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The Situation Room
Falling Debris, Weather Complicating Search And Rescue Effort; New Video Shows Rescuers Combing Through Collapse Scene; Biden To Travel To Surfside On Thursday; New Dispatched Audio Says, The Building Is Gone It Almost Resembles The Trade Center; News Conference On Urgent Search For Missing In Condo Collapse; Florida Officials Hold News Conference On High-Rise Condo Collapse. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 29, 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: All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much, appreciate it.
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Our coverage continues right now with Wolf Blitzer, who is live from Surfside, Florida. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live today in Surfside, Florida.
We're following breaking news. We're standing by for a news conference on the urgent search for 150 people missing in the collapse of the Champlain South Tower condo right here. That number has not changed in 24 hours, nor has the number of confirmed dead which stands at 11. But new numbers potentially could be released later this hour. Stand by for that.
Meanwhile, crews are working around the clock, despite problems complicating their efforts including bad weather and falling debris. We're going to get the latest in the moment when the Miami-Dade mayor and the fire chief join me live. That's coming up within the next couple of minutes.
We're also, inside the complex at North Tower, identical to the one that collapsed, what our crew documented significant differences in maintenance.
Lots going on, but, first, let's go straight to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, we expect an update on the search from officials soon. You have been working your sources. Update our viewers.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we can report that a man named Ross Prieto, he is the former building official for Surfside, who, in November 2018, assured the residents of that Champlain Tower South Complex that their building was in good shape despite having information that it was not in good shape. But that gentleman, Ross Prieto, has been is on leave of absence by the city who he currently had worked with, that's the city of Doral, Florida. He'd been hired as an interim building official for Doral. As of yesterday, they say, he is placed on leave of absence. Ross Prieto has not responded to CNN's request for comment.
This comes as other residential buildings in this area are coming under more scrutiny as officials crackdown on structural problems.
TODD (voice over): Tonight, Miami-Dade ordering one high-rise to immediately close four of its balconies as authorities race to inspect other high-rises in the wake of the Surfside condo collapse.
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FL: We're taking swift action to immediately identify and address any outstanding issues with the buildings that have not yet completed their 40-year certification process.
TODD: This as CNN obtained a letter written in April by the Champlain Tower South condo board president, warning residents, quote, the concrete deterioration is accelerating and the observable damage, such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection. That initial inspection was back in 2018.
The Miami Herald obtained these photos taken by a pool contractor just 36 hours before the collapse, showing cracks in the pool equipment room. He also told the Herald he saw standing water in the parking garage under the pool. A structural engineer investigating for the city tells us there were likely multiple factors at play.
ALLYN KILSHEIMER, CHAIRMAN, KCE STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS: An explosion from below, a car hitting a column, problems with the roof slab collapsing down and, therefore, dropping everything else, problems in the foundation, all that kind of stuff.
TODD: For rescue workers digging through the rubble another danger.
MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: Overnight, there were issues with some debris falling off the building. The west side of the pile had to be cordoned off a little bit because it was becoming excessively dangerous to work there.
TODD: Also complicating the search --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One building, part of the building collapsed, the other collapsed on top of it.
TODD: Down force and lightning risk also interrupting the search.
Naum Lusky is President of the Condominium Association of the Champlain Towers North Complex, the tower identical to the south tower but completed one year later.
NAUM LUSKY, PRESIDENT, CHAMPLAIN TOWERS NORTH CONDO ASSOCIATION: Everybody was scared.
TODD: At the north tower, they focus on maintenance borders on obsession.
LUSKY: I mean everybody said that this is a twin building of the other one and that if something happens to that one, it might happen to this one too, but it is not further from the truth.
TODD: Lusky and his team gave CNN access to the garage, the pool deck, and the roof of his building. In the garage, no signs of cracking, no exposed rebar, no water or really any moisture at all. The sump pump designed to pump water from the garage brand new. The water proofing on the pool deck has been overhauled Even the planters on the pool deck are designed to prevent erosion and sinking.
On the roof, every fixture, and wire covering is sealed to repel water. From that vantage point, we could see the balconies. Three years ago, at Luksy's insistence, the tiles on the floors of all the balconies, 113 units, were ripped out, the cost to residents, a little over $10,000 each.
ROBERT ANDAI, VICE PRESIDENT, CHAMPLAIN TOWERS NORTH CONDO ASSOCIATION: We went and were proactive. A lot of people did not want us to take the tiles down. The tile, one is the amount of weight that you have, the other one is that if you have penetration to water, it hides underneath the tile and then it can go into the rebar through the -- as the cement deteriorates.
TODD: These Condo Association leaders believe every balcony in this entire region should have its tiles removed. As Lusky and his colleague, Robert Andai, reassured jittery residents, Lusky says he can't stop thinking about the friends in the south tower he lost.
LUSKY: I prefer not to go over there. I get very emotional of it. I haven't been sleeping for three days. It is completely horrible.
