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Building Collapse in Florida; Rescues Underway at Collapsed Florida Condo; Live Press Conference on Building Collapse. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired June 24, 2021 - 09:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


We are following significant, breaking news out of Florida this morning. Authorities say at least one person is dead and many more are injured after this huge -- and this huge such and rescue operation is underway in south Florida after a high-rise residential building as partially -- half of it really there has collapsed.


MICHAEL RUIZ, LIVES NEAR PARTIALLY COLLAPSED BUILDING: I have never seen so many ambulances and police in my life all at once. It looked like something from like 9/11, literally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is by far the most horrific thing that I've seen in my life.

MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: The whole thing came down. I mean it looks like a bomb went off. But we're pretty sure a bomb didn't go off.


SCIUTTO: Our hearts breaking for anyone still trapped inside.

This stunning, hopeful new video just into CNN, a young boy being rescued from the rubble. There are fears, understandable fears, that more people could be trapped. Right now more than 80 emergency teams are working to find survivors if they can. This is what the 12-story ocean front condo building looked like before this morning's collapse. And now a huge piece of that structure came down.

CNN's Leyla Santiago, she's on the scene in Surfside, Florida, with the very latest. Do we have any idea, Leyla, at this point how many people were inside

that building when it came down?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is a very big, unanswered question at this point. I can tell you, it is still active search and rescue where the debris is. The building, what's left of it, has been cleared, the portion that is still standing.

Let me walk you through what we have going on right now.

We are just north of Miami Beach. And the sun has come up so we are getting better visuals. And, man, I've got to tell you, things have really changed in terms of who we're seeing out here. When we arrived there were firefighters. We could see them checking the balconies even, flashlights inside because it was dark. And now you see all sorts of officials gathering. They kind of huddled up just a second ago. So, clearly, everyone is getting briefed, getting the latest.

And they are right next to a Miami-Dade fire rescue collapse unit. So we are expecting to get updates from police, I understand the mayor is also going to give an update in the next 15, 20 minutes. But we can confirm that there was one death, ten people treated on scene, and that they continue to search using dogs under the debris.

Now, let me tell you what I've learned, not from officials, but from those who were here, those who were inside when this building collapsed and those who were outside. I spoke to one man who said he thought it was like a bomb. That's what it sounded like. And then I spoke to one woman who said the dust was so much that it traveled for blocks.

Let me let you listen for yourself.


BARRY COHEN, RESIDENT OF PARTIALLY COLLAPSED BUILDING: I looked down the hallway, and it's a very long hallway, probably 100 yards, 75 yards, and there was nothing there. It was just a pile of dust and rubble and paint falling from the ceilings.

I thought the whole building was going to just collapse. So once the -- we were in the -- in the cherry-picker, a feeling of relief just came over me that was incredible, that I had survived this tragedy.

The building was -- it was still shaking. There was a, you know, it just seemed like it was very unsteady. And I just, you know, knowing how -- what it looked like outside my door, I thought that any minute we could be that same pile of rubble.


SANTIAGO: So, let me tell you what we have learned about the building itself. This is a building that was built in the '80s. This area, by the way, is known as sort of an upscale beach community with a mixture of old and new buildings. This building, we are told by the mayor, did have some roofing work. What role that played, still unclear, if any. But we can also tell you that there's some concern for the building

next to it. There's a small hotel right next to it that they have also taken families out of that building, believing that it's compromised because of the building that collapsed next door.


We do know that the Red Cross is here helping out with that. But the big question, what will now be at the center of this all is, how did this happen? What led to this building partially collapsing in the middle of the night? That will be the central question for the investigation moving forward.

HARLOW: Leyla, thank you for all the reporting and being there and talking to people. It's amazing to hear from that man who escaped.

I do want to ask you about the warning or the concern from the mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, and that is that he said we're afraid the building may be in danger of additional collapse. The question is, how do they carry out a search and rescue effort when the rest of the building could collapse on the people trying to find anyone?

SANTIAGO: It's a very, very tricky situation. And I can tell you that there are more than 80 units here responding, trying to carefully figure out how to move forward. You know, again, when I arrived, this was filled with ambulances, fire trucks, police units. And now they've all sort of gathered there to try to figure out how they move forward.

The mayor did confirm that they are now -- they had dogs out in the middle of the night. That was a tough thing for them. So they are trying to get back again with those dogs to find what they can find under all of that debris.

But, Poppy, you're absolutely right, I mean, this is not an easy go in and see what we can find. There are some very, very big logistical and safety challenges here.

