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The Situation Room

Soon: News Conference As Death Toll Rises To 20 People, 128 Unaccounted; Travel Surge As Delta Variant Spreads; U.S. Forces Leave Bagram Air Base After Two Decades Of War; Republicans Prepare Strategy For Jan. 6 Probe, Worry Trump's Capitol Hill Allies Could Become Ensnared. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 02, 2021 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the death toll climbs in that Florida condo collapsed with the discovery of two more victims. And now, a hurricane is threatening to complicate the delicate search operation. We're standing by for a news conference this hour. We'll have live coverage.

Also, a surge of holiday travelers raising deep concerns about a post- holiday COVID surge as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads across the U.S. We'll talk about that this hour with the Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy.

And after two decades of war, U.S. troops are pulling out of Afghanistan, departing a key airbase today, with the White House saying expect a full withdrawal by August despite fear of that country's collapse.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the Situation Room.

We're standing by for a news conference on the search for 128 people still missing in the collapse of that Surfside Florida condo tower. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. He's on the scene and has the very latest developments.

Brian, more victims have been recovered. And now, there's potential for a hurricane to actually hit the area.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. When you thought it couldn't get any worse, Wolf, take a look behind me. These rescue workers have been working feverishly all day. I count at least 30 of them on that pile right now. They're just really toiling away down there.

As concerns grow over the stability of the existing structure right here, also, we are getting new information tonight about what the people who ran this building knew about its structural problems a while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) TODD (voice-over): Tonight, new information showing the Champlain Towers South condo board knew of severe concrete deterioration months before the collapse. In an October 2020 letter, an engineering firm hired by the building highlighted the pool structure as a problem area. They stated full restoration repair work could not be performed in part because it could destabilize the surrounding concrete and because the pool was to remain in service."

This as rescue operations resumed last night after a brief halt and a grim discovery, two additional victims, including the seven-year-old daughter of a Miami city firefighter. The father was working at the site at the time and was called over by rescuers.

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY FLORIDA: Every night since this last Wednesday has been immensely difficult for everybody and particularly the families that have been impacted. But last night was uniquely different. It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders.

TODD (voice-over): And they could face more challenges ahead.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): This area could see tropical form -- tropical storm force winds.

TODD (voice-over): Meanwhile, the very similar high rise on the next block is getting further inspection.

MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: Our building official in conjunction with our experts are now getting ready to X-ray columns and do a deep dive a forensic study into the structure.

TODD (voice-over): Planning now underway for demolition of the remnants of the collapse tower, although it could take weeks

CHIEF ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: Now building standing definitely is been a huge obstacle and the hazards that are, you know, for our men and women that are out there working.

TODD (voice-over): Structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer says it's not clear if the standing structure of the Champlain South Tower is in imminent danger of collapse, or if there's a risk of heavy slabs or other debris falling. Still, the possibility of that and the fact that some of the rubble has shifted is worrisome.

(On camera): Should it be demolished?

ALLYN KILSHEIMER, STRUCTURE ENGINEER, HIRED BY TOWN OF SURFSIDE TO INVESTIGATE COLLAPSE: The bottom line is we, you know, there's the emotional issue and then is the structural issue right?

TODD (on camera): OK.

KILSHEIMER: Most probably this portion of the building that you see the debris hanging from that portion of the building most probably should be taken down. But there's a shear wall that you can't see from this view, it's a solid clean wall if you look at it from the ocean. From that shear wall, beyond it may or may not be need to be demolished.

TODD (voice-over): Killed Shimer has been hired by the town of Surfside to investigate this collapse and assess the safety of other nearby buildings. A key safety concern, a large column and a big concrete slab that are hanging from the open decimated facade.

KILSHEIMER: You know, the hanging debris is kind of unstable.

TODD (voice-over): Another big worry, Elsa, the storm that may or may not be a hurricane when it approaches this area and may or may not hit this area.

KILSHEIMER: The first thing I'd worry about even if it's 40 mile an hour winds is debris getting blown off of this building.


TODD: Allyn Kilsheimer says it's not going to be until after they can fully account for everyone who's inside that rubble. And then after that, after they can actually demolish this building, and after that, until the experts like him can actually get into this rubble, physically and painstakingly examine it. Only until after all of that is done, he says, can they begin to start to determine the cause of this collapse. That is all going to take months, he says, so he is asking all of us to be very patient, Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd, we'll get back to you, of course.