TODD (voice over): And right now, the dynamics surrounding that north tower complex is all about confidence of the residents, after collapse of the south tower, according to heads of that Condo Association in the north tower, they say that residents of the north tower were, of course, scared, many of them left, said they did not necessarily want to return.
But after the collapse, after state, local, federal inspectors came through the north tower and gave it high marks for its upkeep, for its maintenance and its structure, well, they say many of those residents of the north tower have now returned. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd reporting us, Brian, thank you very much.
Let's get more right now, joining us, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, and the fire rescue chief, Andy Alvarez. Thanks to both of you for joining us. Thanks to all of you for the incredibly hard work these first six days But I'm sure the process will continue.
Mayor Levine Cava, I know you're about to do a briefing, a news conference. Will any family members, the loved ones, will they learn about their specific loved ones, 150 people still unaccounted for.
CAVA: I am not able to give any details at this time, so stay tuned, but, of course, the search continues unabated. Still search and rescue. And as you've seen, there are hundreds of people all over the mound doing everything they can.
BLITZER: What can you tell us about this grand jury investigation that is beginning right now?
CAVA: Right. So I've spoken to our state attorney, she's the prosecutor here in the county and we have pledged our full cooperation and support. She is going to be calling for the grand jury to do an investigation of this site and causes and how we can avoid this in the future, never, ever again.
So we're standing with her. We're eager to be part of the review and analysis. I've worked with the state attorney very closely on many previous grand jury reports and I have taken action on those reports because they really help us to identify concerns.
BLITZER: Because we really have to learn exactly what happened in order to make sure it doesn't happen again.
BLITZER: Brian Todd just reporting that the north tower seems to be, as opposed to the south tower, in pretty good shape. Is that the information you had as well?
CAVA: So far, yes, because we've had the initial review of the building site by the current building inspector for Surfside, who has assured there's nothing immediately of concern, although voluntary evacuation was offered to them.
BLITZER: You've already taken some steps to shut down certain places, certain condominiums.
BLITZER: Tell us about that.
CAVA: So we decided in abundance of caution to review all 40-year recertification cases. And what we learned from that review is that there are definitely some electrical concerns, wiring concerns, but there was, in one case, a structural issue that called us to attention, four balconies that we were concerned were perhaps unstable. So we've closed the balconies, not the building, just the balconies.
BLITZER: Chief Alvarez, how is the search and rescue operation going? We know it is incredibly dangerous. We know there are -- all of these hundreds of men and women who were involved in this, they're risking their own lives right now. The weather hasn't been good, it's been torrential rain and falling debris happening all the time.
CHIEF ANDY ALVAREZ, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: That's correct. We still have the widow makers on the Bravo, Charlie exposure of the building, even though we may get a lot of them early on, we still have a lot of falling debris continues to fall on the rubble pile.
But we have, at any given time, 150 to 200 rescuers on that pile, working 24 hours a day. Obviously, we rotate crews on and off, but search and rescue efforts have not subsided since we started, and will not subside until we bring that miracle out.
BLITZER: This is still a search and rescue operation as opposed to, God forbid, have to call it a recovery operation, that means there's no hope.
ALVAREZ: That's correct, Wolf, we are still in full search and rescue mode. As we talked earlier, nothing has changed, nothing will change until we continue to dig through that rubble, find that possible void and bring someone out of that rubble.
BLITZER: I know you're always speaking to family members who are so distraught right now, Mayor. They're so worried.
BLITZER: They're losing hope by the hour as we go on. How are the conversations going? It is day six right now and I'm sure it's different in day one and day two.
CAVA: Well, Wolf, we had our first funeral last night. So, definitely, the community is very sobered by these results. They know that the chances of finding their loved ones are diminishing, but they are also still holding out hope that their family member will be found alive.
BLITZER: That's so difficult with you to speak to these family members because these are people who have -- they lost their moms, or their dads, their grandparents, their sons, their daughters, and I guess they're beginning to assume the worst.
CAVA: I think that the process that we helped them go through is really allowing them to prepare. Certainly if a family member is to be found alive, that will be a miracle, but they can hope for miracles. At the same time, they know that it is getting increasingly difficult.
So we've brought them to the site. They've had a chance to reflect on lives of their loved ones on the particular spot and have been surrounded by those who can help them prepare.
BLITZER: Chief Alvarez, how are your conversations with the family members going? ALVAREZ: I have not had conversations with family members. That's not my job. My job is deputy incident commander for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. So my job is to talk to the first responders and see how they're doing and making sure that we continue to fight.
BLITZER: And how are they doing?
ALVAREZ: They're doing good. Everyone has the mindset of finding somebody in rescue mode and we will continue. Obviously, this all have long-term effects. You know, like we spoke the other day, Haiti happened over ten years ago, and I was the person on that pile and you saw how that affected me when we were talking. So, obviously, we'll have that, and, you know -- but we're with them.
