Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Frantic Search For Survivors One Week Since Collapse; Bill Cosby Released From Prison After Conviction Overturned; Bill Cosby Released From Prison After Conviction Overturned; Frantic Search For Survivors One Week Since Collapse; Miami-Dade Mayor: Death Toll Rises To 18, Two Victims Were Children Ages Four And 10. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 30, 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: 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 in Surfside, Florida. And we're following breaking news.
We're standing by for a news conference on the urgent, the desperate search for 147 people still missing nearly one week since the condo collapse disaster right here. 16 people are now confirmed dead. Those numbers could change when officials update us shortly.
The effort continues full force tonight. We're going to get the very latest when the mayor of Surfside joins us in just a few minutes. He's standing by live.
The other breaking story we're following tonight, Bill Cosby released from prison after a truly stunning ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturning his sex assault conviction on a technicality, all that coming up.
But let's begin right here in Surfside right now. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us for the very latest on the condo collapse. Brian, it's almost a week since the disaster. There's no let up at all in the grueling delicate, very, very dangerous rescue operation.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No let up at all, Wolf. Tonight, we're getting new accounts from survivors of the collapse and new information tonight on the difficulties that rescuers are facing.
ASST. CHIEF SCOTT DEAN, MIAMI FIRE DEPARTMENT SPECIAL OPERATION: Right now, our sole objective is to find any way that's potential alive and to get them out.
TODD (voice over): Tonight, the frantic effort to save lives nearly one week since the Surfside condo collapse.
CHIEF ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE FIRE DEPARTMENT: Very difficult to move any of the large concrete slabs. We're seeing them just pulverized underneath and crumbling as we're trying to move them.
TODD: A rescuer with the Israel defense forces telling CNN his team found on open space in the packed rubble.
COL. GOLAN VACH, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES NATIONAL RESCUE UNIT: The balconies between them remain a big space of air that we crawled. We crawled in those tunnels and, unfortunately, we didn't find anything.
TODD: Newly obtained dispatch audio from the night of the collapse shows the first rescuers arriving on scene within minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alright, we got active people trapped on the rubble.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Multiple patients trapped. We're trying to make our way to them right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This building does not look stable.
TODD: All this as we're getting new personal accounts of what unfolded. CNN has obtained this recording from a survivor, Raysa Rodriguez
RAYSA RODRIGUEZ, SURFSIDE CONDO COLLAPSE SURVIVOR: I got to check on these guys. Oh my, God, what the hell. The whole entire building is gone.
TODD: Her attorney who is suing building says she looked down the hallway and there was no building there. Another survivor says, well before the collapse, she heard noises, first, just banging, then more intense noise.
SARA NIR, ESCAPED BEFORE CONDO COLLAPSE: Suddenly, around 1:10, I hear like a smash, the wall is collapsing. The wall above me, and I said, wow, they are really doing major construction. I need to take care of this problem. Then it was a big boom. And I was running to see where the sound come from and I saw all the garage collapse.
TODD: At the Champlain Towers East complex, a few feet away from the collapse site, fearful residents are being told of urgent efforts to sure up their building. According to a building official and a letter to residents from the building's condo association obtained by CNN, specific repairs are beginning this week, including shoring up a pillar where concrete spalling or crumbling was observed.
And sensors will be installed on several support pillars throughout the complex to detect any movement of the pillars.
ROBERT LISMAN, RESIDENT OF CHAMPLAIN TOWERS EAST: We'll kind to have the trash but verified attitude where we'll take the word but we want to see reports, we want to see the data to support to what they are telling us.
TODD: Robert Lisman, who's lived in the Champlain East Complex for six years, says he made building management aware of damage to concrete pillar, following the collapse next door. CNN was shown a disturbing view of the collapse site from a unit inside the building. There has been claims when he told building management of the damage he saw, they were slow to address it and not as transparent as they could have been.
LISMAN: I found that unacceptable.
TODD: A building official we spoke to flatly denies that, saying they had seven engineers come to the complex that they've handle it quickly and thoroughly and that informed residents every step of the way. As Lisman and other residents of the tower seek more reassurance, Lisman tells us he's not been able to tell his five-year-old daughter that a building has collapsed next door. Instead he says his daughter it's a construction project. And all the personal coming combing through it are there to keep people safe.
Why did you feel you didn't necessarily want to tell her what really happened?
LISMAN: I don't think a five-year-old benefits from knowing that a building collapsed.
You know, there's nothing that a five-year-old can do about it. And at that point, it's more about protecting them from having seen something like this because it's not normal. Buildings are not going to start collapsing around the world or at least not here in the United States.
TODD (on camera): And despite concerns about the building and its proximity to the collapse, Robert Lisman tells us he plans to still live there with his wife and two children until a structural engineer tells him it's time to get out. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much. Brian, standing by, he is going to be getting more information. We'll get back to you, Brian. Thank you very much.
Joining us now, the mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett. Mayor, thank you very much for joining us. Tonight we'll mark one week since the collapse of this building. I know you're speaking all of the time, multiple times a day with the families who are so desperate. They are so heartbroken. What are you saying to them?
MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: Well, I'm -- what I'm saying to them is that we're not stopping. We're not leaving anybody behind. We're going to pull everybody out of that rubble because there's some talk about, you know, is this a rescue, is this something else. It's a rescue. And it's always going to be a rescue until we get to the very last person.