In the meantime, let's get some more on all of these late breaking developments. Michael Fagel is joining us, he's a Certified Emergency Manager. Former Miami-Dade Fire Chief Dave Downey is with us as well.

Dave, as the death toll continues to rise, 20 confirmed dead right now, what exactly are the first responders up against tonight?

DAVE DOWNEY, FORMER MIAMI-DADE FIRE CHIEF: Well, they're continuing to work around the clock, it's the continued threat of any falling debris and unstable structure. And they're still maintaining high hopes continuing to work. Obviously, we're monitoring the weather. We have contingency plans for the weather. As a problem is confront we're confronted with we work the problem and move on.

BLITZER: Michael, you've responded to the aftermath of incidents like Oklahoma City, the bombing there on 9/11, responders are now more than a week into this rescue effort, day eight approaching day nine. Does it get more difficult as time goes on?

MICHAEL FAGEL, CERTIFIED EMERGENCY MANAGER: Yes, sir, it absolutely does. These people are working diligently, professionally. But everybody's getting most likely a lot more tired than they were seven days ago. And as we all get more tired, sometimes we start to just feel fatigue and mistakes can happen.

These people are working diligently to make no mistakes to do the very best they can to find every single person that they can.

BLITZER: You know, Dave, as we reported, a Miami firefighter lost his seven-year-old daughter in that collapse. That firefighter was part of the search and rescue team on the scene. That discovery has further added to the stress or the trauma on first responders who were there. Can you talk a little bit more about the toll this is all taken?

DOWNEY: Well, you know, this has, you know, become personal to all of us. You know, this is just a devastating tragedy, not only to our community, but to the people we know. We have a lot of people that, you know, come across to say my loved one is in there.

Obviously, being a firefighter, having the firefighter loses daughter, you know, was devastating to all of us. But the hope of bringing closure to the families is what keeps us going.

And you know, the crews are being rotated now. We have fresh crews coming in from around the country. From FEMA, we have five new Urban Search and Rescue teams here. And as we rotate out our Florida teams that have been working since this happened, we were constantly trying to come and bring closure to these families. But that it was devastating last night for all of us.

BLITZER: Yes, it was so heartbreaking everything down there and spent a week down there is so heartbreaking right now.

You know, Michael, first responders are facing two difficult scenarios at the moment, the pile, certainly, and the incoming storm. How far back could severe weather set this entire process?

FAGEL: Well, Wolf, it could stall it. But knowing these firefighters as we do, they will work in any condition that they can to try and get a successful rescue. Not knowing what the winds will do though to the debris and other areas of things may shift. It may slow them down a bit. But knowing these people, they will work 200 percent to keep going.

BLITZER: They're amazing people and they are heroes indeed. They're risking their own lives to get the job done.

Michael Fagel and Dave Downey, thank you very much.

We're standing by once again for a news conference this hour. This hour is coming up very soon on the Florida condo collapse. We'll have live coverage.

Also coming up, rising COVID cases in parts of the United States as the highly transmissible Delta variant takes hold across the country, even as millions of Americans are traveling this holiday weekend. I'll talk about it with the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. There he is, he standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.


[17:13:26] BLITZER: Once again we're standing by for a news conference this hour on the Florida condo collapse. We'll bring it to you live as soon as it starts. Twenty confirmed, 128 people unaccounted for. We'll see if those numbers go up. Standby for that.

Meanwhile, many U.S. airports are expecting to see the highest number of passengers this weekend since before the COVID pandemic began. And with about 1/3 of U.S. adults still unvaccinated there's deep concern that all that travel potentially could fuel the spread of the highly transmissible Delta virus variant.

Our Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean is over at Reagan National Airport here.

You know, Pete, airports are bracing for some of the busiest travel days since the start of the pandemic. What should travelers expect?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know this July 4 travel rush will actually look a lot more like normal. The TSA says numbers at airports like Nashville and Myrtle Beach are actually higher than what they were back in 2019 pre-pandemic.