BLITZER: All right. We're with you guys and we're grateful to both of you for what you're doing. I know you're going to be heading over to do this briefing later this hour and perhaps be able to provide some more information. You know the families want to hear as much as possible.
CAVA: Exactly, you know they always hear it first from us.
BLITZER: Mayor, thank you so much. Chief Alvarez, thank you to you as well.
CAVA: Thank you.
BLITZER: We'll grateful to both of them.
Meanwhile, a new class action lawsuit has filed against the Condo Association. The attorney, Brad Sohn, is joining us now. He's representing some of the victims. Brad, thank you so much for joining us. Explain what you're charging in this lawsuit.
BRAD SOHN, ATTORNEY FOR VICTIMS: Thanks, Wolf. So this lawsuit alleges at the moment that the association knew or should have known quite some time before that there were structural integrity issues and seeks relief on behalf of all unit owners. Separately from that, we are also intending to file individual injury and, unfortunately, death-related lawsuits in coming weeks and days.
And I also suspect that we will be adding defendants. We have already sent out discovery requests. We've already sent out subpoenas to begin really drilling down on that question, who exactly knew what when.
BLITZER: Are you learning, Brad, new details from these survivors about the circumstances around the collapse?
SOHN: Well, Wolf, I'm having a little trouble hearing you. I think you asked about the circumstances that different people went through during and throughout the collapse. And I have to say, really, it is just breathtakingly horrible, the things I've heard. I've heard people who had just a moment and grabbed maybe a wallet or something and that was all they were able to leave with, and, of course, now they're homeless, and facing all sorts of uncertainty. I talked to other people who are trying to straddle the line between do I grieve or do I hold out hope. And, I mean, it is just soul crushing to hear, even as somebody who generally meets people on the worst day of their life, frankly.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers by the way new video that has just come in of the scene as this search goes on. It is a meticulous search, a very, very dangerous search. They're going through these piles and piles and piles. It's an awful, awful experience. But these heroes are doing it, and we are grateful to them. There's no end in sight right now.
Does the Condo Association, Brad, do you believe, does the Condo Association bear ultimate responsibility for this disaster? Who else would be accountable here?
SOHN: Well, we certainly need to continue asking those questions.
It's increasingly alarming the things that I'm hearing about more a bit of the engineering firm and a number of other entities as well. We certainly feel very comfortable with what we alleged in the complaint when we filed it, regarding the association. But, again, I anticipate things like this tend to be multi-factorial on some level.
And so I do think that probably there are multiple culpable parties, and, obviously, every single one of those parties will have to be brought in to even scratch the surface at righting these wrongs for all these families.
BLITZER: Brad Sohn, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it, and we'll stay in very close touch with you.
Just ahead, once again, we're awaiting what could be a very significant news conference from top officials here in Surfside, Florida. They're getting ready to provide new information. We'll have live coverage this hour, that's coming up.
And we're just getting audio from first responders as they arrive at the scene. We're going to hear their stunned reaction.
Lots going on, we'll be right back.
BLITZER: This just coming in, a new video of rescuers at the scene of the Surfside condo collapse.
You can see what's going on. A very dramatic search and rescue operation. We're also getting new some new audio of stunned first responders as they arrived on the scene of the Surfside condo collapse. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This building does not look stable. A quarter of the building that's left, we still have people standing upstairs that still need to be evacuated. I see many people on their balconies. The building is gone. There's no elevators. This is nothing. I mean, it almost resembles the Trade Center.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It almost resembles the Trade Center. We just minute away from news conference on the deadly Surfside, Florida, condo collapse. Well, of course, have live coverage to that. That's coming up within the next few moments, stand by for that.
We're also getting new details about President Biden's upcoming trip to Surfside. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us right now. So, Kaitlan, this will be an emotional day for the president and the first lady. Tell us what you're learning about the president's trip
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it will be. I mean, this is going to be them seeing what's happening in Surfside, the recovery effort under way up close for the first time. It's going to be on Thursday when the president and first lady are going to travel to Florida. They'll be there on the ground.
And it is not clear yet how close they'll actually get to the site of this collapse because one major thing that the White House has had to consider when scheduling this trip is delicately navigating just what a big contingency comes with the president when he goes somewhere. And so, of course, they don't want to divert from resources on the ground, doing this search and recovery effort right now for, of course, those people who are still unaccounted for.
So the White House said they coordinated with Miami-Dade County officials as they were planned this trip. They are going to be on the ground meeting with first responders and search and rescue teams that have been working minute by minute essentially looking for people in the rubble of the collapsed building. And, Wolf, we also know they're going to meet with families of those who are still unaccounted for, and the families of some of the victims who have been found since this building collapse last week.
