all of those experiencing pain from this horrible tragedy, may their memories be a blessing.
You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter @ jaketapper. You can tweet the show @thelead.cnn. Our coverage continues right now with Wolf Blitzer, next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States, and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live in Surfside, Florida and we're following breaking news. We're standing by for a news conference on the search for 151 people missing in the collapse of that condo building that is here. Ten bodies have now been recovered from the rubble.
Tonight, questions about how this could have happened are increasing and we have just learned that owners were facing $15 million in assessments for building repairs.
We're watching all of this unfold. Let's go straight to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, you're in the Sunny Isles Beach not far away from here. You had an opportunity for an exclusive look at some of the urgent building inspections that have been prompted by this disaster.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We are just north of Surfside where teams are scrambling to identify and repair significant damage to residential buildings, damage like this that you're seeing in this garage area right here. This comes as we are getting new information tonight, on the rescue effort in Surfside.
TODD (voice over): Tonight, rescuers here say they are shifting from by hand, bucket brigade style from using huge machinery to remove the rubble.
MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: We're lifting off huge slabs and moving them away from the pile.
TODD: The process is called de-layering but it's not all large pieces.
RAIDE JADALLAH, ASSISTANT FIRE CHIEF, MIAMI-DADE: We're digging through, again, rubbles of concrete, the size of basketballs, the size of baseballs.
TODD: Family members were again allowed to visit the site, see tunnel and the constant threat to rescue workers.
JADALLAH: They witnessed a rescuer tumbled 25 feet down the mound.
TODD: But the cause of the collapse still unclear. Records show the building had just started billing residents for a $15 million renovation, including 3 million for facade, balcony and railing repairs and almost 3 million for water proofing, paving and planters.
In 2018, a structural engineering firm says they reported significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, but the firm has not said if the report called for urgent action or warned of imminent collapse.
CHARLES KESL, SURFSIDE TOWN COMMISSIONER: It's all in context of improving the building. It's not in the context of failure.
TODD: The town's building official subsequently told a meeting of residents, quote, it appears the building is in very good shape, minutes show. One clue to the collapse, this video, some experts believe it shows the building did not start pancaking down from the top. Instead, it looks more like a failure at the foundation.
PROF. MATTHYS LEVY, AUTHOR, WHY BUILDING FALL DOWN: HOW STRUCTURES FAIL: It's clear the collapse started at the bottom.
TODD: The Miami Herald reports, one resident's last word on the phone were that the building was shaking and a sink hole had appeared where the pool used to be.
Another concern some residents are now talking about, the recent construction of a neighboring high-rise.
ELIANA SALZHAUER, TOWN COMMISSIONER, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: They were saying things like, I told them the building was shaking all the time when they were doing construction next door. We had cracks in our building from the construction next door. The roof was leaking in the garage. There was water. I knew this was a problem.
TODD: This comes as municipalities near Surfside are scrambling tonight to make sure this doesn't happen to them.
CNN got exclusive access at the re-inspection and repairs going on at the Winston Towers Complex in Sunny Isles Beach just a few miles north of Surfside. We saw worried residents complaining about the red tape.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't get much in orders for 40-year examination.
TODD: There are seven buildings in the complex, each either the same age or older than the condo that collapse in Surfside, each more than 20 storeys tall with at least 250 units in every building. Inspectors show us the damage inside the parking garage right under the pool deck, a layout similar to the Champlain Tower's Complex.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Similar design.
TODD: The pool water drained for this repair. There are columns and concrete floors cracking, rusted rebar and cables that support the concrete. Inspector Robert Conde looks at a support column that needs repair.
When you look at this now given what happened at Champlain, how big a concern is this that you're looking at?
ROBERT CONDE, INSPECTOR: It's a big concern we address --
CONDE: -- because it could fail and people could die.
TODD: These inspectors emphasize this normal wear and tear for buildings like this and it doesn't mean the building is in eminent danger of collapse. Still, the work will have to be done to prevent a repeat of the Surfside collapse, a contractor points to something he's concerned about.
J.R. ADDERLEY, PROJECT MANAGER, RTI RESTORATION TECHNOLOGY: The chlorine from the pool has deteriorated the reinforcing and the post- tension cable in this area. So that's why we have a massive repair underneath this pool.
TODD: And Sunny Isles Beach Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin points out if the owners of each unit will have to pay for the repairs.
VICE MAYOR LARISA SVECHIN, SUNNY ISLES BEACH, FLORIDA: These buildings are up against a huge assessment, potentially up to $25,000 a piece. This is where our families live, our middle class, our working class, the people that are working in the restaurants, all the kids that go to the school, all the kids that would normally use this pool. These people are not in a situation where they are able to afford that kind of money.
TODD (on camera): Now, as urgent as this process is, it is also pain staking. City officials and building inspectors here in Sunny Isles Beach tell us just the process of inspecting and repairing just this building started about six months to a year before the Surfside collapse and it's going to take another two to three years to complete. This is an undertaking that is, of course, now going to have to be repeated at hundreds of residential buildings throughout South Florida, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly true. Brian Todd, excellent reporting, thank you very much. Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis. Jimmy, thanks for joining us. I know you have a lot going on right now.