The TSA screened about 2.15 million people in airports across the country just yesterday. We will see if today sets a new pandemic era air travel record. In fact, United Airlines thinks that Monday will be its busiest day in the last 16 months. But airlines got a lot smaller during the pandemic. That means fewer planes and fewer workers to staff them.

All of this makes it harder for airlines to bounce back from bad weathers delays and cancellations and flak flight aware. Says that U.S. airlines canceled or delayed about 10,000 flights just yesterday. This means that the vast majority of Americans will elect to drive. AAA says 43 million Americans will hit the road, that number actually higher than 2019 pre-pandemic.


What's so interesting here is that AAA says the real problems will begin on Monday. That's when everyone begins coming home. AAA anticipates traffic. And some major metro areas like San Francisco could be three times the norm. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Pete, thanks very much. Pete is over at Reagan National Airport here.

Joining us now the Surgeon General of United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Dr. Murthy, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, President Biden says he's not concerned about another major outbreak of coronavirus. But do you feel the same way? A lot of people out there are deeply concerned.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Wolf, it's good to see you too. You know, I don't think that we will see a surge like what we saw in January. But we had an extraordinary number of cases, more than 200,000 a day at times, and we had 1000s of people dying each day. But I do think it's very possible that we will see pockets in our country where we do see many surges, as among those who are not vaccinated.

Right now what's happening, Wolf, is that we have parts of our country which have 70 percent, 80 percent vaccination rates, but then we have other parts of our country where the vaccination rate is below 30 percent. And it is the latter group that I'm most worried about, especially as we approach this holiday weekend.

If you are vaccinated, you are actually low risk of getting sick. But if you are not vaccinated, and if you're going to be traveling, and seeing others from various households, gathering indoors, and if you're not mask, then there's a significant risk that the virus will continue to spread.

BLITZER: That risk to kids 12 and under, especially who can't get vaccinated.

California's COVID-19 positivity rate, Dr. Murthy, has actually doubled in recent weeks, could we see similarly troubling trends in other states?

MURTHY: Well, Wolf, we're already seeing increases in positivity rates in various regions in the country, especially where the vaccination rates are low. And keep in mind when you look at its state, and regardless of what its overall vaccination rate is, within a state, there will be some pockets which are highly vaccinated and some which have low vaccination rates. So we've got to really look at this at a local level.

But we are seeing cases tick up and test positivity rates tick up in regions of the country where vaccination rates are low. And this is being driven in part by the Delta variant, the most transmissible version of COVID-19 that we've seen to date, and one that makes it all the more important and urgent for us to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

BLITZER: I know you mentioned this earlier. I just want to be precise, Dr. Murthy, if you're fully vaccinated, you're fully vaccinated, I'm fully vaccinated. If you're fully vaccinated, you should not be worried about the dangers of this Delta variant, the dangers it poses, is that what I'm hearing?

MURTHY: Yes, so the good news about the Delta variant is that the vaccines that we have in the United States appear to be effective. And you know, we've got some good data on the mRNA vaccines, we've got a growing body of data on the J&J vaccine, which is reassuring. But you are well protected, particularly against severe disease and death if you are vaccinated. But you've got to be fully vaccinated.

And one thing we did find is that if you're only partially vaccinated if, for example, you've only had one dose of the mRNA vaccine, then your level of protection is dramatically lower. So, critical to get fully vaccinated. And if you are, then your risk of getting sick or transmitting the virus to others is low.

BLITZER: Yes, you need two doses of the Moderna or the Pfizer.

You sent people who live with someone who isn't vaccinated, including children should still consider wearing masks. So those of us who are fully vaccinated wear masks when we're in public, potentially around unvaccinated people?

MURTHY: Well, it's a great question, Wolf. And this is a place where the CDC looked closely at the data. And what they found is that if you're fully vaccinated, your risk of getting sick or transmitting it to each other is low, which is why they then issued guidance to give people flexibility to choose to wear a mask or not.

Now, some people who are either in higher risk scenarios themselves or who are not comfortable with even a low level of risk or who might be living at home with kids who are unvaccinated or others who are vulnerable, they might decide, you know, I want to see keep wearing my mask or maybe they live in an area where there's a lot of virus circulating. And if they make that decision, that's OK. You know, we're all going to decide where we are in terms of our risk tolerance.