And so, we are waiting to see which local officials President Biden is going to will meet with. It's not clear if he'll have time to meet with the mayor of Miami, with the Governor of Florida. Of course, those are officials who have been holding these press conferences on a near daily basis, as you know, sometimes several times a day.
And one other thing that will be interesting thing, Wolf, is what the president says about need for an investigation here. Because we know on Monday, the press secretary, Jen Psaki, told us that he does supports an investigation, that he's relying on a federal safety panel to really steer the decisions of how the federal government is looking at that and where they want that to go. But now that we are learning about these potentially missed warning signs and what really led to this collapse of this building, that will also be something that the president is likely to speak about when he is on the ground in Surfside on Thursday, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you'll be here as well. Kaitlan, this is -- Thursday will be a very, very emotional day indeed for so many people, especially families who will be hopefully comforted a bit by the president and the first lady. And we'll see you on Thursday. Thank you very much.
Right now, I want to bring in Maggie Ramsey. Her mother, Natalie Delgado is still unaccounted for. Maggie, thank you so much for joining us.
We're expecting this news conference with all of the top authorities in the next few minutes. What do you want to hear? Because I know you have been frustrated over this past few days that -- because you told me the other day you don't think you're getting enough information as quickly as you would like to.
MAGALY RAMSEY, MOTHER IS MISSING IN BUILDING COLLAPSE: Well, it was very hard at the beginning. But now, with the two briefings a day, I think they're doing all that's possible. The problem is that there's no information to give. It's the weather continues to be horrible, they need the weather to be helpful.
And so it is very frustrating, but I'm not pointing fingers, it is just a frustrating situation because when we visited the site yesterday, an emotion shifted, it's now just hoping that they can even identify her, you know?
BLITZER: Yes, I mean, it's really awful situation. Tell us a little bit about your mom.
RAMSEY: My mom was a strong Cuban woman that came in '61 to -- you know, because she wanted freedom of speech, she wanted freedom, and she made it count when she was here. And she worked her way, was living comfortably in her apartment by the ocean, traveling, and then, as of late, really enjoying her family.
BLITZER: And correct me if I'm wrong, I think you tell me you're an only child?
RAMSEY: I'm an only child. So even at the age of 80, she was like, just take her car and linking up to Jupiter and what -- you know I'm like, stop doing that please, you worry us.
BLITZER: Because you live in Jupiter.
RAMSEY: I live in Jupiter, and she'd go an hour and a half, two hours away to see us, but she wanted to be close to us. So she was that strong-willed woman that would want, she would want me to be patient and whatever the reasons were why this occurred, that to come out.
BLITZER: You and I have spoken how important your faith is, your mom's faith and how significant it is, especially at this truly awful moment.
I wonder if you would share thoughts about that with our viewers.
RAMSEY: Absolutely. I have a great network from her friends that live nearby and I have a great network at home. I have a great network of people I've met there of faith, and we're all praying. We're all praying primarily for the same things. My faith is that whether she's here or she's not, she's in God's grace. And so that's keeps me going. But, honestly, my prayer has shifted from potentially finding her alive to at least, God willing, finding her body.
BLITZER: Have you gotten any information at all from authorities about what's likely to occur, something like that?
RAMSEY: No. There -- it's -- when we visited yesterday, I mean you see that it is sand and little rocks and rubble. And they're all picking it up little by little. So they tell us how much they picked up, they tell us when they use certain machinery or when they use sonar, the dogs, and how much of the rubble they've been able to cleared out. So they're telling us as much information, they tell us like if lightning happens, they have to stop, right, the search and rescue for a half hour.
So they're telling us as much. And, you know, the commander is great. And if he doesn't have the information or answer, he writes it down, he comes in at the next briefing and he provides it. And so, it is not a matter of information that they're not providing, it is a matter of there not being information to provide.
BLITZER: You know, it is one of those moments on Thursday, the president and first lady will be here. And they want to meet with people like you. Do you want to sit down and meet with them, tell them how you feel?
RAMSEY: I would love to tell them how you feel, and I would like to stop this from ever happening again. Because I feel like if some very poor decisions were made and it robbed me of saying goodbye to my mother. My father died in August of COVID. I didn't get to hold him. I didn't get to say goodbye. I didn't get to say goodbye to my mother. So I want a sense of accountability for that, that I know I am hoping that the government does intercede to provide that.
BLITZER: I am hoping so too. And it is totally understandable the emotional moments you're going through. This is -- I didn't know about your dad. And, obviously, that was -- I am so sorry, my deepest condolences. As we always say, may he rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing. It's heartbreaking for me to hear what you're saying as well.
And I know it must have been difficult. I have spoken to many family members who are reluctant to go to the site and see the rubble and the pile and all of that, but you went, you wanted to be there.
RAMSEY: I think it was good for me, not easy. It was a horrible day yesterday, but it was good for me to process. And so I was there, it was horrible because some people process by yelling out the names of their loved ones. So as I'm there and I'm just trying to process the moment, you have people there processing by yelling out like, you know, mom or son, or their name, and come out, we're coming.