First of all, what can you tell us, what's the latest you can tell us going into, what, this night five of this rescue operation?
JIMMY PATRONIS, CFO & FLORIDA STATE FIRE MARSHAL: Well, the operations definitely get interrupted by rain. It slows down but lightning is really what's a challenge. The men and women of the task force is, as they are working on the hill, removing debris to save lives, they're also standing on a giant piece of metal. All the rebar is an attraction to lightning, so it can hamper their ability when lightning strikes then they have to clear the site.
BLITZER: The assistant fire chief, Jimmy, is making it very, very clear today, this remains what is called a search and rescue operation, not a search and recovery operation. Have there been any signs of hope as rescuers sift through this rubble?
PATRONIS: Well, until it -- it's still a search and rescue. I was talking to the Miami-Dade County commissioner that was definitely keeping the glass half full, as we all are, that, you know, we look at what is happening in Haiti, eight days without food and water in Haiti, where there was a woman found after 28 days without access of water.
So, again, the men and women, there's 368 that are working here right now. The dogs are an amazing part of the tool of trade that they work with. But as they work the site, again, they are hampered by incredibly large pieces of concrete that some of which that they move weighed 25,000 pounds.
BLITZER: Family members visiting the site yesterday actually saw rescuer tumble about 25 feet down that pile. It's been raining today. Much of the day, it's been raining. Clearly, this is very slow and dangerous work, isn't it?
PATRONIS: Yes. So here is the challenge. So the -- look let's talk about the piece that was removed today was about 25,000 pounds. They worked through the night on it. It was actually a balcony. When you move something that size, you have to have multiple engineers sign off it for the simple fact you will shift the pile.
The pile shifts while men and women are on it, they will go tumbling. If they go tumbling, then there's no telling what type of injury they can fall into because of rebar standing up like spikes. So in a normal environment, those rebars will be covered with plastic caps. We're not in a normal environment.
BLITZER: We're awaiting another news briefing. It's going to happen this hour. But, so far, as you know, the news has trickled out rather slowly. How long do you think it could take to find out the fate of these 151 people who are still unaccounted for in this disaster?
PATRONIS: So, the men and women are working around the clock. They are working in 12-hour shifts from 12 noon to midnight, midnight to 12 noon. And it's done like that on purpose in order to make sure the men and women have daytime and nighttime hours working.
You can imagine that the task force members from Miami-Dade and the City of Miami are a little more emotionally attached to this because this is their neighbors, this is their loved ones that are here. So, I mean, that is also an incredible motivator to all the other task forces and the efforts they have to support their brother and sisters in this effort.
I've seen -- Wolf, I've seen the absolute best I can ever imagine humanely right now. These men and women aren't pausing. They continue to have a type of momentum and a motivation that is really, really inspiring. I'm proud to be here.
BLITZER: It's absolutely true. These men and women who are involved in this search and rescue operation, these are real heroes, Jimmy.
They are risking their lives right now. This is extremely dangerous work and we are all so grateful to them.
While the rescuers are obviously trying to find the victims, survivors, there's also some expert on the scene investigating exactly what led to this deadly collapse. Is there any sense of how this could possibly -- from all of your expertise, this possibly could have happened?
PATRONIS: No. And that is a significant debate that is taking place right now. You know, as I tell folks the priority in our shop is to make sure the men and women of the task forces have the resources to do their job. They are blowing out of boots. They are blowing out of gloves, their tools.
And just to remind you, this is the first time we've ever had this type of recovery ever in the history of state of Florida. Their hydraulic pumps that power their saws are not made to work for five days straight. So, I mean, they are used to work for a few hours then stop. So the type of equipment and resources are being overnight from other parts of the state, so they can continue to work the job simply because the time is so precious.
But the debate is taking place. I totally understand how the family members want answers. There's been a grand jury convened. There will be a whole another silo of efforts with that to get people those answers or at least start the process to get those answers. But my job and our team's job is solely focused on saving lives.
BLITZER: We are grateful to you, Jimmy, and your entire team. Jimmy Patronis, the Florida State Fire Marshall, thank you so much for joining us. We'll stay in very close touch with you.
Let's continue the conversation right now. Joining us now, Kevin, Josh and Michael Spiegel. Like so many people here tonight, they are waiting for word of a missing loved one. Gentlemen, thank you so much, for joining us.
KEVIN SPIEGEL, WIFE MISSING IN BUILDING COLLAPSE: Thank you sir.
BLITZER: I know this is extremely painful for all of you and so many other loving families. Kevin, you've live in this building for how many years.
K. SPIEGEL: I've lived in here about five years, me and my wife.
BLITZER: And your wife, Judy, is missing.
K. SPIEGEL: She is missing. I mean, I got the call on -- I got -- you know, was looking at my email, found out that there was an incident there and then kept reading and found out that it was our building, and looked at it. First thing I did was call her and went right through voicemail. That's not normal. I knew there were some problems.
BLITZER: How are you holding up?