BLITZER: It's a search and rescue operation. It's not a recovery operation.
BURKET: That's absolutely not. BLITZER: We're still searching for people who are alive.
BURKET: We will be searching for quite a long time until we get them all out.
BLITZER: We learned today that, all of a sudden, discover some tunnels underneath. I know you've been fully briefed on all of this. What does that suggest to you?
BURKET: Well, it suggests that there are voids. And, you know, we're finding voids and voids are good. Voids mean there's a safe space for someone who, with good luck, could be in there and could hopefully be waiting for us to extract them.
BLITZER: I know you're going to get ready for this briefing also that's going to be coming up this hour. We're going to be getting latest information to the mayor of Miami-Dade and others, I don't know if the governor is going to be there.
BURKETT: First, families get the information.
BLITZER: The families are being briefed now.
BLITZER: And so they will -- if there's new information, new numbers, anything like that, they are told, but then they'll come over and brief all of us.
You spoke today about the critically important role that these rescue dogs are playing. And I see the pictures of the dogs running all over the place but you've studied this. And explain what's going on with these dogs.
BURKETT: The family wanted to know. And they want know what's going on and they want to deep dive. You know, they want to get very detailed. And what the politicians there -- as a matter of fact, I give Mayor Cava a credit because what she did was she eliminated everybody out of that briefing except for family members who are affected. There's no one else in those meeting now, which is great.
So they get to ask their questions and one of their questions is what are you doing with the dogs? What do the dogs do? Can they find things? And the answer is the dogs are amazing. We have different kinds of dogs, we have cadaver dogs and we have live human dogs. And they search for those two different things. And they're running both of those dogs over the site all the time.
Those dogs can find stuff in high winds. They can follow distance -- they can go from distances. They are very, very extended and they can find things that are deep down into the rubble. So -- and the handlers are dying to get in there as are the dogs, because I met with them all this morning.
BLITZER: I know also that they're, all of a sudden, finding a lot of personal items all over the place, mementos, picture, jewelry, clothes. What do you do with that?
BURKETT: We'll we've all picked up that stuff. I got some at my house that I'm going to be bringing back to town hall. And I expect that there will be some kind of memorial. I know there's a memorial now up the street. And I think people are bringing stuff to that memorial also. But I think all that stuff is going to be very, very important for the families.
BLITZER: I was over at that wall today. And I saw the flowers, the candles, the pictures. It's a tribute. They are honoring what the 147 people who are still unaccounted for. You see the pictures. It's so heartbreaking, I got to tell you.
I know the president, President Biden, the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, will be here tomorrow. You'll be among those who will be meeting with them. What do you want to say to them and what do you want to hear? They'll be meeting with the rescue workers. They'll also be meeting with the family members and it's going to be a very emotional moment.
BURKETT: I have a very short message for the president, and that is thank you for doing your job. He did a great job. He called me the day after, his office did. And they said, in so many words, that we're going to do whatever need to get this job done.
And we're going to cut through all the red tape. And you know what, they performed. We're drowning in resources here. Like I've always said, we don't have a resource problem. We have a luck problem.
You know, you see the rain, you mentioned the rain. You know, we've had challenges. But through the challenges, we have kept going. And I'm expecting, as we get lower into that debris pile, then we're going to find voids and we're going to have miracles and we're going to pull people out.
BLITZER: And I hope and pray for those miracles. Final thought before I let you go. Anything you want to let our viewers know.
BURKETT: Yes. Well, listen, we had a meeting with the condominium to the north, which is basically the identical building where people are concerned about what the situation is with their building given this one fell down and we don't know why.
BLITZER: Because that building was built almost exactly around the same time by the same people, the same company.
BURKETT: With the same plans.
BLITZER: And on the same kind of land too.
BURKETT: Exactly. So, too many similarities to be comfortable. What we have done is we offered the residents all alternative houses. Surfside, supportsurfside.org has raised almost $2 million. And I'm happy to report that those funds are being expended and they're being expended for something like that too. So it's working. BLITZER: Yes. Well, Mayor, I'm grateful to you for the important work you do.
BURKETT: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. We'll look ahead to this briefing that's coming up. I know you'll be there as well. Mayor Charles Burkett --
BURKET: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: -- thank you very, very much. All of this of course is having a huge, huge impact on the victims' families. Once again a 147 truly wonderful people unaccounted for.
Rachel Spiegel is here with us right now. Her mother, Judy, is among those missing. Rachel, thank you very much for joining us.
RACHEL SPIEGEL, MOTHER MISSING IN BUILDING COLLAPSE: Thank you.
BLITZER: I spoke to your dad and your two brothers yesterday. Tell us the latest that you're hearing. You're still praying and hoping for a miracle, right?
SPIEGEL: We're still hoping and praying. I know that they have incredible teams that are working really hard. My dad happens to have a friend that's, you know, one of first responders and we have been talking to him and he said they are working so hard. It's the best team here. And I love and appreciate that, but still, I want to find my mom.
BLITZER: how are you holding up?
SPIEGEL: I mean, not well. I've been very emotional over the past week, obviously. But, you know, I'm not going to give up.
BLITZER: I know you have two young kids.
SPIEGEL: I do.
BLITZER: Yes. And you told me Scarlet is four. Sloan is two years old. Does Scarlet, who is four, does Scarlet have any idea what's going on?