And you're seeing that, what, it was a hundred and some building is now maybe 35 feet. You're seeing these heroes that they can be falling, they're crying themselves on the pile. You're seeing everybody is hurting. And so it is difficult but it was good to process. It was good to know because it's better to know or feel like you know than not.
BLITZER: I am going to let you go, because I know this is difficult. Give us a final thought about your loving mom, Magaly.
RAMSEY: One final thought. Composure, faith, believe in God, she's in God's grace. We're now here temporarily, we're there whole times. So --
BLITZER: Maggie, thank you so much.
RAMSEY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Our hearts, our prayers are with you. And we wish you only the best.
RAMSEY: Thank you so much.
BLITZER: Thank you very much for joining us.
Once again, we're standing by for this news conference momentarily. It is about to begin on the latest developments in the search and rescue operation under way right now here in its sixth day. Investigators are scrambling to find out how this awful, horrendous disaster, a building collapsing, within 11 seconds in the middle of the night, how this happen.
BLITZER: All right, this just coming into CNN. New dispatch audio of first responders arriving on the scene of the Surfside condo disaster. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This building does not look stable. A quarter of the building that's left, we still have people standing upstairs that still need to be evacuated. I see many people on their balconies. The building is gone. There's no elevators. This is nothing. I mean, it almost resembles the Trade Center.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's almost resembles to Trade Center, awful. We expect to hear from top officials any minute now on the urgent search for 150 people who are still unaccounted for in this condo collapse.
Our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin is following the investigation for us. Drew, I understand you have new information to report tonight.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVETIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, new information that is difficult for the families of these victims to hear, just expressing more and more warnings about exactly what took place.
GRIFFIN (voice over): As more lawsuits are being filed across South Florida in the deadly collapse of the Champlain Tower South condominium, there're more evidence residents, engineers and condo board knew the building was deteriorating. A letter emailed April 9th, just three months ago, from the condominium association board president warned the observable damage, such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since initial inspection.
That initial inspection in 2018, just three years ago, had determined failed waterproofing was causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below the pool deck and entrance drive. It led to a major assessment, $15 million to repair years of damage.
ERICK DE MOURA, CHAMPLAIN TOWER SOUTH RESIDENT: There were leaks in the garage, there was cracks on balconies. So, yes, you need money to fix it, you know? But unfortunately it is late.
GRIFFIN: Erick de Moura told CNN he received the letter in April, outlining how the concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive, roof repairs had to be incorporated. The letter was helping homeowners to understand their share of the assessment, anywhere from $80,000 for a one bedroom condo, up to $336,000 for the penthouse unit.
The bigger question remains, why the maintenance on the building had been deferred for so long and how and why no one foresaw the potential for collapse almost unheard of in a modern U.S. building.
JOEL FIGUEROA-VALLINES, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER, SEP ENGINEERS: It is extremely rare for a structure that's been standing for 40 years to all of a sudden collapse in this way. But I'm sure that, forensically, we structural engineers will figure out what happened and we'll get to the bottom of it.
GRIFFIN: Records show a Surfside building official had reviewed the 2018 report detailing major structural damage yet told residents that it appears the building is in very good shape. The records made public show no sense of urgency to launch repairs as the homeowners association took three years to review inspections, hire engineers and begin assessments to start work. An attorney for the condo board cautions patience.
DONNA DIMAGGIO BERGER, ATTORNEY, CHAMPLAIN TOWER SOUTH CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION: There's other buildings out there with engineering reports as they near 40-year certification that reveal more drastic spiraling and pitting, delamination, rebar corrosion. We need to figure out what are all of the factors that went into making this building fall.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Wolf, lots of attorneys making lots of allegations. The inspector hired -- the engineer hired by the town of Surfside told Brian Todd today there's up to 30 different theories he has of what happened. It may be that grand jury that eventually makes the determination, but still months away. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Drew Griffin reporting for us, thank you very much.
And we see the top authorities beginning to walk over to the news conference. That will begin very, very soon. We'll get new information on that.
In the meantime, I want to get some more. Joining us, Rick Slider, a Structural Engineer, the architect, Kobi Karp, is with us, and CNN's Brian Todd is also back with us as well. Brian, you have been doing a lot of reporting today. You actually visited the twin building earlier in the day. Champlain Towers North, tell us what you found.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we found management of that building, that Champlain Tower North complex that really -- you know, they're focused on maintenance. It really is kind of an obsession. And it's been that way for a long, long time.
We talked to the president of the condo association. We talk to the vice president of that association, and they led us all around that building, their garage, their pool deck, all of it. Looked like it was brand new, it looked like it had been renovated.