K. SPIEGEL: You know, I have a 100 percent faith in a lot that's going on here. I was really excited with the Israeli team that came yesterday and started working. I got call from one of my personal colleagues, an EMS Director in the state of Tennessee, Joe Hawley, and they're all here, they're working. I wish it happen a little sooner but I'm really pleased what's going on today.
BLITZER: You're actually (INAUDIBLE) we talked to your sons -- to your mom inside that building. Michael, are you getting enough updates? Are you satisfied with the information you're receiving?
MICHAEL SPIEGEL, MOTHER MISSING IN BUILDING COLLAPSE: I mean, honestly, I think we all want more information that's coming slowly. They are doing Zoom meetings for families in the morning and afternoon, so we're getting updates on morning and afternoon just for families. We would always like more information. And we wish this process obviously is going a little quicker than it is.
BLITZER: You're a trauma surgeon, Josh. How are you holding up?
JOSH SPIEGEL, MOTHER MISSING IN BUILDING COLLAPSE: I'm a surgeon in Orlando, finishing my residency, have done a lot of trauma and it's -- out of all of the things that I've seen in my job, this takes everything to a whole another level. I don't think anything that I've seen through the horrific events that I have seen matches this at all and to make it that much worse, it's personal.
And I understand the methods that they are using to try to get people out but we need them to really work faster. I understand what the true timeframe than this needs to happen and the fact that they've only been able to find ten people so far is not reassuring but we're trying to stay very hopeful and we are just praying, praying and praying for some good news.
BLITZER: How are you supporting each other?
J. SPIEGEL: That's the only thing we can do is support each other. Being together as family is the most -- the thing that's most important to us. We've always been an extremely, extremely tight knit family. We talk to each other every single day.
We talk to our mom multiple, multiple, multiple times every single day. And every single one of us spoke with her the night before this all happened. And to think that the last, what, five days, has it been now, we haven't been able to talk to her.
I don't know what I've been dealing with. I've never not spoken to my mom before.
K. SPIEGEL: It's devastating, I mean, what's really going on. I mean, she was the most wonderful person in the world. I'm a hospital administrator. Every hospital I've worked at, she always volunteered her time. Arts program at Erlanger, raising money for the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital, raising money for the Erlanger Children's Hospital, doing the arts programs throughout. I mean, she's an unbelievable philanthropist raising money for children mostly.
She's a grandmother and she was babysitting throughout COVID. My daughter is a hospital administrator as well here in Miami and she was staying home, took time and focused on while I was working, she raised our kids, did a great job, not because of me, because of the character of her person, but also she's doing the same for our grand children.
BLITZER: How many years have you been married?
K. SPIEGEL: 38 years this --
J. SPIEGEL: No, 38 years. 39 years this November.
K. SPIEGEL: 39 years this November, Thanksgiving.
BLITZER: And you're praying and you're hoping and wishing for miracles?
K. SPIEGEL: We are praying. She's part of me. You can't divide the two. We're the same.
BLITZER: It's a heart breaking, heart breaking situation that's unfolding, and I'm praying with you guys as well. That's all we can do right now. And we know there are excellent teams out there. They are working and they're searching --
K. SPIEGEL: They really are. And that, I'm proud of what the governor has done. I'm proud of the Israelis for coming here. I'm proud of the USARD teams that came. I was the commander of DMAC in New York and I know what it takes to do something like this. But they're extraordinary. Their level of education, their training and commitment to put themselves in harm's way for us is really unbelievable, God bless.
BLITZER: Such a wonderful woman. Judy, one of 151 people still who are still missing. Our hearts are with you and good luck. K. SPIEGEL: Wolf, thank you.
BLITZER: We're praying with you.
J. SPIEGEL: Thank you sir.
BLITZER: Let's hope for the best, guys, thank you very, very much.
K. SPIEGEL: We appreciate you.
BLITZER: Not easy. Not an easy situation at all.
Coming up, we're standing by for a live news conference with the top official here in Surfside, Florida. We're expecting more information as rescuers desperately search for survivor.
Also ahead here in The Situation Room, we'll have details on a last- ditch effort by the Trump Organization to avoid criminal charges.
Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: We're live here on the scene of the deadly Surfside, Florida, condo collapse where authorities are about to hold a news conference with all the late-breaking information, all the latest information that they have. We'll have live coverage, of course, as soon as it begins. That's coming up this hour.
In the meantime, there's other important news we're following. Attorneys for the Trump Organization are meeting with prosecutors in a last-ditch effort to avoid criminal charges.
Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now. So, Paula, give us the latest information you have.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Even after today's meeting, Wolf, prosecutors are still expected file criminal charges against the Trump Organization and longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg as soon as this week.
Now, these charges stem from allegations the company was trying the avoid paying taxes on perks that it doled out to employees, like free apartments and free cars.
Now, Wolf, it's very unusual to charge a company for failing to pay taxes on these kinds of perks and the charges against Mr. Weisselberg appear to be part of this long-term campaign, this pressure campaign to get him to flip against his boss, former President Trump.