SPIEGEL: Scarlet does. Scarlet knows that my mom is missing. She originally thought that my mom was playing hide and seek in her apartment and asked if she could go and help find her because she knows all of the places that my mom would hide when they play together.
You know, my mom was really staying in Surfside because she was helping me. You know, I'm a working mom. I -- you know, during the pandemic, you know, schools were closed. You know, they didn't have any -- as much after care. And my mom was driving Scarlet to every activity, helping her with her school work, everything, you know?
And so, the latest with Scarlet is that, this morning, we talked a little bit and she said, well, mommy -- I mean, grandma must be in California because my dad was doing work in California. So she knows that when someone is away for a bit, they must be in California. So she asked me if the planes were working again because we told her that they weren't working during COVID. And, you know, she wants -- she's been asking to go to California.
BLITZER: Because she wants to see her grandma?
SPIEGEL: She told my sister-in-law yesterday that my mom, her grandma, is her best friend in the world.
BLITZER: I believe that. Tell us a little bit about your mom.
SPIEGEL: My mom is the most caring person. She remembers every detail. She is so thoughtful. An example of that is what happened the night before. You know, a week ago today, Wednesday night, my mom had remembered that I told her that Scarlet wanted this particular Disney dress and when we looked, it was sold out.
And so she went back and looked for the dress. It was available in a size four and she bought it. And so that was the last text exchange I had with my mom. I posted it on my Instagram and Facebook the exchange of what happen. So we have the dress and the dress actually arrived Saturday night.
So that was hard to get the package. But Scarlet wore the dress all day Sunday. And, you know, it's a very special dress for us. But that's how my mom was. My mom always was thoughtful and making sure Scarlet had everything she needs and wanted. And she was just that kind of mom and grandma.
BLITZER: Your mom and dad have been living here for several years. Your two brothers, I spoke to your two brothers yesterday, they're obviously -- it's a terrific, wonderful family. First of all, how is your dad and your two brothers, how are they doing?
SPIEGEL: I mean, no one is doing well. I mean, my dad and my mom have like fairy tale marriage.
BLITZER: And your dad happened to be out of town.
SPIEGEL: Right. He was in California working. And, you know, thank God, for me, if I was going through this with two parents, I don't think I'd been standing. But for him, I think that he's also dealing with some survivor's guilt even though he does not want to talk about it. But as the daughter, there's guilt. And, I mean, last night we had dinner together.
We're going to have dinner together tonight. But he was like weeping in my arms. He is -- this is his best friend. My parents were very committed to each other.
BLITZER: They were married for a long time.
SPIEGEL: It would have been 39 years this coming November. But almost 40 years. I mean, they are an example to me and my brothers, our friends, our extended family. I mean, they're perfect in my book.
BLITZER: Yes, I know. I got do know your father this week and your two brothers. One of your brothers is a trauma surgeon. This is traumatic. This is so difficult, I know, for you.
The president and the first lady will be here tomorrow. They want to meet with family members. Do you want to meet with them?
SPIEGEL: Absolutely. I want to meet them.
BLITZER: And tell us what you want to say to them. Because they're going to look at you, President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, and then they just want to hear, in situation like this, you know the commander in chief becomes the comforter in chief.
SPIEGEL: Yes. You know, when you go to bed at night, you never think that this is going to happen. You go in bed, you think you're in your house, you're safe. We thought my mom was safe. If we ever had any inkling that anything like this would happen, we would obviously not go there.
And we need to find her. We need to find her. We need the president to know that we're not going to give up. We need the president to know that we're thankful for all the first responders that are helping us. We want to shake his hand. We want him to know who my mom is.
We're not going to stop until everybody knows who my mom is because we need to keep her alive and I hope we're reunited with her and she is alive. But regardless of what happens, we're going to do everything in our power to keep her alive.
BLITZER: We're praying and hoping together with you, Rachel Spiegel, we hope and pray, Judy Spiegel, your mom is alive and that she will be found. We can only hope and pray.
SPIEGEL: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Thanks and give our love to your dad and your two brothers.
SPIEGEL: I will.
BLITZER: And, of course, to Scarlet as well.
SPIEGEL: Thank you, thank you.
BLITZER: Okay, thank you very much.
SPIEGEL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we expect officials here in Surfside to give us an update on all the late breaking details in the search for survivors. Stand by. We'll have live coverage of the news conference that's coming this hour.
Also breaking, Bill Cosby is a free man tonight after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturns his conviction on sexual assault charges. Much more of our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: We're only minutes away from an update from top officials here in Surfside, Florida amid an urgent search for survivors in the ruble of the collapsed condo. We're going to have much more on that during live coverage of the news conference. That's coming up in the few moments.
But there's other major news we're following right now. Bill Cosby, he is out of prison tonight after a truly stunning decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court over turning his conviction for sexual assault.
CNN's Brynn Gingras is reporting on the story for us tonight. Brynn, give our viewers an update.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. I mean, from the time the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court released its opinion to the Time, Bill Cosby was home with his family. It was only a matter of hours, seemingly giving whiplash to the dozens of women who have come forward over the years with allegations against Cosby.
He served just under three years up to ten year sentence for that 2018 conviction, which I know you remember, Wolf, was a pivotal moment in the me too movement after the high court said that Cosby's due process rights were violated.
GINGRAS (voice over): Tonight, Bill Cosby is free from prison, released after a Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturns his sexual assault conviction.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He says his heart is just beating really fast and he's happy to be here.
