Return to Transcripts main page


Hotel Still Smoldering Day After Inferno; Natalie Cole Dead at 65; Flood Dangers Worsen, Illinois Levee Breached; Thousands More Hillary Clinton Emails Released. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 01, 2016 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:49] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: That inferno that engulfed a luxury hotel in Dubai was still smoldering today. Officials say the Address Hotel just released a statement saying the fire is contained, but smoke was wafting from the 63-story building when the sun came up over Dubai this morning.

This fire broke out about this time yesterday, and we are getting some of the first pictures from inside of the hotel. This broke out really a couple of hours before New Year's was celebrated there. And you can see the firefighters are walking through the charred area of the building.

We are also seeing pictures of another fire that may have reignited on the side of the fire. Sources tell CNN, the initial fire likely in the residence on the 20th floor when curtains inside caught fire. Some witnesses describe the evacuation from the hotel calm and orderly, and others said that people were screaming, crying, running to escape the flames.

The government says 16 people were treated for what were mostly minor injuries, and the spectacular fireworks display went on as planned even though the building blocks away was still burning.

We are learning about dramatic survival stories following that massive hotel fire, among them, a photographer on assignment to shot the New Year's Eve fireworks display in Dubai. He staked out the perfect vantage point, but then he found himself stuck, trapped by flames and smoke on the 48th floor of the burning hotel.

Ultimately, he was rescued, but this was not before a very harrowing ordeal.


DENNIS MALLARI, PHOTOGRAPHER RESCUED FROM ADDRESS HOTEL: We were on the 48th floor of the Address Hotel happening right now. Yes, I can see it right there. Yes! Yes!

We were on the 48th floor of the Address Hotel happening right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Oh, my goodness, I can't imagine what is going through his mind, but we're going to find out because that photographer Dennis Mallari is joining us on the phone from Dubai.

Tell us, Dennis, what was happening in this building was on fire and you were stuck.

MALLARI: Hi, Brianna. My first thing I did was to take a couple of pictures before trying to escape. So, there's another photographer who was on there, and he immediately he took the camera and let's go, man, let's go, Dennis.

And then I just took a couple of pictures, just a couple of pictures, I think it's around one minute the rest of the time, then I was heading to get and grab some extra cameras, at least my equipment and then heading to the exit, and suddenly the smoke blanketed that area heading to the exit.

KEILAR: So, you couldn't go to the exit because there was so smoke. Obviously, that wasn't an option for you and you realized that you were stuck, that your route for escape was blocked.

So you came up with a plan to escape. And maybe one out of desperation. Tell us what you were going to do.

MALLARI: I tried twice but it didn't work, but the winds kept changing and the smoke kept coming back, and it became my experience that a lot of the people died because of the suffocation from this fire, not because of the fire -- not because of the fire.

But, I looked, I stepped back, and I went back into this open air -- corner of the balcony. And from there I simply prayed, very short, but very strong. And then it is like a crane that is used for cleaning the building, and so there is a cable that you ride, and I rode it down the building.

[13:35:00] And then on the side of the building there is a platform where they usually the tower buildings, they have a light installed that every night it blinks, mostly red color. It blinks every night. Just to note that there is a building on that area. And from that scenario, as the smoke filling on the balcony, then I crouched down, and then I stepped out on the side of the building.

KEILAR: So, you crossed yourself, and obviously, I am sure that you were coming to terms with how this is going to work out for you. So, this was sort of a cable on the crane that you grabbed a hold of?

MALLARI: Yes. I had the support myself with a belt.

KEILAR: Oh my goodness. And we are seeing it now, we're seeing some of the video.

Tell us how long you were there before you were eventually rescued, and tell us about the rescue.

MALLARI: The total of the time I was there, during the fire starts it was around two hours. But I was at the edge of the building about an hour. I managed to contact some friends from the ground, and talked to them, could you call or approach anybody from civil defense that tell them that I am here on the 48th floor, I was stranded here, I'm stuck here, 48th floor balcony side. That is it. And then I kept repeating that.

There is somebody from the civil defense that spoke to me, and they give instruction immediately to this -- the guys inside of the buildings, and he was on the phone with me, and then he also giving instructions over the radio communication.

KEILAR: Unbelievable that you got help from friends who were able to get the rescuers to you.

And I do want to add, Dennis, you are consummate professional, because after all of this, this rescue, and this escape for you, you then went on to the assignment of taking pictures of the fireworks, and amazing.

We are so glad to be talking to you today. Dennis, thanks so much for joining us.

MALLARI: Thank you very much.

KEILAR: And happy New Year to you.

The fire at the Address Hotel in Dubai burned so intensely and it spread so fast, it's really amazing that more people weren't hurt or even killed. An article in "The Daily Beast" says that lax building codes in Dubai may have been a factor in this.

CNN contributor Michael Weiss is a senior editor of "The Daily Beast". He is joining us now from New York.

Michael, the headline of the article asks the question, was the Address Hotel built to burn? I mean, it sure look like it yesterday when we were seeing these images.

What are some of the issues that could have contributed to this?