But the bottom line is what people should feel reassured about is that if you're fully vaccinated, again, you have a high degree of protection. So, if you choose not to wear a mask, you still are at low risk of getting sick.

BLITZER: So what's your bottom line name message to the American people tonight, Dr. Murthy, as we head into this Fourth of July weekend?

MURTHY: Well, Wolf, my bottom line message is this, we have seen so much as a country over the last year. We've endured just unimaginable loss of life. So, our livelihoods of our way of life.


But we are blessed now to have not one but three vaccines in the United States, which have helped save countless lives already, helped drop our cases and hospitalizations by 90 percent from the January peak. What we've learned over this past year and a half is that these vaccines are a pathway out of this pandemic. We made a lot of progress, but we're not done. And that's really important to remember, we are not done yet.

And new variants like Delta will continue to make it important for us to push forward, not just in getting vaccinated ourselves, but in turning around talking to our family members, the people we love and asking them if they've been vaccinated. If they haven't, asked them why, listen to them, understand if they have questions, go to and help them find a place where they can get vaccinated.

But that is how we turn this pandemic around by taking steps to protect ourselves, protect the people we love. And the vaccination is really the key to doing that. BLITZER: And you always provide us with critically important life and death recommendations. Dr. Murthy, you're absolutely right. This pandemic is still there. It's still out there, we all got to be careful.

Thank you very much for joining us.

MURTHY: Thanks so much, Wolf. Take care and stay safe.

BLITZER: You too, please.

And stay with us, once again, we're awaiting this news conference on the search effort over at the scene of the deadly condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. We'll have live coverage.

Also ahead, you're getting new details right now on how the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other House Republicans are planning to cope with the new investigation of the January 6 insurrection.



BLITZER: We're standing by for top officials down in Surfside, Florida. They're about to hold a news conference updating us on the search at the scene of the deadly condo collapse. We'll go live as soon as it begins. Standby for that.

Also tonight, America's longest war is on the verge of ending, but not without controversy or criticism of President Biden's decision, to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.

Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's working the story for us.

Phil, the President seems to be sort of visibly frustrated by reporter's questions today about this historic withdrawal. Tell us about that.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's exactly right, Wolf. The president exasperated in part because he wanted to talk about 850,000 jobs being added or a July 4 holiday, as the nation has emerged from the pandemic. But also in part because of how he views the decision he made.

Wolf, when you talk to White House officials about this withdrawal, they make clear the president is exceedingly comfortable in his decision to withdraw. And despite the deteriorating security situation on the ground in Afghanistan, intelligence reports made very clear that Taliban could overtake the Afghan government and as little as six months. That has not shifted the President's view on his decision.

The President reiterated that when he was talking to reporters, got frustrated when reporters asked him multiple questions about the issue. But those questions underscore a clear reality in Afghanistan right now.

Well, the President may be comfortable, his team may be comfortable and the pace of the drawdown has been even more rapid than was initially laid out, there are very real questions on the ground about the U.S. long-term strategy with Afghanistan. There will be 650 troops left in the country for security personnel for the embassy. The U.S. is still trying to exactly lay out how they will target potential terror issues in that country as well, how they will deal with allies and what the support level will be, if any, beyond humanitarian assistance if the Taliban is able to move on Kabul as many expected this point in time.

So there are real questions here. But there's no question about one thing, that withdrawal is happening. Bagram Air Base was turned over to Afghanistan forces yesterday.

More than 20 years, this symbolic and strategic center of the U.S. effort there, now no longer in U.S. hands. This is happening -- it's happening quickly. And the President whether he wants to talk about it or not, is very clear in his decision that he made, Wolf.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to answer anymore question on Afghanistan. Look, the Fourth of July.

I'm concerned that you guys are asking me questions that I answer next week. But I missed the holiday weekend. I'm going to celebrate it.

We're bringing out troops home. We have all across America, people are going to ball games and doing good things. This is good. I'll be allies are all your negative questions, not negative. You have a legitimate question.


MATTINGLY: And they are indeed legitimate questions.

The President, Wolf, also noted when he was asked again about deteriorating security situation, 20 years, he said, the U.S. has been fighting this war for 20 years. The implicit acknowledgement there, 20 years and it's still in this place. There's no reason for U.S. troops to stay at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they say America's longest war.