At this point thought, our reporting indicates that the former president will not be charged but this investigation is active and ongoing. BLITZER: All of this unfolding, Paula, as the former attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, is speaking out rather bluntly about his post-election rift with former President Trump?
REID: That's right, Wolf. Barr was largely seen as a Trump loyalist who politicized the Justice Department to help his former boss, but now, eight months after the election, he's speaking out against Trump's claims of voter fraud.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We won the election twice.
REID (voice over): As former President Donald Trump continues the lie about the 2020 election --
TRUMP: We have the crime of the century, which I consider to be the election of 2020.
REID: -- his former attorney general, William Barr, is now speaking out against him.
In a newly released book excerpt written by ABC News Reporter Jonathan Karl, Barr saying he suspected Trump's claim of widespread election fraud were all B.S. My attitude was it was put up or shut up time. If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it but my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all B.S.
That's a new tone from Barr, who pushed misleading claim and conspiracies about voter fraud before the election, telling Wolf Blitzer in an interview in September.
WILLIAM BARR, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is playing with fire. We're very closely divided country here. And if people have to have confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government and people trying to change the rules to this methodology, which is a matter of logic, is very open to fraud and coercion is reckless and dangerous.
REID: But by December, Barr reversed his claims telling The Associated Press, to date, we have not seen fraud on scale that would have affected a different outcome in the election, which drew the ire of then-President Trump.
REPORTER: Do you still have confidence in Bill Barr?
TRUMP: Ask me that in a number of weeks from now. They should be looking at all of this fraud.
REID: Senator Mitch McConnell had privately urged Barr to talk to Trump because he feared Trump's false election claims could cost them the Republican Party the Georgia run-off election and control of the Senate.
[18:25:04] You're in a better position to inject some reality into this situation. You're really the only one who can do it. Barr responded, I understand that and I'm going to do it at the appropriate time.
Behind closed doors, the conversation was explosive. Another excerpt reading, how the F could you do this to me? Why did you say it, Trump asked Barr to which he replied, because it's true. The president livid, responding by referring to himself in the third person, you must hate Trump. You must hate Trump.
Barr also calling out Trump for his legal strategy to challenge the election results. You have a clown show. No self-respecting lawyer is going anywhere near it. It's just a joke. That's why you are where you are. Trump releasing a statement on Sunday saying, Bill Barr was a disappointment in every sense of the word. But some Republicans are glad Barr is finally speaking out.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I wish, of course, Bill Barr would have spoken out sooner. But the bottom line is there's no time like the present to start.
REID (on camera): Trump reportedly didn't refute Barr's assessment of the election legal team as being a quote, clown show. Trump, reportedly told Barr, you're probably right about that. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Paula, thank you very much, Paula Reid, reporting for us.
Let's get some insight right now from our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, thanks for joining us.
If this is Bill Barr's attempt to rehabilitate his reputation, is admitting he investigated something that he knew was all B.S. -- he didn't say the word, B.S., he said the other word that was -- was that the way to do it?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think he's trying. And the fact that he actually -- he actually did the right thing here. I mean, he said that he wouldn't say there was fraud when there was no fraud. He refuted the president's claims.
Unfortunately, he did it in private. And he didn't do it in public to the degree to which he was apparently doing it in the Oval Office and it has allowed these accusations to fester. But, you know, I do think you can give Bill Barr credit for not having the Justice Department join in with the clown show that was the Trump legal effort.
BLITZER: Why do you think he did that?
TOOBIN: Well, because there's nothing there. I mean, you know, he is in the Department of Justice and it is full of real lawyers. And real lawyers are not going to push the craziness, the falsity, the lies that Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell are now being sued for libel for. I mean, these are real lawyers. And Bill Barr, at long last, was acting like a real lawyer and saying we're not going to bring a case when there's no case there.
BLITZER: But is it any surprise to you, Jeffrey, that Barr actually opened up where, clearly, it was a sham investigation, given that he spent much of his tenure as the attorney general giving cover to then- President Trump?
TOOBIN: Well, I think he was tethered enough to reality that when he opened the investigation, and it was -- there was some Justice Department investigation, they saw that there was nothing there. You know, you could argue that it wasn't even worth opening the investigation.
You know, that, I think is it doesn't really matter all that much. What matters is the Justice Department, to its credit and to Barr's credit, said at a very early stage, there's nothing here. There never was any sort of fraud in this election and I think that was appropriate. And if the president didn't want to listen, that's his problem.
BLITZER: And I agree with you. Bill Barr does deserve credit for doing what he did in the end and telling the president, then-president of the United States, he was simply wrong and used the word, B.S.
Let's turn to the Trump Organization's legal issues right now. There are significant developments unfolding currently this week. Is it common practice, Jeffrey, for lawyers representing a business to try to convince prosecutors not to pursue criminal charges?
TOOBIN: Yes, it's very common. All ethical prosecutors agreed to meet with their targets and be talked out of their case. If there is evidence that they have not consider, that they have not seen, it's very appropriate for them to meet with the target.