GINGRAS: Cosby was seen leaving the prison earlier today in this white car returning to his home outside of Philadelphia with his attorney.
BRIAN PERRY, BILL COSBY'S ATTORNEY: We said from day one, we just didn't think he was treated fairly and that the system has to be fair. And, fortunately, the Supreme Court agreed with us.
GINGRAS: The court deciding prosecutors violated the 83-year-old former comedian's due process rights, writing, he must be discharged in any future prosecution on these particular charges must be barred. According to court documents, Cosby was originally promised immunity in exchange for his testimony in a civil case.
That promise came from former Prosecutor Bruce Castor, who, many years later, went on to defend former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. But a decade later, a different prosecutor used the earlier testimony against Cosby in his criminal trial. In 2018, Cosby was sentenced to three to ten years in state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. That conviction came after a mistrial on the same charges. Cosby has long fought for his released being denied appeal in 2019 and denied parole just last month.
His conviction was the first high profile celebrity case in the Me Too era and his release dealing a blow to the multiple women who accused him of sexual assault. Victoria Valentino, telling CNN when she heard the news, she was stunned.
VICTORIA VALENTINO, BILL COSBY'S ACCUSER: It's a gut punch. There's no other way to describe it. For a legal glitch to come up after all of this is just -- what does that say about a woman's worth, a woman's value? Do our lives mean nothing?
Here we are back to square one. We can't even say, yes, we're going to prosecute him again because, apparently, the whole verdict has been literally overturned. That's outrageous.
GINGRAS: A lawyer for three of the Cosby accusers tweeting, he is not released because he's innocent. He is released because a prosecutor promised him years ago that he would not be brought to justice. Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents additional accusers telling CNN --
GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY, BILL COSBY'S ACCUSER: Even though the court overturned the conviction on technical grounds, it did not indicate Bill Cosby's conduct and it should not be interpreted as statement or a finding that he didn't engage in the act of which he's been accused.
GINGRAS: But Cosby's former co-star, Phylicia Rashad, coming out in support of the decision, tweeting, finally, a terrible wrong is being righted. A miscarriage of justice is corrected.
GINGRAS (on camera): And you can imagine the criticism at that Cosby's on-screen wife received after that tweet, so much so that she had to send out another tweet essentially saying that she supports survivors and she wants healing.
Now, we also have heard from Andrea Constand, who was the woman at the center of that criminal case. And I want to read part of her statement to you. It says today's majority decision regarding Bill Cosby is not only disappointing but a concern and that it may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system.
We remain grateful to those women who came to tell their stories to D.A. Kevin Steele and the excellent prosecutors who achieved a conviction at trial, despite the ultimate outcome, which resulted from a procedural technicality. And we urge all victims to have their voices heard. Wolf? BLITZER: All right Brynn, thank you very much, Brynn Gingras reporting for us. Let's get some insight right now from our Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates, and CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson.
Laura, walk us through how this actually happened. Did a mistake by the prosecutors lead to Cosby's release today?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: A deal by the prosecutor led to the release. Remember, the court did not say that he should not have been convicted. The court essentially said, say, he should never have been tried.
And why is that? Because back in 2004 when this case first came to light and into the understanding of the prosecutors in Pennsylvania, they essentially made a cost benefit analysis and said, we don't think we have enough here to be able to meet our burden of proof in the criminal courtroom. But you might be able to meet your burden of proof in the civil world, which has a lower standard and threshold for the evidence. And as burden for proof there, and so they told Andrea Constand's team essentially, you should go forward with a civil litigation.
Well, in order to do that successfully, you got to have a deposition. And why would Bill Cosby had testified if he knew that he might one day later be prosecuted criminally? And so the prosecutor back then, Bruce Castor said, look, that I will make a deal and I will agree that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania will not criminally prosecute you. You no longer have to risk having what you say in a court of law in the civil context to be used against you down the road. And, therefore, he was able to deposed.
Now, they tried to use that language at the criminal trial when, essentially, the commonwealth reversed and said we will now seek criminal charges. This Supreme Court ruling essentially said, no, a deal is a deal. And you will be held to the agreement made by the predecessor, not the trial prosecutor. And the only relief was to relieve him and to overturn the conviction.
It's pretty procedurally stunning but it's in line with what the prosecutors normally want to have happened just to have their agreements be ironclad.
BLITZER: And, Joey, to be clear, Cosby has not been exonerated yet he's a free man tonight. What do you say to those who argue that this is not justice? And Bill Cosby, by the way, just tweeted this, I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence. Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who stood by me through this ordeal. Special thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law. So what's your reaction to that, Joey?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, what happens, Wolf, is there's two narratives here, right, and emotions are absolutely raw. You have victims who really demanded and wanted justice. They banded together and they were brave enough to come forward and say what matters, heck, we're not going to take it anymore. At the same time, you have Cosby saying this is wrong. It's improper. It shouldn't be done.
And so at the end of the day though, purely on the law, what the court had to do was make a decision on the merits and say, listen, the reason we're here many first place is because Cosby, who has a right to not say a word, against self-incrimination, Fifth Amendment right, he had the right to do that. But you told him, commonwealth, that he would not be prosecuted. Base upon that he sat for not one, not two, not three but four depositions.
In doing, so he talked about Benadryl, he talked about Quaaludes, he talked about other things. And we wouldn't be in that position but for him having waived that right. And so to the extent that you really compelled him to testify and then said, never mind, we're going to prosecute you anyway, that that's patently unfair.