Phil Mattingly, stand by, we'll get back to you.

CNN's Anna Coren is in Afghanistan for us. She's joining us live from Kabul.

Now, Anna, so how capable are the Afghans right now by themselves against the Taliban? There's deep concern, as you well know.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a concern absolutely, Wolf. And there are enormous challenges ahead for the Afghan national forces. They've been taking, you know, losses on the battlefield, while the Taliban have been gaining momentum around the country launching these offenses, particularly in the north. So you have the Afghan security forces losing territory, often fleeing and surrendering these outposts where they haven't been well resourced.

And these propaganda video is being fed by the Taliban virtually on a daily basis. That plays into the optics of fear and uncertainty.


So within the security forces, you know, morale is extremely low. There are 300,000 security forces in the country, which have been trained by the Americans, we should add. And they will most likely be protecting the capital here in Kabul as well as the provincial cities which the Taliban have yet to penetrate. And in fact, that was the advice given by General Scott Miller to his Afghan counterparts to say that that is what he -- they need to do to focus their energy and attention on the major cities where the, you know, the Taliban yet to come.

But, Wolf, there is no denying huge challenges ahead, even though President Biden, as we've heard, you know, he believes that it's time for Afghanistan to stand up to protect their own people. America has been here now for 20 years. And, you know, as we know, they can't stay here forever.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Anna Coren, be careful over there in Kabul, thank you very, very much.

Joining us now, for some analysis, retired U.S. General Wesley Clark. He's a CNN Military Analyst, who's a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. General Clark, thank you very much for joining us. You and I've been talking about U.S. troops in Afghanistan for 20 years. I remember 20 years you and I -- 20 years ago, you and I were talking about it.

American troops, indeed, not just American troops, NATO troops they've been there for a long time. They're all getting ready to leave within the next few weeks. Is this, General Clark, the right time to make this move?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think is a good time to make the move, honestly, that's been (ph) made before. You know, Wolf, if you look back over 20 years, despite the incredible efforts that we've made, tremendous sacrifices by U.S. forces in their families on this, you cannot build someone else's country for them. You cannot succeed in a counterinsurgency effort, when you cannot isolate the battlefields. And we never dealt effectively with Pakistan. We never put sufficient resources into Afghanistan to really do it. We never build up the non-military part of the mission sufficiently with security over a long period of time to deal with it culturally.

This is a mission that, you know, when we went in, we should have gone in there targeting Osama bin Laden, we didn't. We didn't have a plan to take out Osama bin Laden. That took us a long time. We got Hamid Karzai in there. That was a smart move. And then we didn't follow up. Instead, we really took our eye off the ball and went into Iraq.

And during that period, the Taliban came back. Pakistan views this as their strategic area, until we dealt effectively with the India Pakistan, a conflict and attentions and Pakistan's claims on most of Afghanistan, we weren't going to be successful in a counterinsurgency. The Taliban is externally supported. They got a lot of courageous people in there, and a lot of scared, frightened people who've been bullied into being in there. So, this has been a really tough mission.

I know my friends and colleagues in the military, they don't want to leave. They've shed their blood, they've put their lives on the line here. They've sacrificed their families, and they want to stay and they want to finish the mission. But from the perspective of the President of the United States, he says it's time to leave, I agree with him. We're going to have to let this work its way out. We're going to give the support we can, but we can't stay forever in a country whenever there are strong local external forces working against the very government that we put in place.

BLITZER: As you know, General Clark, intelligence reports have indicated it will likely be only a matter of time before the Taliban actually takes control of Afghanistan, even though the Afghan army 300,000 troops trained by the U.S. NATO forces, the U.S. and NATO have spent billions and billions of dollars trying to get them ready for this battle. Why are they simply, from your perspective, General Clark, incapable of getting the job done, 300,000 Afghan troops?

CLARK: OK, it's the connection between the political, the cultural, the social, and men and women in uniform. And at the top, the Afghan government is never been fully representative, or supportive of the Afghan people. It's been the target of manipulation. It's been corrupted. We've tried to support it, but we're not part of that culture. And we couldn't prevent the corruption of that government. And so, it's always been a controversial government and we've done everything humanly possible, I believe, to try to make this work.