I have to say though, Wolf, this looks like a very small potatoes case. You know, if the entire case is based on the failure to pay taxes on perks, that is almost always handled as a civil matter. The company pays back taxes, pays a penalty, the individuals who got the benefit, pay back taxes, pay a penalty. But the idea of a criminal case based on this, it may be technically within the law but it is certainly an unusual attempt.
And, frankly, if this is what the best they have on Allen Weisselberg, this is not case that's going to generate a prison sentence any way. So I don't see this as major lever in order to get him to flip.
BLITZER: But we don't really know all the extent of potential charges, do we?
TOOBIN: We don't. The -- Ron Fischetti, who is the lawyer for the Trump Organization, has said they are not charging money laundering. They are not charging tax -- a larger scale tax evasion. They are not charging anything related to campaign finance. They are not charging Trump personally. Now, that's just the lawyers saying it. Obviously, what we want to see is what the district attorney actually comes up with. But if it is just the failure to pay taxes on perks, that's not much of a case and cases against corporations almost never go to trial.
You know, the criminal law is designed to punish individuals. It's not really designed to punish corporations. You can't put a corporation. You can't put a corporation in prison. They usually pay a fine. It amounts to a civil matter. So if this is the summon substance of the Vance investigation, I think a lot of the president's enemies are going to be pretty disappointed.
BLITZER: And what do you make, Jeffrey, of this report that we have that Allen Weisselberg, the CFO, longtime CFO of the Trump Organization, is refusing to cooperate, if you will, to go ahead with the prosecutors?
TOOBIN: Well, that has been his position all along, including in the days of the Mueller investigation. And I think, in fairness to him, you know, we have to say, we have not seen -- there's not public evidence that he has committed any crime. You know, a lot of people assume things about how the Trump Organization is run, assume things about what Weisselberg did that might have been illegal.
But the fact is we have not seen evidence of criminality that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt so far. And so it's not entirely surprising that man at his age, with his record and his degree of loyalty to the Trump family has not agreed to flip. Let's see if there's evidence that he has anything to flip on. We haven't seen it yet.
BLITZER: Yes, we should find out a lot more in the course of the next few days. We will see. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much for that analysis.
There's more news we're following right now, including major breaking news this hour. New developments in the deadly condo collapse right here in Surfside, Florida, where I am. There's an urgent effort under way right now to find 151 people still missing. That's going into this night.
Now, we're learning that the condo owners were facing $15 million dollars in assessments for building repairs.
CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin is working the story for us. So, Drew, I know you're finding out more information. What are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: They were major structural repairs, Wolf, with a major price tag, anywhere from $80,000 to $330,000 per homeowner based on the size of the unit. Still, there was nothing in all of those reports that seemed to indicate that this building was in imminent danger of catastrophic collapse.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GRIFFIN (voice over): As new evidence emerges of past inspections, cracks and potential danger, this short surveillance camera video itself remains the best clue so far as to how and why the Champlain Towers South fell in what Forensic Engineer Joel Figueroa-Vallines calls a clean collapse.
JOEL FIGUEROA-VALLINES, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER, SEP ENGINEERS: There was pancake effect, so it was almost symmetric and vertical. And what that causes is the structure to come straight down instead of collapsing sideways or collapsing in any other trajectory, which would mean that whatever cause it, which is unknown at this point, would have caused the structure to have a clean vertical collapse of those towers.
GRIFFIN: But while engineers continue to speculate from afar, in reality, the answer lies like the victims, trapped under rubble. The 40-year-old structure was due for massive repairs. An alarming 2018 inspection report warned of abundant cracking and concrete columns and several instances of deteriorating rebar, especially on the condo's pool deck and in the parking structure garage underneath the building. According to the report, familiar to replace the water proofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.
Despite that report, minutes from the condominium association board meeting the following month show that a town official told residents it appears the building is in very good shape. Champlain Tower South was in the process of recertification, a Miami-Dade County government structural and electrical assessment of any building 40 years old.
According to the condo association attorney, the building had multiple inspections and was in the process of extensive work, which would have caused $15 million. All of it considered proactive on time and on a building that no one, so far, perceived as an immediate threat of failure.
Structural Engineer Jason Borden examined Champlain Tower just last year.
JASON BORDEN, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER, SURVEYED SURFSIDE CONDO BUILDING IN 2020: I saw things that I typically see when we're looking at buildings, when we're preparing to do these types of investigation or study. I saw cracks in the stucco facade, I saw deterioration of the concrete balconies, I saw cracks and deterioration of the plaza level. But those are all things that we're accustomed to seeing and it's why our job exists.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Any cause for alarm in what you saw?
BORDEN: What I saw, no. Again, I only spent an hour after the property in advance of doing a proposal for the engineering investigation. However, what I did see while I was there did not alarm me at all.
GRIFFIN: The lack of alarm is now sending chills through residents in other aging buildings along this beach and beyond, inspections under way, voluntary evacuations for the Champlain Towers sister building and a rush to find the answer to why this building just fell. Forensic engineers caution that answer could yet be months away.
GRIFFIN (on camera): And, Wolf, most likely not a smoking gun but a series of events that caused this. Again, they will not know until they can get in underground and see just exactly what did fail. Wolf?