And so, look, that's the process that we have. That's the procedure that we have and you could like or love or hate or fall anywhere in between, but this court has opined at end of the day that he will be barred from further prosecution and to the extent that he made statements that he was not otherwise obligated to make, that, you know what, they got it wrong and as a result of that, he will, you know what, not see any jail anymore.
He's released and he's free.
BLITZER: And Laura what about the women who have spoken out against Bill Cosby. Do they have any other legal avenues that they can pursue?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the Supreme Court said he could not be retried on the facts of this case. But, of course, if there are other cases that do fall within the limitation period that are not time barred, really, you could actually prosecute him on those cases.
The conundrum here for so many, as we look at and think about all of the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct in the past, they had been time barred because their cases and allegations were well outside of the statute of limitations period. And so there is a notion of helplessness and the feeling of helpless for those victims at the moment I time.
And I'll note one of the things that was said about the idea here that, look, I used to be a sexual assault prosecutor and looked at the delayed reporting cases. There are already hurdles in place in our justice system about sexual assault victims. And there are added layers. You're talking about delayed reporting.
And so now you've added a different hurdle here with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania essentially saying that even after a jury trial, that this person could be released and, in fact, was and had his sentence over turned, I do wonder about the chilling effect and I wonder if people coming forward will be reluctant thinking if this is a fool's errand to pursue justice. But I certainly hope that won't be the case for the overwhelming majority of people who want their voices lifted and will look to the justice system for vindication.
BLITZER: You know, it's interest interesting, Joey, that Cosby's stunning release today comes after he was denied be parole just last month, right?
JACKSON: Without question. And so what happens is, is that this court is not looking at that. This court is simply looking at the legal matter of whether or not there was fairness that pertained to his trial. Now, everyone has a different notion of fairness and what fairness means and what justice means to everyone is different.
But at the end of the day, what this court said that is if one prosecutor binds the state not to prosecute and as a result of that, a defendant waives their right and they speak when under the law they don't have to and that speaking gets them into a legal quagmire, then that you cannot do.
And so I know emotions are raw everywhere and victims certainly deserve measures of justice. And to Laura's point, whether you delay report or whether you're brave enough to report three years, five years, ten years later, certainly, you want to continue to do that. And women need to be heard. But in terms of this court, it didn't look to any of those political matters. It just looked to the matter of did he get a fair shot. They said, no.
BLITZER: All right. Joey Jackson, Laura Coates, thanks very, very much.
Once again we're back here in Surfside, Florida. We're reporting on the search and rescue effort that's underway right now. It's a very, very desperate effort.
We have a special guest, Major General Ori Gordin of the Israel Defense Forces in charge of the Israeli Home Front Command, which is taking part in this operation. General, thank you very much for joining us.
What exactly have you and your fellow Israeli troops been called to do?
MAJOR GENERAL ORI GORDIN, ISRAELI HOME FRONT COMMAND: First of all, I was here on a different mission. I was on a visit with the National Guard for the last week. But suddenly they deployed the government into the United States government, decided to accept our offer of help. And we sent our troops that night here.
We bring experience and expertise in this field of rubble piles in the ruins of the houses due to different circumstances but the outcome is about the same. And we also bring the fighting spirit.
Again I must say, I find here the agencies and the local authorities working very hard, doing very hard work to find the missing people in the site.
BLITZER: It's almost a week now since this building collapsed. What's the latest? I know you've been there. What's the latest you can tell us on the search and rescue operation?
GORDIN: I just came here. I got briefed by my team and by the meeting officer on the site. But I think they should give the right status numbers. I'm really not aware enough in the details of their method. But I must say, they are working day and night relentlessly to find the missing people on the site and let's continue to hope.
BLITZER: I spoke with Colonel Golan Vach yesterday, who's in charge of this Israeli search and rescue operation. He's got a lot of experience in dealing with this. And, in fact, Israeli forces have gone all over the world to help out in crisis like this. He was telling us it's very, very complicated and especially going into one week.
Is there hope?
GORDIN: I think there is always hope. Although, I have to say that the more the days go by, the chances are lowered. But I think that there's always hope. And we have to continue the efforts to find the missing people on the site.
BLITZER: What is your basic message to your U.S. counterpart who are involved in the search and rescue operation based on Israel's experience?
GORDIN: First of all, professionally, all the head that they and Golan is much more experience in the professionalize that.
BLITZER: Golan Vach, lieutenant colonel.
GORDIN: Exactly, the commander of our special rescue unit -- search and rescue in Israel. But I think the effort must go on and must go under the details and information they can find site and from the families who know some details about the people.
We are working with the local authorities in the different forces all the time. And I think there is progress in understanding the site and understanding the whereabout of these people before the accident happened. And I think the chances they come to find missing people are getting higher.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Vach said that --
GORDIN: He's a Colonel.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel, I said, yes, Lieutenant Colonel Vach said that they found some tunnels. That's encouraging, isn't it?
GORDIN: This is a professional way of speaking in terms of there are, there are always places beneath the different layers of the pile, of the rubble pile. That some can squeeze in through them. It is -- there is always some places like that. And we, the force is trying to use them to get to the missing people. And if they don't exist, some of them are being blocked and so on. They open new ones. This is the work of the rescue teams on site. BLITZER: I know you, your Israeli friends have been here for several days now. But you just got here. Have you yet had chance to speak with any of the families who are so desperately searching and hoping and praying for their loved ones?