And what they told us was their philosophy for decades there has been when you see problems initially, you get to them right away. You don't let them build for years, you don't let them build to the point where there's a $15 million assessment and the residents are really on the hook for a lot of money and maybe you get some resistance there. You get to these problems very early, you maintain it.
You know, they're up for their 40-year certification next year, Wolf. And they say that that they got -- they started to getting ready for that months ago, even though it is not until next year that they're up for this. So it really is -- it does seem to be a bit very different from maybe what the management was in the south tower. But, again, we don't have as much information on that as we need at this point.
But, of course, you're seeing now with these letters to residents, these are the warnings from structural engineer and other things we're seeing, these nuggets of reporting that we're getting on the south tower that there were warning signs, there were things that needed to be addressed and simply were not addressed.
The key, of course, to find out is, were those things that caused directly or indirectly of that collapse.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, stand by. Kobi Karp is with us, the architect. Kobi, it seems these two buildings, the north and south towers, built almost exactly in the early '80s around the same time, the same developers, developed it, built it, they are only two buildings apart from each other, but they seem to have aged very differently.
KOBI KARP, KOBI KARP ARCHITECTURE & INTERIOR DESIGN: I think the main hit, the main event is what's in the report and what the engineer said. It is maintenance and lack thereof. Specifically, what's happening here is that waterproofing membrane, which is the skin of the building, was just deteriorating. And if you look at the report, the engineer is actually stating, I wonder where else it has failed. Specifically, you could look, for example, at the roof.
I think that right here, if the maintenance is the major issue that we have going on, the maintenance and lack thereof, not only of the membrane but structural repair. And the structural repair that was done, obviously, was lacking, as it was done below, and did not take care of the water membrane, which is the most important thing. Because if the water lets go in with the salt that we have here in South Florida and it comes through the concrete, salinity increases and the bone, which is the steel, just corrodes. That is the point of failure.
BLITZER: Rick Slider, you're a Structural Engineer. Back in April, a letter from Condominium Association Board president actually warned that damage had gotten, and I'm quoting now, significantly worse since 2018. So what does that tell you?
RICK SLIDER, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Well, that coincides with the report that was filed in 2018. If you look at the report, they identified a number of areas and especially in photographs. There was one particular photograph there was exposed reinforcing steel, the concrete has fall off or basically broke off. That's a very, very significant issue --
BLITZER: All right. Rick, I am going to interrupt for a moment. Hold that thought. The news conference is beginning.
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FL: -- continued throughout the day, as you know, despite the terrible weather. And we are continuing to make head way in our search. Since our last briefing, very unfortunately, one additional victim was recovered. So the number of deceased is now at 12. And this number of accounted for is 125.
We had previously included the number of deceased in the accounted number, but for clarity moving forward, we will be providing you with three separate numbers, the deceased, the accounted, and the unaccounted. The number of unaccounted is now 149. And over the past few days, we have been conducting an audit of our list of missing persons and we have been working to verify and remove duplicates wherever possible. I hope you can understand, we're getting this information from lots of different sources and often not complete, so it is very important that we go through to cull the list.
So our detectives are working around the clock to get in touch with all of those who have been identified and reaching out to provide information to verify the reports. So we will be producing a more accurate finalized number and getting it to you.
It is important to keep in mind that we will see information from many different sources. For example, multiple family members might call in about the same person, or family members might provide both English name and Hebrew name of a loved one. And some people are reporting in person and some are calling from overseas, some are distant friends of those who are missing. So we're getting all kinds of information from all these different sources. And sometimes we only get a name or an apartment number. Sometimes we don't have both.
So we're sifting through all of this information to determine which of the reports are, in fact, new and which are duplicates, and this is a slow and methodical process. So we ask you to be patient as we continue this audit. And I want to continue to stress, as we have done all along, that these numbers are very fluid and they continue to change.
In terms of work that we are doing to support families, we have now fully opened our expanded family assistance center, and we have three psycho trauma therapists on site along with all of the services we continue to provide, over 20 different organizations involved.
We have been overwhelmed, overwhelmed with the generosity of people throughout this community and the entire world, so many generous offers of assistance and support. And we want to urge those who want to support these families and these efforts to please donate at one of the available on the websites, we have Support Surfside and United Way, Operation Helping Hands.
There are also volunteer opportunities available and many have contacted us about that. You can make a contribution and sign up to volunteer at miamidade.gov/emergency.
So that is a site that combines all the different resources for people who want your help. Our first responders who are the focus of our attention as they continue around the clock on this mound are continuing the brave and very, very difficult task, putting themselves in danger. It is their life's work to search for people alive in circumstances such as this and they are truly the best in the world and we truly have all of the help we need and they have been working nonstop, as you know, for nearly six days.
So please pray for them and their families and join us with support and donations and volunteering as you're able.
BLITZER: We're going to get back to the news conference momentarily. But I want to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, who spent sometime down here, but he's covered a lot of similar stories where there have been disasters and rubble after earthquakes and hurricanes.