BLITZER: Drew Griffin reporting for us, Drew, thank you very, very much.
This is about to begin this news conference here. We're about to get, we're told, some more information on what's going on of the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, just walked through right behind me towards the news conference. She's there right now. By the way, when she walk right by me, she said, hello, gave me an empanada, but that was so nice of her to do so. But let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be starting shortly. Please, we're going to hold the question to the end. This time around, we're going to do English questions, a few English questions first, and then we'll switch to Spanish or whatever, a bit of back and forth.
And without former ado, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FL: Here we are, approaching the end of day five, and the search and rescue continues. All day long, and our teams have made significant progress on the site. Over the past few hours, our first responders did recover another victim. So in total, the number of people accounted for now stands at 136 with 150 unaccounted for.
The number of confirmed deaths is 11, tragically, 11. And once again, as I've continued to stress in all of these briefings, these numbers are very fluid and they will change. We are continually auditing the list and getting more calls and information from family members. So, please, stand by for more information.
We have also expanded our family assistance center and it now has 14 different organizations actively working with the families. It has been very well-received and people are getting real help. We also had a very good briefing with families this evening. And so we are continuing, as always, to provide timely updates as much information as we have to these families and providing them the news before you get it. So we are frank. We are transparent. This is what we promised and this is how we have been.
And the work that is being done on the search and rescue effort and the service to the families has been made possible by unprecedented, historic cooperation between our local, our state and our federal partners, as well as our non-profit and faith groups and municipal groups right here.
So we have everyone from the water and sewer department of Miami-Dade County, our procurement department, our Community Action in Human Services Agency, FEMA, our Florida Department of Emergency Management and international partners, including the Israeli team, that actually had additional members come in today, the Mexican team, Miami Foundation, Red Cross, Florida Blue, Jewish community services and many others.
It is truly inspiring. It is unprecedented. And we are so very grateful for every one working together here in Surfside.
So I want to thank, especially the men and women who have been working tirelessly, 24/7, as you know, on the site and it's truly a moving operation, the dogs, the sonar, the cameras, the heavy equipment and the men and women from all over the world right here, the best that we have anywhere working tirelessly to look for survivors.
Those of you who are watching at home and you want to support the victims, please join us at supportsurfside.org. Thank you for your many generous donations. It's making a difference. And the families are getting assistance. Today, they've been receiving assistance today thanks to your generous support. We've raised over $1.6 million to help these families. This is truly monumental and so, so important to them and to us.
I wanted to provide an update also on the building audit that is being conducted in Miami-Dade County. As promised, we said we would begin immediately, and starting Saturday, we did a countdown.
We said within 30 days and actually I'm imagining it will be well less than 30 days that we will have gone through all of the properties, actually four storeys and above that are ready for their recertification or just completed the recertification to make sure that all of the findings have been addressed. We want to make sure and we want to review to see if any of those findings are life safety issues. And if they are, we will act swiftly. So far, we are confident that things are safe. But if we find any life safety issues, we will move very deliberately.
Our inventory has revealed that 14 buildings in an incorporated date have recently begun their recertification process. And so we're going to be reviewing that list of concerns as part of this audit to make sure that these outstanding issues will be addressed. And I continue to call on cities right here in Surfside and all of our cities. We want to work with you to do similar process of your housing inventory.
Thank you to everyone. Thank you and God bless our first responders, the men and women risking their lives for all of us and to the families that are waiting, waiting and watching for news of their loved ones.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to get right back to news conference momentarily. But I just want to make sure our viewers got the news. One more, sadly, one more body has been found. So the death toll in this condo disaster has now gone to 11. In the last few days, it went from one to four to five to nine to ten. Now, the death toll is up to 11. But also, obviously, so, so disturbing, the number of people unaccounted for, unaccounted for is 150 people. A 150 people unaccounted for. She says 136 people who are in that building are accounted for but 150 people still unaccounted for and 11 confirmed deaths.
I want to -- while we're waiting to resume our coverage in the news conference, I want to bring in Gregg Schlesinger, Structural Engineer, President Schlesinger Engineering. And, Gregg, you're here with me. We're watching all of these unfolding. It's taking a long time. But what goes through your mind when you hear these numbers, you know a 150 people still unaccounted for, 11 confirmed deaths?
GREGG SCHLESINGER, GENERAL CONTRACTOR & CONSTRUCTION ATTORNEY: It's a tragedy, hard to imagine. It's a tragedy.
BLITZER: It's heartbreaking, isn't it?
SCHLESINGER: It is. And from looking at this building, all the telltale signs in the Miami Herald, within the last hour, photographs were shown that within two days taken underneath this pool and the beams are spalled out. The steel is been denigrated to a point where it's not in any structural capacity, and the slabs, the photos of the slabs that has deformation.
Now, the question is whether that slab was tied into the rest of the building. That's something that the engineers will be going to be looking at immediately to see whether or not it was frangible, to see if that caused or contributed to cause this building collapse.