GORDIN: I did have a few minutes to speak with families. I spoke with them. I told them about hope and about efforts. No details because I don't have the details. But we did speak with them.
And I must say, the local government and the local officials are working with them, with the families at all times. They are collaborating, gathering information from them and giving them the information they have. So I think there's a tight connection with the family at all time.
BLITZER: We see the mayor walking over. They're going to have this news conference. They're going to briefed us. They briefed -- they first briefed the families in private. And if they have new information on how many people are now confirmed dead, how many people are still unaccounted for, they tell the families first. And then they tell us, the public. They go before the cameras. And I assume in Israel, they do the same thing.
GORDIN: Yes. I think that, first of all, the first know must be the family. They are the ones most concerned. They are the one most connected to that. So they must be informed first. I think this is the right way to act. We act the same way in wartime and in disaster time. So I think this is the right way to act.
BLITZER: How long will the Israeli specialists stay here and help?
GORDIN: At the beginning we said, the mission until Sunday.
BLITZER: This coming Sunday?
GORDIN: This coming Sunday. All of a sudden, next day will be end of this mission.
BLITZER: But based on your experience and what you've heard from your experts, including Lieutenant Colonel Vach and the others, it's a week now. How long can people survive, potentially, without food or water?
GORDIN: So there are stories and events that people survive even more than seven days and eight and well up --
BLITZER: All right hold on one second General. I want to go to news conference. The mayor here in Miami-Dade County is opening up.
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FL: Since our last briefing, I'm very pained to tell you that we found two additional bodies in the rubble, which brings our total count to 18, 18 fatalities. It is also with great sorrow, real pain, that I have to share with you that two of these were children, aged four and ten. So any loss of life, especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event is a tragedy, but the loss of our children is too great to bear. [18:40:00]
Our community, our nation and the world, we're all mourning with these families who have lost loved ones and we grieve with them and we lift them and we lift them up as a community and we're so grateful for the support from all of you everywhere as we continue to dig through the rubble.
So we're now standing united once again with this terrible new revelation that children are the victims as well. So, in the worst of times, we come together and we pray together. Thank you. Thank you to everyone.
139 people are now accounted for and 147 are unaccounted for. Our detectives are continuing to verify each and every contact, each and every tip that is received about missing people, and I wanted to share a few other operational updates.
As of 5:00 p.m. today, just past, the National Hurricane Center released projections for a potential tropical cyclone five. And as of right now, we don't anticipate impacts from the system right here. However, it's too early to detail any potential impacts for early next week. And so the storm is continuing to develop. We are closely monitoring its trajectory and progress.
The Florida division of Emergency Management director, Kevin Guthrie, and Miami-Dade Office of Emergency Management and Deputy and sitting Commander Charles Cyrille will provide further updates on how Florida Department of Emergency Management and Miami-Dade County are working together to take all the steps to prepare for and manage this latest development.
We've already moved swiftly and we've added resources to our operation and preparation for a possible storm event and more resources and personnel are being deployed as we speak. It's truly a collaborative and comprehensive operation. You've all seen it.
And over the past day, our footprint has expanded any further. Resources coming from the U.S. Small Business Administration, they're now deployed on the scene and they're providing support to the families that have been impacted as well as businesses.
I've spoken with our chairman of the Commission, Pepe Diaz, and we have been working closely on several issues together, including the south Florida Water Management District, to make sure that they create the capacity to handle the amount of water given that the ongoing storms and the possibly future tomorrows headed our way. It's a phenomenal amount of water, you all know, and we need to make sure that we can handle it effectively.
And I want to thank our National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, the director from Washington, D.C. Dr. James Olthoff and his staff are here, as well as the Small Business Administration Public Affairs Specialist Roberto Baltodano. They are here today and they are going to share some important announcements and updates with you. Thank you to the incredible team on the ground who are giving everything they have to this operation around the clock. Our gratitude is immeasurable. And so please, let's continue to keep them, the victims and the families and their loved ones in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you and God bless.
BLITZER: All right, we'll get back to the briefing momentarily. But you just heard the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, gave us very, very additionally sad news that the death toll has now increased from 16 to 18 confirmed, 18 people confirmed dead.
But it's so heartbreaking to hear from her that the latest two victims, two children, aged four and ten, two kids. The death toll rising to 18, and she also confirms that 147 people are still unaccounted for. They are searching -- this rescue -- search and rescue operation continues.
And she made a very important point. The weather has not been good lately. It's been raining. Some torrential showers, lightning and potentially, according to the National Hurricane Center, there's a tropical cyclone that they are monitoring right now.
The last thing this heroic men and women who are engage in the search and rescue operation need is horrible weather coming to this area because it's been almost a week and they are desperately, desperately searching for family members who, God willing, are still alive.
Art Acevedo is joining us right now. He's a Miami police chief, president of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association.
Chief Acevedo, you and I have spoken on many occasions. Tell us your role and what's your reaction when you hear the mayor say 18 confirmed dead including these two kids, only 4 and 10?
CHIEF ACEVEDO, MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT: I mean, it's heart wrenching. The thought of those babies being taken like that and their families and I've got a friend there, one of our police chiefs locally lost his mother. It just -- it just breaks your heart. We owe it to those families. Our teams are here, Miami police has been here since day one with our partners. All hands on deck, I think it speaks to the great resources we have here in south Florida.