Sanjay, talk a little about -- you know, what we can expect. 149 people are still missing, she just said 12 are now confirmed dead, 149 still unaccounted for. It has been day six now.
Walk us through what the chances are that some of them, God willing, will be found alive.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Well, you know, let me preface by saying the teams, some of whom you have been talking to throughout the day today, this is what they do. I worked with some of the search and rescue folks down in Haiti, I've seen their work in other places around the world. This is what they do in terms of not only search and rescue but investigation, as the mayor is describing, in terms of trying to figure out who was where when, all of that. It's challenging work.
You know, when you start to look at the likelihood of survival, Wolf, I mean, you can look at this in a very clinical way, statistically. We know the vast majority of rescues happen in the first 24 hours, about 90 percent.
And I'm talking as you point out mainly around earthquakes, which are similar sort of metaphor in some ways. Well, World Trade Center, Wolf, the last successful rescue that happened there was at 27 hours, just to give you a little context. For people who are rescued after day two, the mean is somewhere around six days or so.
So, you know, we're at six days now, Wolf, roughly. This is sort of getting to be the outer boundaries of even some of the more longer term sort of rescues. We're at that point.
But here's so many factors, again, as you talked about with people, the weather, the status of the person at the time that the collapse happened, access to water, all these things matter, type of collapse, you talked about the type of collapse, what happens.
In Haiti, for example, there are different types of collapses that happen in that massive earthquake, these terms that give you a sense of are there spaces in the rubble someone could survive, these voids so to speak, with the type of pancake collapse where you lose all of the structural support at all four corners. That's harder. It's harder to find voids in those areas.
So, again, Wolf, it is conjecture. I know it is still a search and rescue mission. Again from some of your reporting today. But you know what the statistics show at this point. BLITZER: The statistics are not good. And you've done so much research
in this area, Sanjay. How long could a person potentially survive maybe in that rubble without water or without food?
GUPTA: You know, preface as I will every time anybody asked this question, it varies. It does, situation to situation. Often times, in sort of medicine, people refer to rule of threes, which is three minutes without air. Three days when it comes to water, three weeks when it comes to food. But very rough approximations. What we're talking about primarily is hydration here.
Someone was in a void, able to have access to the environment, be able to breathe in air, would they have access to water in some ways, if there was water sprayed on rubble because of fires, there was weather in terms of rain. That's what I saw in Haiti. I don't know if we have this graphic.
But, you know, in 2010, when I was covering the earthquake down there, there were at least two people who were pulled from the rubble confirmed many days afterwards.
And it was primarily because they did have access to water in some way, which is what we were able to sort out with them. But those are the big considerations, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly are.
You know, Rick Slider, I interrupted you at the start of the news conference. I want you to continue making your point about the worsening condition of this building that collapsed.
SLIDER: Yeah. I mentioned in the report, there are a number of photographs, one of them fairly graphic, that concrete had corroded. From my view of it, and I repaired many building like this, that damage probably should have been addressed fairly quickly after that report was filed.
The other thing that's of significance was the waterproofing and talked about the decks. When I read, I gleaned from it that they're saying in the report that the whole slab had to be removed. To me as a structural engineer, that's a significant portion. Not just a patch. You're removing the whole thing.
So, those two factors -- even in the report, they talk about exponentially increasing in deterioration, which is true. Concrete is very durable product and may work for a long time, say, 20 years and have some damage but once the cracks open, water gets in and the cracks and the acceleration and corrosion accelerates and the damage may increase. What may have occurred over 20 years may have increased double that in two years.
So, that report also talks about that and the report, the letter you mentioned about the board or mentioned earlier, that the material accelerated and certainly over a three-year period of time that's considered likely.
BLITZER: You know, Kobi, you're a Miami based architect. You know these buildings. You worked on these buildings for many, many years in this area.
I assume in the aftermath of this disaster, they have to come up with new guidelines how to go ahead and deal with 30, 40-year-old buildings and maybe some new guidelines how they should be built to begin with.
KARP: That process has already started. The government here, the inspector, the engineers are very proactive.
The same thing happened to us after Hurricane Andrew back in 1992. We basically rewrote the whole building code. I believe that right now, we're starting the same process. The inspections and process, the biopsies that we will be doing to buildings is going to be much more advanced, especially buildings that were built in this period of time. Dade in the '90s, we'll be looking at them very, very, very carefully.
The issue here that we have, the opportunity we have to learn from this is that we have a new day. We have a new day to really take the new technology that we have whether it's sonar, salinity tests by core drilling, whether there is x-ray with the steel condition. We have the technology. We have the ability to do that. We just need to implement it.
And once we implement it as the good engineer said, we will be unstoppable. There is no reason for this to happen ever, ever again.
BLITZER: They got to learn the lessons of why it happened and make sure it doesn't happen again.