Now if you compare this rope with Vietnam, first of all, in Vietnam, we did have an effective counterinsurgency program called the Phoenix Program and it involved going in at night and forcing the Vietcong to either surrender or they died on the spot. Some people call it an assassination program. The CIA was taken to task for it and heavily criticized afterwards. And probably we said, we'd never do something like that again.

So, we're probably not really doing that in Afghanistan, although we do special operations there at night and try to eliminate some people but nothing like the scale of the Phoenix Program. So, we didn't really have the right tool in place militarily. We didn't have the right social and political backing.

BLITZER: Yes, it's 20 years. That's a long time, as you correctly point out. Let's see what happens.

CLARK: Yes. BLITZER: A lot of fear. It's going to be bad. All right, General Wesley Clark, thank you, as usual for joining us.

Once again, we're awaiting a news conference on the deadly Surfside, Florida condo collapse. We'll bring you live coverage that's coming up in the next few moments.

Also ahead, we're getting some new details on the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his fellow Republicans. What they're planning to do to cope with the new Select Committee investigation on the January 6th insurrection. Plus, new questions about the case prosecutors are building against the Trump Organization.



BLITZER: All right, once again we're standing by for officials in Surfside, Florida and hold a news conference updating us on the search at the scene of that deadly condo collapse. We're told they're getting closer and closer. It's expected to begin momentarily. We'll, of course, go there once it begins. There could be new information released.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, Republicans up on Capitol Hill are preparing their strategy for dealing with the new Select Committee investigation of the January 6th insurrection. Let's go to our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. What's the latest, Manu? What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is still not said if he will name his picks, five picks to serve on that Select Committee. Democrats yesterday, the Speaker named eight of her choices, but McCarthy is still not said. But there is a strategy that is forming assuming that Kevin McCarthy does go ahead and name his selections, which is now expected that he will eventually do that. The strategy, to shift focus away from Donald Trump, his role in inciting the January 6th insurrection.

And look at the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi her response to it and in their view, not an adequate response in protecting the --

BLITZER: -- is about to speak.

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Good evening, everyone. Today, we've had the good fortune to have good weather. And so, we've continued our search and rescue operations on impaired by the weather. And we've continued in the areas of the collapse, which we can access. We're using all the technology that we've used that is available to search in the area of concern.

And over the course of today's search, we did recover two additional victims. We now have 22 confirmed deaths, 188 people accounted for and 126 unaccounted for. Our detectives are continually editing this list as we verify every single report that we have received regarding a potentially missing person. And as a result, these numbers will continue to change as we've told you so often.

Our engineers and the fire rescue team are conducting ongoing testing and evaluation of the site as we work to expand the search area as soon as it is deemed safe to do so by the engineers. This afternoon, I signed an emergency order authorizing the demolition of the building in the interest of public health and safety. As soon as the engineer sign off on the next steps to begin the demolition process. So it's important to note that we're still evaluating all possible impacts and determining the best timeline to actually begin the demolition. Signing the order now is important so that it can help us move quickly as soon as we decided the best methodology to demolish and the specific start date.

Our top priority remains search and rescue. I want to be very clear about that. And we will take no action that will jeopardize our ability to continue the search and rescue mission. I want to acknowledge that this was not a decision we made lightly. And I know especially how difficult this is for the families who escaped the building and who have lost their homes and their belongings. The building poses a threat to public health and safety and bringing it down as quickly as possible is critical to protect our community.

So we will continue to host the twice daily briefings with the families moving today and tomorrow's afternoon briefing a little earlier in the day in observance of the Sabbath. And as the Sabbath or Shabbat begins, we join the families who are grieving and waiting in prayer and reflection. And we know that your prayers and wishes and hopes are with us from all around the world in this hour of tragedy and we thank you, we thank everyone who is with us in spirit.

We're also continuing to monitor what is now Hurricane Elsa and we're urging our community to take action to prepare now. Please don't delay. Head to our website to learn more what you can do before, during, and after a storm and sign up for our emergency alerts and download our ReadyMDC app.