HARLOW: Leyla, stay close, but we also know you need to keep doing your reporting. So talk to folks and get back to us with more information as you can.

In the meantime, let's bring in Dave Downy, retired chief of Miami- Dade Fire and Rescue, and the chair of the Urban Search and Rescue Community for the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Chief, it is so important to have you on because you know this stuff better than any of us. How do you do what Leyla and I were just talking about, which is, how do you continue a search and rescue operation when the rest of the building is at risk of collapse?

DAVE DOWNEY, CHAIR, URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE COMMITTEE, IAFC: Well, that's the biggest concern right now is the secondary collapse. And there you have highly trained, highly experienced rescuers. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is part of the National Search and Rescue System under FEMA. And those members have tremendous amounts of experience. So we have structural engineers that are going to be there assessing the structure, telling them where they can go, where they can't go, what they need to do to stabilize certain parts of the structure in order to effect a search operation.

We use the canines to help locate or zero in on the possibility of a location of a victim. So it's a very methodical process.

SCIUTTO: Miami-Dade, I think, I'll often see when you have issues like this around the country, it's one of these quick reaction teams that will travel to other parts of the country to lend their expertise. These early hours, as you know better than us, are crucial, are they not? If you're going to find survivors, you need to be in there looking now, is that right?

DOWNEY: Absolutely. The search and rescue begins immediately. There's a structured process of removing the surface victims, those lightly trapped. And what's happening now is that they're looking for voids. They're doing void searches. The next part will be starting to de- layer some of the rubble to, again, uncover some void spaces if they exist. This type of collapse, unfortunately, you don't see a lot of the void spaces.

So there's a very methodical process, that they -- that they take. And it's going to take some time. But time is of the essence.

HARLOW: This structure, this building, was built in the '80s. And -- but it's right on the water. And even though it was built before Hurricane Andrew and before the most recent building codes went into effect there in the Miami-Dade area and then statewide a little bit later, it would still be built to withstand hurricanes, would it not? I mean I'm just trying to think of what could take something like this down that was, obviously, you would think, built to withstand hurricanes.

DOWNEY: I think all of us are going to be interested to find what brought this down. In my almost 40 years in the fire service, I have never seen a collapse like this. This type of collapse not associated with any other forces that we know of, it just -- it bewilders me as well. And we're just going to have to wait and see.

The primary concern now, obviously, is the rescue operations and then the recovery operations. And those things need to take place and then the methodical review of how this building collapsed.

SCIUTTO: It's your understanding, I believe, Chief Downey, that this building was occupied to a large degree. Will authorities at this point have any sense as to how many people, or even a rough number of people who were in the building, when it came down, or is it just guesswork at this point?


DOWNEY: Well, there is a process and they are trying now to gather the information, how many victims were removed, those that were in the part of the building that stayed up, all -- the majority of them had to be rescued over fire department ladders because the stairwells were compromised. And so trying to sort out, you know, how many victims came out, where did they go, they have a unification center established, and that process is underway to figure out who's there, who's missing. That will take, again, quite a bit of time to kind of sort it out because there's a lot of, you know, a lot of unanswered questions. It's very difficult to know exactly how many people were occupying that structure at the time.

HARLOW: The mayor of Surfside said just a few moments ago that the dogs that they sent out to try to find any survivors in the middle of the night did not have any hits. Those were his words. But does that mean that -- I mean I would assume they'll keep sending them out. It's just -- it's very sad to hear they didn't have any hits the first time, but that doesn't preclude them potentially finding people, right?

DOWNEY: Oh, that absolutely doesn't preclude it. They're going to run multiple dogs multiple times. These dogs are highly trained. They're an effective member of search and rescue. And they, you know, I've seen them do remarkable things. And so they're going to continue to run the canines where it's safe, and that will be, again, a process that's ongoing for a number of hours.


SCIUTTO: You're seeing live picture here -- live pictures here of a press conference, a local police chiefs and others. When it begins, we will bring that to you live.

But as we wait, Chief Downey, I mean to your point, when you see collapses like this around the world, you sometimes get happy surprises days later, right? I mean, you can -- you can find survivors many hours or days after the event in the best of circumstances.

DOWNEY: Yes. I mean, in the best of circumstances. The early hours are going to be the greatest chance for survival. The type of collapse is going to dictate how, you know, how viable victims could be depending on how big the void spaces are. This type of collapse doesn't lend itself too big, open void spaces. You know, we're looking at these images. You know, this is a 13-story building that's down to, you know, a pile of rubble that's maybe a story high. So that's, you know, it's hard --

SCIUTTO: OK. Stand by, chief. The press conference is beginning. Let's have a listen.

DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY MAYOR: With the residents, with the families, with the community.

What we know at this point is that the Champlain Tower -- Towers South is a 12 story building. It's more than 130 units. And about half of those have collapsed.

A massive search and rescue is underway and we know that we're going to do everything we can possibly do to identify and rescue those who have been trapped in the rubble.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is leading the efforts. And they have been on the scene since the early morning. And they're doing an amazing job.

Thank you so much to our brave, brave fire rescue workers. They have years of experience in this type of operation. And they are doing everything they possibly can do. So we need to allow them to do their work. Very important. We need to allow them to do their work because every minute in this search can make a huge difference.

For -- we've set up a family reunification hotline for those who are trying to get information about their loved ones. Call 305-614-1819. 614-1819. Or you can go to to report online missing persons or to check in if someone is safe. So, again, 305-614- 1819.

Chaplains and victim advocates are on-site ready to support the survivors and family members who are in need of resources. Our social service agencies as well are coming in. They are going to be here to assist in the hours and the days ahead.

I'm thinking of all of our first responders. I know you are as well and praying for their safety as they go about their difficult work of saving lives.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next to speak is going to be the Honorable Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Board of County Commission chairman.

JOSE "PEPE" DIAZ, BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: This is a very sad moment in our community, and especially the city of Surfside, when something like this actually happens. It is important that all your prayers go out to the family members and those who are suffering right now.

I want to thank all the first responders for the incredible job that they've been doing, they have done and they will be doing for the next several days in dealing with this. It is important that we all rally around the families and the people that are actually suffering so much at this time.

I want to thank my colleague also that is here, Ferdinand Garcia (ph), along with all my colleagues that have been calling nonstop to try to find out anything they could do to help out. We are together as a community, working together, as the mayor said. All the details have been given. But we're here together to find anything that we could do to help the families that have gone through this tragedy.

So, on behalf of Miami-Dade County's Commission, as the chairman of the board, we're here to support the Surfside and this community in everything we can do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next speaker is going to be the assistant fire chief of operations from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

QUESTION: What's his name, please? (INAUDIBLE).


Good morning. Ray Jadallah, R-a-y J-a-d-a-l-l-a-h, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

So, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, at approximately 1:30 this morning, responded to a reported building collapse. To summarize, we had a 12- story, 136-unit apartment complex that had sustained a partial collapse. The northeast corridor of the apartment had collapsed approximately 55 apartment units.

Our units began search and rescue efforts. They pulled 35 occupants that were trapped inside the building. In addition to those 35, ten were assessed and treated. Two were transported to various hospitals.

Search and rescue efforts are still ongoing. We do have operations conducting inside based on, you know, additional intel that we're receiving from resources inside.

To, again, to kind of echo the mayor's words, we have established a reunification center. And if you do have loved ones that are not answering your call, we ask that you do contact the phone number that's been given to you, 305-614-1819.

Thank you.

To do the Spanish for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, PIO Ricky Menedez (ph).




SCIUTTO: We appear to have lost the feed there from the mayors and the police press conference.

I believe we still have Chief Dave Downey with us.

Oh, they're back.

Let's go back to the press conference.

Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The director of the Miami-Dade Police Department Alfredo Ramirez.

ALFREDO "FREDDY" RAMIREZ, DIRECTOR, MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Good morning. First and foremost, we pray for the victims and their families. The

Miami-Dade Police Department's role will be the lead investigative agency. We'll be working with Surfside Police Department and our other municipal partners. Our goal is to provide a thorough investigation and closure for our families.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we please have you name and title.

RAMIREZ: Freddy Ramirez, director of Miami-Dade Police Department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: City manager of Surfside, Mr. Andrew Hyatt.

ANDREW HYATT, SURFSIDE CITY MANAGER: First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the victims.

Also, I just want to make sure that the emergency personnel understand how important it is that we have their participation here. We appreciate it very much.

We've been in contact Senator Scott, Senator Rubio's office, have been in touch with the governor's office, Governor DeSantis, county mayor, other towns in the area and we're very appreciative of what they've offered and the assistance, anything we need. This is -- this is not going to be something that is going to be brief. It's going to be something that's going to be for the long term and possibly, you know, at least a week. And, you know, these people behind me, it's very important that you recognize them because there's a lot of support here and this is who is helping to make this happen, that we can resolve this as quick as possible.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) fire and rescue? They said that (INAUDIBLE) people were pulled from the building. Were those people pulled from the part of the building that's still intact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, due to the -- you saw it. Due to the lightning that you just saw, we're only going to allow for four questions. And for the safety of everyone here, we're going to move them out. You guys are going to be moved to the next block over. This is going to be vacated due -- for safety purpose -- for safety reasons.