You know, Rick, I know you've seen these images obtained by the "Miami Herald"." Do these images help you as an engineer determine at least some of the factors that led to this failure?
SLIDER: Yeah, actually, that compliments the opinions on the report. They identified their structural distress. Their report identifies that. It showed the photographs and locations.
Even though the photographs on the "Herald's" presented on the south side of the pool deck, the expectation is that same level of damage is likely on the other side. Again, that's -- all of this is telling you there is structural distress. The fact they reported that they were going to replace the entire -- or entirety portions of the slab, all of that is consistent with the photographs presented by the "Miami Herald".
BLITZER: Kobi, when you see those pictures, what goes through your mind?
KARP: It's just so sad, because the building is rather young. The building was built in the '80s. We have restored buildings in the '60s. We have restored buildings in the '20s, just down the street.
When this building was built, I was 18 years old. I was in high school. This building should really be maintained and restored. If we just maintain these buildings, we have been in so much better shape.
The problem is purely the maintenance of these buildings. As you can see, the delta between the existing neighboring building built at the same time and like the engineer said, what is the effect of the water? What is the effect of the report? What did you do after you got the report and why didn't you take actions?
If there is a vehicle today that will allow the homeowner association to be fair, generally speaking, the homeowner associations are not engineers. They're not contractors. They don't know what this really is and ramifications and I believe that we will have a vehicle now to protect these institutions and these building.
BLITZER: And as you and I know, we spent a lot of time with these condos and associations, a lot of folks that own the condos don't want to pay a lot of extra money.
All right. Stand by. I want to go to Sarah -- I want to go back to the news conference?
MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: I'd like to also add that I want to sort of supplement that story I told the other night about that 12-year-old girl and tell you where we are on that because a lot of people have asked.
The 12-year-old girl's name is Ellie Sharra (ph). She lives with her mother and her father and her uncle were in the building when it went down. She just happened to be staying that night with her mother. Normally she goes back and forth.
Last night, I met her brother who flew in from Israel. He's 19 year olds old. His name is Avi (ph) and we talked. He mentioned again, I think that his mother is suffering some financial distress given that the father was paying the bills and now those funds are not available.
She asked for assistance. I reached out to Mary Snow (ph) of the Coral Gables Community Foundation, which is also running the supportsurfside.org site. The good news is we now have $1.9 million raised so far at the supportsurfside.org site.
We have already funded a hand full of non-profits and dozens of needy families. It's working. Your donations are having an impact. When people ask, there is not red tape that you would normally expect. We're all working for all those families that are in need and I'm excited that the system is working well.
Thank you, Mayor Cava. Thank you for everything you and Dade County are doing. We're grateful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mayor.
The Creole translator (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor this news conference obviously. But a very, very powerful, emotional statement from mayor -- the mayor of Surfside, Mayor Charles Burkett.
It's heartbreaking to hear all of these stories.
I think Brian Todd, Brian, if you are, just remind -- Brian is not with us anymore, unfortunately. He was doing some excellent reporting earlier in the day.
And, you know, Kobi, I know you're still with us, as well. You lived here almost your whole life. You know this area well.
When you hear what the mayor of surfside just said, this little 12- year-old kid. Obviously, there is such pain going on right now. You know, these are grandparents, mothers, fathers, boys, girls, sons, daughters, great grandparents. Everybody is suffering.
KARP: Like the mayor said. This is unprecedented event, and this event is going to change the way we look into the structure and into the fabric of where we live. We have to be able to go to sleep quietly at night and the way we will look now into the way we maintain structures is going to be a completely new day.
BLITZER: It's going to be a new world right now.
BLITZER: I don't have -- if you've noticed and I'm sure you have because you have a lot of friends living in the buildings up and down the coast over here, a lot of folks are pretty nervous right now here in south Florida.
KARP: And look, there is no need for drama and excitement about it because we are checking the buildings. That's what people are doing on a daily basis. You saw on the video. And I think that now, people are more aware of it so it will make everybody more relaxed.
BLITZER: They are doing questions, answering questions now. The mayor, let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So from the state side of the house, I spoke with the Chief Daminski (ph). This was a joint decision between myself and Chief Daminski (ph). We have two potential areas of development out in the Atlantic right now heading into the Caribbean. So the thought process both the chief and I talked about today, we have all eight urban search and rescue teams engaged in this fight from Florida so we talked about doing a relief.
So, we have all the resources we need, but we're going to bring in another team to, if you will, back fill those resources so that again, there is no more needed resources in the numbers of people, but we want to rotate those out so that we can get some resources back in case in seven to ten days or so, we may be dealing with a tropical cyclone.
Chief? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to reiterate, we always had great federal
teams besides Florida Task Force 1 and Florida Task Force 2, which are also part federal but we're here locally on standby. So, they have been standby. We just haven't deployed them or requested them. Due to the recent five-day forecast with two storms, you know, we decided that it would be best to go ahead and activate them.