I'm incredibly proud of the work that our team has done here on the ground. So many of our county departments are at the forefront contributing, of course, our Miami Dade fire, the heroes and sheroes on the mound. Our Miami Dade Police Department, keeping us safe and keeping everything moving. Our Office of Emergency Management, monitoring all of these operations, our Department of Transportation and Public Works, our Department of Water and Sewer and many others, they're all here on site working together, Miami-Dade County to get this job done.

We -- we're not just running in emergency response, as you can see, but we're also preparing our whole community for a possible storm at the same time. I also want to thank our Chairman of the Commission, Pepe Diaz, for his ongoing collaboration on storm preparation, and particularly his work with the South Florida Water Management District to prepare.

We are truly experiencing an unprecedented disaster and the extraordinary men and women of Miami-Dade and our federal and state partners continue their mission and the search and rescue no matter what is thrown our way.


BLITZER: All right, we're going to break away from the news conference for a few moments. But there is major news that the Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County just released, first of all, sadly, the death toll has gone up 22 confirmed dead right now. 126 people are still unaccounted for, 126 people on accounted for. But she did reveal, this is news for the first time that she has just signed an emergency order that will result in the demolition of the remaining part of that condominium building.

They will demolish it. They're not working on a timeline when they do so. But she says it's extremely dangerous for the remaining part of that building to remain intact. It could collapse, it could potentially endanger some of the men and women who were part of that search and rescue and eventually recovery operation.

Brian Todd, you're right near there. You can see the remaining tower right behind you. She says she signed this executive order, emergency order, I should say, to demolish it and it's going to happen soon.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and they've got to make a plan to do it. I'm going to show you what she's talking about here. Photojournalist Jose Armijo is going to go over my shoulder, show you the damage, show you the real area of concern where there's so much debris and heavy concrete slabs just hanging out of what's left of that building.

You know, this is what really what they're worried about. And this is why this building is going to be demolished. You see the column down there, that large column they've been talking about that. The question is what it's hanging there? What is that hanging on? The structural engineer we talked to earlier today, Alan Kilsheimer (ph) said, we don't know if that's hanging on one bar, two bars of metal, four bars of metal. If it's hanging on maybe four or more bars of metal, maybe it's stable, maybe it's not.

There's a large concrete slab right above that column. Look at that concrete slab above that column that is just seems to be hanging there. Now that -- all of that just looks incredibly dangerous, and you see the rescuers to the left of it. These are just the rescuers. We can see, they're on top of this rubble. And by the way, they've been working feverishly all day. I count about 30 of them on there right now.

But there are also rescuers between that group and this rubble digging in a trench going over this area, and they could conceivably be in danger. And again, just look at the nature of that debris. This is why the mayor says this building has got to come down. She just said it poses a danger to the safety of the rescuers and to the safety of the general area around here. We're showing you just in tight, why they believe that. It is a very dramatic scene. And of course, you mentioned Wolf, the hurricane which could be a tropical storm when it gets here, may still be a hurricane when it gets here. The structural engineer we talked to says they are worried about that because it all depends on the wind speed. What direction that wind hits this thing. He says it's definitely going to blow some debris off that building. Even if it's like a 40-mile an hour wind, it's going to blow some stuff off that building. Incredibly treacherous.

But this engineer, and I think just like the mayor alluded to said, this can't happen really anytime soon. The demolition, he says, it definitely cannot happen before the storm gets here. That's impossible. He said they have to haul in a lot of heavy equipment to do. He said this heavy equipment is not even close to being here yet. So, when that demolition occurs, Wolf, we really don't know. It could take several days, may take more than a week, but they're determined to do this soon.

BLITZER: Yes, there -- it says that building, in the words of the mayor, poses a threat on top of everything else.


Hurricane Elsa off the coast and could get closer and closer. She says please don't delay. Get ready, prepare now for that complicating matters clearly.

Rick Slider is with us as well. He's a structural engineer. Let me get your reaction, Rick, to what we just heard from the mayor, the mayor saying that she's just signed an emergency order to demolish the remaining part of that condominium building.