MICHAEL WEISS, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, so, Dubai or I should say the UAE, changed its building code in 2013. But the problem is that all of the high-rise buildings that dotted the landscape in this country are made with mixture of polyurethane and aluminum, which given the climate in the Gulf, even hot temperatures and the dry and windy sort of conditions can ignite this material, the cladding it's called, it's called the skin of the building.

So even though they have enforced more stringent rules now, any building built before 2013, including the Address Hotel, is, of course, susceptible to this. Now, that doesn't mean that the fire was started because of shoddy workmanship or anything like that, but it does indicate that the fire accelerated so rapidly. I mean, it ate up 30 or 40 stories of this building in less than an hour.

And there was similar case, Brianna, in March of this year when a building in Dubai marina unfortunately named the Torch was the same set of circumstances the polyurethane and aluminum in the isolation just acted as sort of catalyst or accelerant for the flames.

KEILAR: And that is what an expert earlier told CNN. He was pointing to the surface of the building which you were describing is possibly contributing to the fire.

We heard people there who had been in the building yesterday and they told us as they escaped, there was siding was coming off, which sort of told you, I'm assuming this is what you were talking about, this polyurethane stuff.

WEISS: Yes, completely.

KEILAR: You mentioned the Torch, but how extensive is this problem overall in the Emirates?

WEISS: Well, I mean, think about it. You know, any buildings gone up prior to two to three years ago, and most-rises that have been constructed -- Dubai in particular is a world hub for luxury shopping and trade, you name it, a lot of the international business goes through there.

And so, you know, for the last several decades they have been creating the fake islands, these -- I mean, right next to or rather sort of a stone's throw away from the Address Hotel is the world's tallest building at 63 stories, and so that is an indication of the sort of the -- you know, the sky scrape of this city. So, yes, anything that's come afterward, anything that's built from 2013 onward will have to adhere to the regulations.

[13:40:06] KEILAR: Can they retrofit, though? Can they fix these buildings that are kind of almost disasters waiting to happen?

WEISS: I am sure they can, but do they want to.


WEISS: The expense that has to into something like that has got to be exorbitant and, again, you know, because there are so many examples in so many buildings, what are they going to do? But if enough of the buildings end up catching fire, then pretty much a ground swell of support to do exactly that.

So, it's a very dangerous set of circumstances, you know? I think that they should learn from this.

KEILAR: Yes, they certainly should.

All right. Michael Weiss, thanks so much. Great insight with that. We do appreciate it.

WEISS: Sure.

KEILAR: Breaking news, a singing icon is gone.


KEILAR: We will remember Natalie Cole and the legacy she and the whole family are leaving behind. That is coming up next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We are following breaking news.

Grammy Award-winning legendary singer Natalie Cole has died at the age of 65.


KEILAR: The daughter of the late Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole who was a standout figure in R&B and pop music.

[13:45:01] She suffered from a variety of health issues in recent years, in her 2000 autobiography, she released -- revealed I should say, that she had a struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.

Our Paul Vercammen is live for us in Los Angeles.

What have we learned from the family, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, they are just heart-sicken. And I have talked to her Uncle Freddie who was also a musician, a producer himself. And he called Natalie Cole just beautiful.

And let's read a statement now from the family, as they react to the passing of their loved one. They said, "It is with heavy hearts that we bring you the news of our mother and sister's passing. Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived, with dignity, strength and honor. Our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain unforgettable, in all capital letters, in our hearts forever."

And also, a great bit of admiration on social media from Lenny Kravitz. He said, "As the New Year ushered, an angelic instrument moved on." Of course, referring to Natalie Cole's voice, and Lenny Kravitz called it absolute perfection. A lot of respect for Natalie Cole here in Hollywood, especially as Lenny Kravitz alluded to, that pure, perfect voice, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, and 65, I mean, that is -- it's just too young, Paul. But I know that she had had the health struggles over the years.

VERCAMMEN: She did, the hepatitis C causing a myriad of complications, Brianna, and she had a kidney transplant and she was very open about this. It was almost as is if Natalie Cole wanted people to learn from her story, her struggles with drug addiction.

And here's what she had to say Larry King back in 2009 about that fight. Many people calling her a fighter. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NATALIE COLE, GRAMMY WINNER: It is a like a virus, and they treat it aggressively, and -- but I had it forever. I had it from drug use. Three ways to get it hepatitis C: tattoos, blood transfusions, or drug use with needles.

LARRY KING: So, you caused your own problem?

COLE: More or less.


VERCAMMEN: And how did she get the kidney that she so desperately needed? As the story goes, a dialysis nurse at Cedar Sinai had a niece who passed away in a car accident, and she donated the kidney to Natalie Cole, giving her some more years on her life, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Paul, it is so sad. All right. Paul Vercammen in Los Angles, covering the story, thank you so much.

Up next, we have more breaking news. Residents evacuating as a levee has been breached in Illinois, and the death toll is rising. We have the latest next.


[13:50:48] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We do have breaking news.