So just four questions and then we're going to continue on really quick.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire and rescue.

What can you tell us about numbers? What kind of equipment do you have that's uniquely positioned to help with the situation?

JADALLAH: So, in regards to the equipment, we do have our heavy rescue, we have our heavy equipment such as a side -- our parra (ph) techs (ph). We are shoring up the structure on the inside as we continue to tunnel in to locate additional survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, to her question, were 35 people, how many of them were pulled from the undamaged part of the building versus the undamaged part? And how many people -- question mark (ph). And how many were pulled from the part that collapsed?

JADALLAH: All right. So, part one, 35 were pulled out from the structure and part of the collapse but not from the rubble and two were pulled from the rubble.


JADALLAH: That information -- I'll defer that to Miami-Dade Police Department.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many people are still missing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So was there a (INAUDIBLE) -- renovation, as we understand? Do you want to elaborate as to what was going on?

JADALLAH: I don't have that information. I'll defer that.


JADALLAH: Currently, search and rescue operations are continuing based on the intel that we have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you expect additional --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many people are still missing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the search and rescue phase (INAUDIBLE)?

JADALLAH: In regards to the number of people missing, we don't have the total missing. We haven't established that.

Again, we ask that you continue to contact the reunification number that's been given out until we, you know, we go from there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know approximately (ph) how many (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, are you bracing for the death toll to go substantially higher than (INAUDIBLE)?

JADALLAH: At this time we're still conducting search and rescue operations. So we really don't have that type of information.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Folks, because of the lightning, we're going to have to get people out.


We need to -- have you guys start packing up. It's going to be on the lot just north of here. You're going to have -- it's about a block over. You're going to see Miami Beach Police securing the area. That will be the media staging area. All of this will be cleared off for safety reasons.


SCIUTTO: So we've been listening to an update from the Miami-Dade County mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, as well as the fire chief, police department on the rescue here.

Poppy, what stood out to me, one, they said that two people have now been pulled out of the rubble. We saw earlier that that one boy being taken out. And, two, and then they said 35 people taken out from portions of the building that were not completely collapsed. That's some good news there.

But they're still looking, right? I mean they're still looking to see if there are survivors who remain under that pancaked portion of the structure there.

We still have Chief Dave Downey with us.

Chief Downey, listening to what they were saying there, tell us what stood out to you and what your hopes are right now as they continue to look for survivors.

DOWNEY: Well, I think the best news was the fact that they have, you know, rescued another victim. We all saw the early reports of the young man that was coming out of the rubble. So they got to another victim. And they're engaged in these void search and rescues. So it's a very arduous process. They're having to stabilize the structures as they move in and tunnel in. And it's going to take some time.

And so it's a true team effort. We'll use the canines to get an area of concern. We can use sounding devices to listen in and hear something as quiet as a watch, you know, ticking or a person breathing, use visual cameras so we can poke a little hole in and find the void space.

So this is going to take a bit of time. But it was good news seeing that they got another victim out of there.

HARLOW: To reiterate for everyone, again, that this number that you can call if you fear anyone you knew, one of your loved ones was in the building, or you might have any information about someone who was. The phone number, we can put it on the screen, is 305-614-1819. Again, 305-614-1819. You can go to as well.

And the reason I bring this up again, Chief Downey, is because unlike a hotel where they would probably know from video surveillance and check-ins, et cetera, key -- you know, key-ins to rooms who was there, aren't they going to rely a lot on information from people outside the building about who might have been inside it?

DOWNEY: Absolutely. I mean it's very important you broadcast that number, we get that number out and that families that have any doubt, you know, to make the phone call. The sooner that we can get, you know, a reliable list of those that are missing, it will -- it will help the search and rescue operations. If somebody says that, you know, somebody's missing in a certain apartment, we can focus the search and rescue operations in that part of the building.

Right now they're looking for needles in a haystack. And you can imagine the size of this collapse area. And so any help that the family members can provide, or friends, call that number. It's going to be very important.

SCIUTTO: Retired Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Dave Downey, thanks very much.

The latest we're learning from this building collapse in Miami is that 35 people have now been rescued, largely from the portion of that building still standing. Though two people, thankfully, have been rescued from the rubble. Something of a hopeful sign. But, goodness, you look at that collapse there, the pancake structure, and have to worry about others who may have been inside. And also danger to the structure that still stands. We're watching this very closely.

Please stay with us.