RICK SLIDER, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Sure. And obviously, there's an emotional value to the site. But beyond that, from a structural standpoint, the Florida building code requires. There are certain thresholds. Once you reach a threshold on damage or replacement or repair in a building, it requires that the buildings be brought to current codes. So even if the contemplate -- there was a contemplation of repairing the building, the system at the time 40 years ago, the wind loads are significantly different than they are today. The structure would have to be enhanced, reinforced, rebuilt, windows and doors, for example, are requiring higher wind loadings and they also required to be impact rated for the hurricane activity.

As well as that mechanical, electrical systems, fire protection systems, all those systems have to be burned to current code. So it is somewhat impractical, especially with extended damage is there to anticipate that they will replace that.

BLITZER: Well, how do they go ahead and demolish that tower?

SLIDER: Actually, that's another interesting. She comment -- one thing she mentioned were the engineers on the site, they were concerned about the safety of the workers. And that is a big deal. Concrete is a preferred system in South Florida. Most condominiums are built with concrete, but it does rely heavily upon the columns and slabs being connected. Obviously, the building has been compromised. Those connections are not working the way they should. And as a result, a lot of the remaining structure that there could move. And because it's unstable, it causes a risk to the workers that are there.

One of the issues that they'll have to do is -- another impact of this is they are storing materials and components at a warehouse that they can analyze and assess for their determination is the cost. So while some of the areas may be removed, it's anticipated, they'll sort of remove it, I don't want to say in a surgical manner, but in a manner that they can dissect the pieces, put them in the warehouse, and be able to analyze them. But it will take some time to do that.

BLITZER: Before they go ahead and demolish the remaining parts of that condominium tower, there are a lot of apartments there, a lot of people's possessions are still inside, I'm sure they're not going to let people go back in it, it's simply too dangerous. But will they remove personal matters before they go ahead and destroy that building?

SLIDER: I suspect not I've actually had other projects that were impacted severely by hurricane. And once the buildings are open, they're open to the environment, it's been raining mold, mildew, things like that get in there if they're naturally occurring because it's open. The odds of them being able to salvage much I suspect was -- is not going to happen.

Again, the other issue is they're going to use cranes or heavy equipment to remove the materials, the columns, the concrete slabs. And that's a procedure that's going to ultimately damage the balance of the material there. So I suspect there's not going to be a lot that they're going to salvage.

BLITZER: When they destroy that building, and the mayor, once again, she says she just signed an emergency order for the demolition to demolish the remaining parts of that building. Once they do, the concrete, the entire building simply go straight down. Because when I was down there, a lot of the folks said make sure they push it out towards Collins Avenue, as opposed towards the beach where the earlier destruction occurred. It's going to -- it would make search and recovery, search and rescue. Obviously, it's going to be difficult, but even recovery is going to be extremely difficult if all that material falls on top what already has been destroyed.

Yes, Rick, if you want to answer that question.

SLIDER: Yes, I suspect at some point, they will reach the level where the materials would be removed and more of a bulk fashion. But satisfied the engineers are going to develop a plan. They'll strategically locate the materials, they'll determine what pieces basically the pickup sticks, if you will, that they'll be able to take pieces out and salvage them and they'll have a storage area or equipment that they can offload. So, they will lay out a plan when they have a little more time and maybe that's already being done and anticipation removing it in bulk.

BLITZER: But you agree with the mayor's decision based on all the expertise she's getting from all the engineers on the scene. This is why is to go ahead and bring that building down.

SLIDER: Absolutely. I -- first of all, based upon the level of damage, that's extensive. And to -- while -- it may be a good concept to try to repair it, it's just not feasible to do so.

BLITZER: The mayor is going to be joining us live on momentarily, by the way. We're going to get more information from her.

Everybody stand by, we're going to recap what we just learned. Major breaking news from authorities down in Surfside, Florida. The order has now been given to go ahead and demolish the rest of that building.


Much more of our special coverage coming up. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. The Miami-Dade mayor just announcing she's ordering the rest of that collapse condo building demolished and confirming the recovery of two more victims. Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is standing by to join us live this hour.

Also, as the dangerous Delta COVID variant spreads across the United States, travel this holiday weekend is expected to reach levels not seen since before the pandemic and that has some officials sounding the alarm. And Republicans are preparing for potential pitfalls as the new January 6th House Select Committee gets underway. We'll talk about it with the Committee Chairman Congressman Bennie Thompson. He's standing by live we'll discuss with him this hour.