BLITZER: We have that reporter joining us on the phone right now from the "Miami Herald" with the pictures showing this damage at the surfside condo taken by a contractor only 36 hours before it collapsed.
CNN has not -- has independently reached out about the report and a spokesperson for Champlain Tower South Condo Association declined to comment.
But let's talk with one other reporters who broke the story. Sarah Blaskey is joining us right now on the phone.
Sarah, so tell us about what this pool contractor was stunned by seeing on the site here. What exactly did he tell you?
SARAH BLASKEY, REPORTER, MIAMI HERALD (via telephone): The way the contractor described the situation is when he first entered the building, it looked fine. The pool area looked fine. The lobby looked fine and he walked into the basement and he saw a bunch of standing water.
This is the basement garage under the pool deck. So, a bunch of standing water and then entered the pool equipment room where he saw cracks in the concrete, everything that was just described. That rebar, degraded concrete and thought, wow. Why haven't they maintained this building better?
And he took a picture of that concrete to send to his boss because he was there to do a little bit of cosmetic stuff to the pool. But he thought, wow, this is going to be a bigger job. Took a picture, sent it to his boss and that's the picture one of them that you're seeing here that published a couple of hours ago.
BLITZER: It's really such a graphic and devastating picture, Sarah. The issues that he found just days before the collapse of this building actually mirrored the warning that was concluded back in 2018 in that report, right?
BLASKEY: Well, actually, what I understand from experts is these photos may even be worse than photos or what was described in the 2018 report. But there's an important caveat here. These photos are taking in the equipment room which is on the south side of the basement structure. What caved was actually on the north side. The building came down on the north side.
The part where you see the photos is not immediately in the collapse zone. It's unclear if they would have contributed to the collapse. We understand they could have be way the building is shaped. However, they did not collapse many the same way. Still, experts are telling us that other parts of the building or other parts of the structure down there looked same way as those photos in the pool equipment room then that could have contributed to that collapse.
BLITZER: Is the fear, Sarah, that the issues were pervasive in other parts of the building as well?
BLASKEY: That is the fear. It's by severe structural damage or severe damage structural slab which is the phrase that was used in that 2018 report. It's by that, the engineer meant something like what we saw in this picture today then certainly that kind of damage under the pool deck which is closer to that northern side of the building, that could have contributed to the collapse and the fear is that maybe that's what's going on.
It's still unclear, however, and it's important to note that chemicals from the pool can make that degradation of the concrete and the rebar worse. And so, it is possible that this was an isolated, really bad situation. And maybe the other rebar wasn't as bad. We just don't know yet.
BLITZER: Yeah, excellent reporting, Sarah Blaskey. Thank you so much for that. You and your colleague Aaron Leibowitz in "The Miami Herald". These pictures, 36 hours before that condo went down and we see the pictures. They are so disturbing.
Sarah, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for the reporting.
LEIBOWITZ: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: You know, Gregg Schlesinger is still with us.
You were mentioning this report in the "Miami Herald". You just heard her report. What do you think?
SCHLESINGER: More evidence coming in. We couple that with the 2018 report where we see a column that the steel is eroded. The structural integrity is gone.
My continuing concern is in 2018, what additional inspections did they do? On that one column, they could have put up posts, removed concrete around it and see how bad it was. To see the surface rust, to see the concrete and structurally integrity gone, they should have looked further.
They should have looked and saw the envelope of the building. They should have removed dry wall. Look at the beams. Look at the structural staff.
We see from this reporter raised a concern with those photographs two days before hand that the structural slab was compromised. That was reported in 2018. Nothing was done to look. Demo work, additional investigation.
Up and down this state, I've built buildings. I've renovated buildings. I've restored concrete from Dade County all the way up to Martin County.
These buildings on the ocean, once I start probing, once I start knocking back, man, it's amazing what I see and it's much worse when I generally start getting into these slabs and into these columns, they need a lot more work. But without the investigation, we have a serious problem.
BLITZER: I want to get reaction from rick slider, a structural engineer who is joining us right now.
What do you think, Rick?
RICK SLIDER, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Actually, it's interesting. The photographs, I did review those from "The Herald." Those photographs show signification the corrosion in the steel.
In part, it could be because of the chlorides in the pool, and also, if you remember, the 2018 report, the engineer identified that the waterproofing system failed, they were getting an abundance of water and in fact, part of the recommendation was that there were significant structural damage, that those areas would have to be your place in their entirety. So, even though that area may have been on the south side of the pool deck, based upon the information provided in the 2018 report, it's likely that those same conditions prevailed on the other side.
And that area in the photograph, on the south side of the pool deck is a support portion for the slab. I think the other issue that Gregg mentioned was, I did review the structural drawings, they were obtained from the Building Department. There are no expansion joints. So in essence, the pullback level is continuous with the building. So if part of the poll that level fails, it has impact upon the structural integrity of the building also, which appears to have happened.
BLITZER: You want to weigh in, Gregg?
SLIDER: Yeah, Rick is -- you're right out on that. As soon as I saw that, he mentioned it, today we have frangible, we have expansion joints, it doesn't tie into the building. So that when structurally fails, you have a polling out, a force being exerted.