BLITZER: Are you holding out hope? It's been almost a week.
ACEVEDO: You know what, look, I just -- I think things are always in God's hands. Never say never. I think with every passing hour, every passing day, you know, you lose a little hope but until we're done, until the search is done, I'm not going to -- we know people have lasted a lot longer than a week in other places. Let's keep praying for these families that we do get a miracle.
BLITZER: Here in Surfside, they needed all the help they can get. You're the police chief in Miami. You've got a big force. So, tell us exactly what the men and women who work with you are doing. ACEVEDO: Yeah, from the moment this happened, we sent patrol resources
over here. Lieutenant, sergeant, patrol officers. We have our command post. We have our crime scene techs are here. Our rapid DNA machine that can help identify sadly, people with body parts, if needed.
So, whatever the city needs, whatever our partners need, we're here just like every other agency.
BLITZER: Have you ever, personally -- I know you have been a police chief. I think Houston. You've been all over the country. Have you ever seen a building here in the United States simply collapse? Not because of a hurricane or an earthquake or terrorism like in Oklahoma City or anything like that, but simply collapse?
ACEVEDO: No. This was a first for me. I mean, we know we had buildings collapse during construction kind of like the Hard Rock Cafe that going on in New Orleans. Not like this, I have not seen it. It's devastating to see, devastating the watch the video.
What we learned for it, hopefully, the engineers will study it and come out in the long run.
BLITZER: What should they be looking for, right now, do you think? I mean, what everybody -- obviously, the first, the priority is search and rescue to find people who are still alive and save them. That's priority number one. Priority number two is find out exactly what happened to make sure it doesn't happen again.
ACEVEDO: Well, I think, look, for me, priority number two is getting bodies out of there and people have the final closure. And then, close -- two way would be, let's see what lessons are learned --
BLITZER: Stay with me, Chief. The mayor is speaking again.
CHARLES CYRILLE, MIAMI-DADE DEPUTY INCIDENT COMMANDER: Good evening, every one. I want to begin my update with some news related to potential tropical cyclone five in the Atlantic Ocean. Contingency plans for this incident have been developed should this system become a threat to Miami Dade County.
As we move into hurricane season this year, I encourage all Miami Dade County residents to download the ready Miami Dade app to stay informed of latest developments for the safety of both you and your loved ones. If you'd like more information on hurricane preparedness visit MiamiDade.gov/oem. We'll continue to keep you updated and informed as the storm arrives closer and preparations change or develop.
I also have above related information about family assistance center. So far, we've had 26 organizations assisting the families at the center providing an array of services such as mental health, grief counseling, financial assistance, lodging, travel and many other services.
Today, we had 28 families that were served. We also had over 8,000 people generously donate to the support surfside fund. We thank you for your generosity and donations. If you'd like to make a financial contribution or sign up to volunteer, please visit MiamiDade.gov/emergency.
As I noted this morning, this has been a unified effort Miami-Dade county and our federal, local, private and international partners and wee, are in their gratitude. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.
In Spanish, Miami Dade Fire and Rescue director of media and public relations, Erica Benitez (ph).
BLITZER: Speaking with Chief Acevedo of the -- Miami police chief, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
I mean, he's warning now that tropical cyclone five potentially. This is hurricane season right now. That's the last thing these search and rescue workers it's been pretty bad the last couple days, raining and lightning and thundering but a tropical cyclone or tropical storm or hurricane, it's pretty bad.
I know you're monitoring this closely, as well.
ACEVEDO: Yeah, that would add insult to injury and that's the last thing we need. Right now, it's not tracking towards us but you know how that goes. Until it's past us we get prepared in case it comes this way. And that's why they're making contingency plans as we speak, when it comes this way.
BLITZER: Some of your fellow police chiefs said to me they've noticed and discovered fake go fund me sites people are trying to raise money, steal money and argue it's going to go to these families and others involved in the search and rescue operation.
I know you've been monitoring that. You're the police chief. These are bad people.
ACEVEDO: I mean, they are the worst of the worst, and the lowest of the low and I can tell you it's happening in our jurisdiction. We're going to find them and we're going to do everything we can to prosecute them and our team will start looking at that with the agencies you see out here.
So don't give to them. Go to the Miami-Dade website. Go to surfside website. Do not go to any of these other fake ones.
BLITZER: It's really a significant -- I know you're working this very, very closely, chief. Stand by for a moment.
Meanwhile, a federal safety agency is expected to tonight they will launch an investigation into the building collapse here in Surfside, Florida. This according to a senior administration official after an initial assessment, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, called NIST, a small agency within the U.S. Commerce Department, is expected to announce their decision during the evening news conference alongside state and local officials. This is only -- get this, this is only the fifth time they have ever
launched an investigation into a structural collapse since they were given this power right after 9/11.
This is a really significant development, Chief Acevedo. Everyone wants to investigate what exactly happened, because all these people, you know this area, you know this area well. There are a lot of condo buildings almost exactly the same built in the '80s and they have some structural problems and a lot of folks are living in the billings and have nowhere to go but they are nervous.
ACEVEDO: And they should be. I mean, there's a twin building exactly by this builder, exactly like the one that collapsed two buildings over. And so, hallelujah the federal government will look to see what went wrong and what we can do to make sure families don't die in their sleep in this nation as if it were some third world country.