We have just learned that floodwaters are now breaching a levee in Illinois, not overtopping, breaching a broken levee. People in Alexander County are now being evacuated and then flooding in lower Mississippi is threatening millions more as water levels there still won't crest for days.

Meteorologist Allison Chinchar, she's in the severe weather center following all of this.

This is a very big deal. This is devastating to this area.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is, and it's just not one, but we now have two levees that have actually breached.

So, we want to take a look at both of these. They're in a very similar area. Right here, you can see north of the Memphis area, and the Ohio and the Mississippi River come together, and this is where we have had them, the Fayetteville levee, which is on the east side of the river, and also a levee down near Dog Tooth Bend, both of those have started to breach.

Now, again, as we move a little bit farther down, this is also going to be an area of concern, because as we push the water, a lot of these areas haven't yet seen it crest. Now, one of the cities that was back up there, Cairo, which is just part of the southern part of Illinois, that bridge there has been shutdown, it's been closed. The problem with that it's going to cause about a 90-minute detour, if you are planning to go around some of that area.

Again, as we mentioned, some of the cities have yet to see their highest amount crest. Cape Girardeau about January 3rd is when they will crest, and in Cairo, again, around January 4th, because more of that moisture is going to flow down the Mississippi River. Even farther south where we have the levees breached, again, a lot of these places, January 2nd, January 9th, until we get to Memphis.

So, all of that water still has yet to make it all the way down. It is very possible that more levees could continue to be breached as you go farther and farther down the Mississippi River. Cities like Greenville and Vicksburg, again not for another ten days. And the other thing to note, too, Brianna, is with all these, any more rain that we get is going to add more water to a lot of those rivers, especially for those not expected to crest for another week or so. So, we have to keep a close eye on this over the next several days.

KEILAR: All right. We know you will. Allison, thank you so much.


KEILAR: Politics now. More fuel for the Hillary Clinton campaign. She has raised $55 million in the fourth quarter, most of it from her primary battle.

One problem persists, though. The State Department has released more than 5,000 of Hillary Clinton's e-mails, 5,000 more. And officials actually blame the holiday and sheer number of e-mails they were viewing for putting out fewer than expected into the public record.

The State Department was supposed to release 8,000 of these emails. It says it will release more next week. All of her work related e- mails have been ordered released after a freedom of information lawsuit.

I want to bring in CNN investigations correspondent Chris Frates.

We're still talking about her e-mails, this is going to keep going as we see the releases.

CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIONS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, this is like the story that never ends, Brianna. I think it's worth remembering some context here.

This latest batch is part of thousands of pages the judge ordered the State Department to publicly release last year. Remember, that ruling came after it was disclosed that Clinton did government business from a private e-mail server kept in her home.

As you and I both remember, that disclosure sparked a huge political fire storm and e-mails that were released yesterday, they included 275 that had been upgraded to classified. Now, it's important to note, none were classified when sent or received by Clinton, and that's a point that she's made repeatedly on the campaign trail. You know, that's largely because Republicans have attacked Clinton for sending the now classified e-mails from a private server, arguing that this all endangered national security.

So, the political fights over these e-mails are going to continue well into this year, Brianna.

KEILAR: One of these emails, Chris, talks about how many times she visited the White House. What's up with that one?

FRATES: Right. So, this is a "Washington Post" article that reported the number of times cabinet members had visited the White House. After it ran, you know, Clinton sent an e-mail to aides, calling, she says the column is ridiculous.

[13:55:03] And she asked them to, quote, "correct the record," and she instructs her aides to, quote, "please go through my schedules and count my visits to refute this."

So, her concern looks like it was that her visits had been undercounted in Washington when influence is measured kind of in proximity to the president. It's really no small thing, as you know, Brianna.

KEILAR: No, but that's really interesting. It's very telling there.

Then we know this famous Diana Walker photo of Hillary Clinton where she's looking at her BlackBerry. It went viral, spawned all these memes, this led to an e-mail exchange. Tell us about that.

FRATES: Yes, right. So, this one is kind of fun. We found the e- mail alerting Clinton that this now famous photo, as we see here, she's wearing sunglasses, checking her BlackBerry, had gone viral. Clinton asks, why now? That was on the way to Libya, to which her chief of staff just said simply, "You look cute." So, Clinton kind of embraced that text from Hillary meme. But as you might remember, opponents later used that photo to cast her in a negative light when talking about this whole e-mail controversy.

KEILAR: Yes, it was a tumbler, that's why it started, to answer her question belatedly.

No, interesting stuff. Chris Frates, thank you so much. Really appreciate that report.

For all of the latest on all of the presidential contenders, head on over to We will tell you all about them.

And coming up at the top of the hour, we have the latest on the shooting of the streets of Tel Aviv that left two dead and at least seven injured in broad daylight. The suspect still on the loose. Was this terrorism? We will be looking at that ahead.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar. And we are starting with breaking news of a possible terror attack in Israel. We are following this manhunt for the person who opened fired at a pub

in Israel's capital. Two people were killed in the middle of the afternoon in the shooting in Tel Aviv.