So, Rick looking at those drawings, yeah, that's what we can seriously considered. Whether that was causing or contributing China's.
BLITZER: When you see that 11-second video of part of the building going down, then another after 5 seconds, another part of the building going down.
Rick, where does that fit in in your analysis of how this potentially might have happened?
SLIDER: If you look at the video, it's very catastrophic. If you look at the beginning point, it appears that that's on the intersection of the pool deck with the building to the right side. You'll see it is very vertical, I think one of the other reports that identify that.
That's telling me that that is a column at the base level that has failed, potentially could be obviously won't be confirmed sometime, investigators are able to assess that. But, obviously, there is a column, vertical support component in that building that was the initiation point of the failure.
Again, the photographs in the report of 2018 identified some very significant structural deterioration, exposed reinforcing steel, those elements should have been repaired within close proximity at time, to the filing of that report. Obviously, we're now three years later.
BLITZER: So, Gregg, the way the building went down, we've all seen the videos what does that say to you about why potentially this might've happened?
SCHLESINGER: Well, we know there was a structural failure. Where it started, why it started, we know the columns that are at the base support the building. We know that they were structurally compromised.
There is another issue and I think Rick has pointed to it, whether or not we have subsidence, whether or not the building was creating forces by lowering down into those pilings in the ground. Why was it subsiding? What were the problems?
Soil down core borings down into the base rock would tell us what was going on. Maybe it needed additional pilings, end pilings, pressure injected grout. So those are telltales. We look at the way it went down that indicates something failed. We know the columns failed. The building pancaked upon itself. So failure analysis, experts will come in and make that determination and material science experts. BLITZER: You know, Rick, as we watch this, you've said that the issues
that were identified in that 2018 report clearly led to this disaster. The vice mayor of Surfside, Florida, just told CNN the report reads like a standard inspection report. So what's your analysis? What do you think?
SLIDER: It's interesting.
Some of the language in the report identifies structural distress. To me, and there are a couple of photographs of the slab which show significant concrete loss and corrosion reinforcing steel. From a structural engineering standpoint, we assess the magnitude of the cracks, the amount of concrete that's broken, the amount of corrosion of the steel, all those are indicators of the level of the stress.
So, the report and the language does indicate areas of distress and, in fact, full replacement of pieces of the concrete.
However, other parts of the report and in particular they talk about columns, they show a picture of a column but it shows damage but not really to the level described in the report. So, some of the reports are a little inconsistent as to the actual finding but it does say ultimately, the slabs of distress need to be replaced in their entirety, which is the significant issue, and those areas of the garage need to be repaired.
BLITZER: There is certainly, Rick, seems to have been a lack of urgency in addressing these safety issues over the past three years or so. How concerned should south Florida residents be right now about the safety of other very, very similar buildings and there are a lot of them up and down the coast?
SLIDER: I'll say one of the other factors that comes to play here, typically when these surveys are done, they are required by Miami-Dade --
BLITZER: All right.
BLITZER: Hold on a second. Hold that thought. Hold that thought for a minute. They're beginning to answer questions at the news conference. I want to listen in again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very small boards that were seen but as we come across a small board, that's where our teams will expand and go further to see. So definitely that's what we're looking for. We're hoping to find, you know, that possible, you know, larger void space or pocket where we can find survivors.
Question here, director?
REPORTER: My question was about the comments yesterday. Agents sent to the border (INAUDIBLE) -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, in reference to the question, the resources
that the governor sent to the southern border are Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Game and Fish Commission, FWC. Florida Highway Patrol is assisting here locally but they're -- we do have FWC officers assisting here locally as well.
But I will once again say as the governor did say yesterday, Miami- Dade County is the -- and as well as the director mentioned this in a meeting we had today -- Miami-Dade County is the eighth largest law enforcement agency in the country and at this point in time, they have not asked for additional resources in law enforcement. If they should have asked for additional resources, the governor will dispatch law enforcement resources to the scene.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) from NBC 6. Just wondering if you guys have moved the reunification center or if there are plans to move it from the current location?
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We have moved the family assistance center to a larger location. Obviously, the number of family members are growing as more come to Miami and surfside to await news of loved ones so we did need some additional space.
REPORTER: Just a quick follow-up, if you can talk about the spirit, how are they feeling right now?
LEVINE CAVA: So we have people waiting and waiting and waiting for news, that is excruciating. We have them coping with the news that they might not have their loved ones come out alive and still hope against hope they will. They're learning that some of their loved ones will come out as body parts.
I mean, this is -- this is the kind of information that is just excruciating for everyone and they know that we're working around the clock on the search and rescue efforts. They know that we're bringing assistance from all possible sources and they know that we're with them as our police director said earlier today, they are our family now. And we stand with them. And I believe that they feel that and recognize that even through their pain.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) was anything done today as far as search and rescue that was different and how does help you make that discovery today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We definitely modified our approach over the past several days. So, you see our work force a lot more on top of the pile, how we separated with our rescue grids and focus on a different area. So, the technique hasn't changed. We're layering process as process as we go through.