BLITZER: When you heard about it. It happened at 1:30 in the morning, we're now in day seven. I don't know if they woke you up, they told you about it. But what went through your mind when you first heard that a building like this, 12-story building collapsed?
ACEVEDO: It was disbelief that that would occur but, you know, it's happened and now we have to do is try to figure out why it happened and what can be done to protect existing buildings and strengthen the code as we move forward, especially in this humid, salty, beach environment that we're in here in South Florida.
BLITZER: I want to get to Brian Todd, our journalist, our reporter who is getting more information right now.
Brian, I know you're working your sources. What else are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new video tonight to show our videos. This is water leaking in the garage of the Champlain Tower South complex. This video provided to CNN by Attorney Adam Moskowitz (ph) who is representing Raysa Rodriguez. She's a survivor of the collapse that lived in that building. Moskowitz said that this is video that his client shot in August of 2018 and she sent -- well, actually, she sent a complaint to the condo association regarding this water leaking in August of 2018.
CNN does not know exactly the conditions surrounding this video, this leaking you see here. It's also not known how the condo association responded to this video. It's very important to note, also, Wolf, that we do not know whether this leaking that you see in this video played any part in the collapse of that building on Thursday.
But Adam Moskowitz, the attorney to Raysa Rodriguez said to CNN earlier today. She's -- quote, she's been complaining for months, for years, and telling the building in photographs and video. She's been saying that the building is falling apart. There is dripping on her car every week. Her and her friends are complaining and nobody listened to her, nobody.
[18:55:03] That's according to Adam Moskowitz, the attorney.
CNN reached out to the condo association for comment and that condo association said they will not comment pending litigation. But here you see it, Wolf, just some additional information and videos regarding some of the structural leaking of water into the parking lot. This is around August of 2018 when resident Raysa Rodriguez shoot this video and did report those problems to the building management, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, so, so, disturbing three years ago and I don't know what, if anything, was done to fix the structural damage that we're learning about every single day, we're learning more and more very disturbing information.
Brian Todd, thank you very much.
Chief Acevedo, you see that -- three years ago, there were these scenes of significant potential structural problems and I don't know what they did, if anything.
ACEVEDO: Yeah, I think that's one of the questions that folks will have and one of the questions that will have to be answered to see the negligence involved. Is it simple civil negligence, if any, criminal negligence, if any. When you have this many people missing, these many people dead, that the investigation at the federal, state, and local level needs to include answering those questions.
BLITZER: All right. Hold on one second. I want to get reaction from consulting engineer, Matisse Levee (ph), who's joining us right now as well. What's your reaction, Matisse, when you see and hear these disturbing developments?
BLITZER: I can't really -- the audio is not very good, Matisse Levee (ph), we'll try to fix that and get back to you.
Chief Acevedo is still with us.
Your basic instructions to the men and women of the Miami police department right now are?
ACEVEDO: Well, safety, safety first. Safety when they're here. And, obviously, as we go around our city, our city, just like a lot of those cities now are ordering inspections of these older buildings.
BLITZER: Has that started in Miami?
ACEVEDO: That started in Miami as well and we need to be situationally aware. When we see something, we need to report it. The more eyes and ears reporting any type of possible problems, I think the better off we're going to be.
BLITZER: That's a huge, huge challenge that you, all the men and women that work with you now and on top of everything else, there is still plenty of crime you have to deal with, as well, not just this.
ACEVEDO: Yeah, when you look at this area, this is a vertical city that I work in in Miami. They are building up, not outward, and so is this entire beachfront here. So, there's a lot of work to do but I'm hopeful the people that died won't be in vain. That we'll end up with better building codes, better inspection processes and hopefully safer buildings in the future.
BLITZER: And once again, the headline from this news conference, we heard from the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, the death toll has now gone up again. It's 18.
BLITZER: When I got here it was one, then four, then five, then nine, 10, 11, now 14. Now it's 18. And so sad, because she just confirmed latest two victims are kids, children, 4 years old and 10 years old. Their bodies have been recovered.
ACEVEDO: Just heart wrenching but you know, I would hope people that believe in God that we continue to pray for a miracle and people not give up on trying to find people here and not -- I know those first responders haven't given up and none of us should give up and let's hope for a miracle in the upcoming hours and days.
BLITZER: I think it's important that the president and first lady will be here tomorrow to meet with search and rescue teams. Those who are searching trying to find people and family members who are so desperately -- they're in need right now from what we're calling the comforter in chief. I know you're going to be here, as well.
ACEVEDO: Yeah, I mean, the comforter in chief and chaplains are here because we have a lot of emotional trauma here and we have to deal with the emotional trauma with the families and I think by him coming, the first lady coming, not to mention the faith leaders here will help these families get through this challenging time.
BLITZER: I've been speaking to the rabbis, ministers, priests and they have their hands full because there are a lot of religious people here as you and I well know. Different faiths and they're all doing exactly the same thing. They're begging, begging and begging.
Chief Acevedo, good luck to you. Thanks again for all you do and your men and women.
ACEVEDO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
And once again, we're here at the scene of the Surfside, Florida condo collapse where at least 18 people are confirmed dead, 145 people are still missing. And we're only just beginning to learn the identities of the victims.
Before we leave you tonight, we want to take a moment to remember some of those lost in this truly horrific disaster. And you can see the names and the ages of those who have been identified by the authorities. Our deepest condolences to their families. May they rest in peace. And as we say, may their memories be a blessing.