Return to Transcripts main page


At Least Four Dead, 159 People Unaccounted for in Condo Collapse; At Least 30 People from Latin American Countries Reported Missing in Condo Collapse. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 25, 2021 - 10:00   ET




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


We are continuing to cover this tragic breaking news out of Florida this morning where 159 people, potentially mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, they're all among the unaccounted for after the collapse of this condominium in high-rise in Surfside, Florida. We know at least four people are dead, 37 have been rescued, four taken to the hospital.

The search of this pile of debris and rubble is painstaking and very dangerous. The Miami-Dade mayor says fire and rescue personnel are facing extraordinary risk dealing with fires, shifting materials, twisted steel and water up to their waist at some points.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they're searching for people in there, right? They're searching for mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, children. Officials say they have heard sounds from underneath the debris. They are not confirming exactly what those sounds are. They said it is very possible it's just the debris moving, metal, concrete, et cetera. But with that news, family members are doing their best to hold on to hope.


PABLO RODRIGUEZ, SON OF WOMAN MISSING AFTER BUILDING COLLAPSE: There is hope. It's just dwindling by the minute.

RABBI SHOLOM LIPSKAR, CONGREGANTS MISSING AFTER BUILDING COLLAPSE: There is a certain hope in the air but it is a very strange kind of a feeling. I've rarely had this feeling except in the war zone.

KEVIN SPIEGEL, HUSBAND OF WOMAN MISSING AFTER BUILDING COLLAPSE: We're dealing day by day. They're now finding more and more people and I hope and pray she's found soon and everything is good.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Those poor, poor people. Well, officials say that President Biden has been receiving updates on all this. He is expected to address the tragedy there later today at the White House. We don't know yet if he will then go on to visit the site. We are following several angles of this story this morning.

CNN's Rosa Flores, she is the at site of the collapse, and Nick Valencia is at the Surfside Community Center, John Harwood is in Washington.

But, Rosa, let's begin with you. A little bit of hope when we hear rescuers say they do hear sounds. They do qualify that by saying just as likely that is sounds of the structure. Have you learned anything new this morning on the progress of that search?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jim, what we're learning is just about the painstaking work that these firefighters are doing and this partially collapsed structure that is behind me. We're learning from officials that these firefighters are working in 15-minute increments. They're carrying about 80 pounds of gear. They are crawling through some of these tunnels that they are creating to try to get to those sounds that you were talking about.

Now to do that, they have to shore up these areas. They're working with structural engineers. And they also have doctors with them, we've learned. Why? Because they want to make sure if they do find an individual, they can provide medical care as soon as possible.

We're also learning about some of the challenges that they've been facing overnight. I was here at 10:00 last night, it started pouring. This morning, same thing, we've had multiple showers and then gusts of wind. Those are factors that complicate this search. It adds more water to the structure, which adds more weight. It also, when we're talking about winds, when you see the pictures of this partially collapsed building, you'll see there are pieces of concrete that are still dangling, mangled rebar. And so it complicates this search to a level that is very concerning and very dangerous.

Some of the public officials here talked to us about that. Take a listen.


RAIDE JADALLAH, ASSISTANT CHIEF OF OPERATIONS, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: We have hope. And every time that we hear sound, we concentrate in that area. So we send additional teams utilizing the devices, utilizing K-9, utilizing personnel. So as we continue to hear those sounds, we concentrate in those areas.

REPORTER: When was last time your crews didn't hear sound out there?

JADALLAH: Throughout the night.

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: This is been done at extreme risk to these individuals. Debris is falling on them as they do their work. We have structural engineers on site to assure that they will not be injured. But they are proceeding because they are so motivated and they are taking extraordinary risk.


FLORES: Jim and Poppy, it is important to note that the members of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Task One Force, these people have traveled the world responding to disasters like this one. This time and for the first time we've learned, this time, it is at home.


It is here in their own backyard that they're having to sift through the rubble hoping to find life. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Rosa Flores, thank you for your reporting. I know you'll stay close with more information.

But many of these families of the 159 people that they still could not account for, say they are holding on to some hope that their loved one may be alive.


MARIELA PORRAS, FRIEND OF MISSING SURFSIDE WOMAN AND FAMILY: And then I'm hopeful, but then time night comes, yesterday at night, the rain, you start thinking if they are alive down there, like what is going on, like how -- how are they in there. Is there a possibility that they're alive? Like, truthfully, look at this mess, I mean, what are the chances?


SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia is at the Surfside Community Center this morning, where many familiars are gathering. And, Nick, I wonder in times like this, how do families keep it together? Poppy talked to a daughter in the last hour. I imagine myself in that same situation and frankly can't imagine it. So what are the families telling you now and what are they being told?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We wanted to you hear directly from them this morning, Jim and Poppy, which is why I want to bring in Abigail Pereira her two friends and I want to get this Andres Galfrascoli and Fabian Nunez, 45 and 43-year-old, along with their six-year-old daughter, Sofia Nunez, are reported missing, according to Abigail. They had fled essentially Argentina because of the coronavirus pandemic there to arrive in Miami and had been here for the last several months.

Abigail was telling me here just a short time ago that it was the night of, right before the collapse happened, about 9:00, 10:00, that they went into an apartment there, an apartment of a friend, and it was at 1:00 that she got the message.

Abigail only speaks Spanish, so I'm going to try my best to translate. How are you?

She said they're not getting information. She wants hard information, reliable information. They're not getting it right now.

What are they telling you?

She said they give say number for you inside but not giving you any information when you call that number.

She said Andres was a surgeon and humble, he was just such a genuine.

And like as I mentioned, Jim and Poppy, that had come here fleeing the coronavirus pandemic in Argentina, in their native country.

Are you sure they were inside? Apartment 803.

She said she's really worried about the six-year-old, Sofia, that if you get any information, if possible, she wants to be clear to show the photo in case anyone out there, any emergency responders could see.

She said she decided to do this interview because if there is anyone in the hospital who has seen these two and their daughter, if there is any one of the first responders who have come across them, please, please get in contact with her.

One more question. Do you still have hope?

She said hope is the last thing that you lose in this situation, and for right now, she still has it. Abigail, thank you very much.

As could you tell, it is a very emotional scene here this morning, Jim and Poppy. They're not getting much information from what Abigail tells me. They spent the last 24 hours. It's been a tireless last 24 hours for these family members who are just trying to get any ounce of information. But the one thing that they are holding out for is hope. And until they get firm and reliable information of what has happened to those that remain unaccounted for, they're going to cling to that hope. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: That poor family, that poor little girl. Nick Valencia, thanks so much. And that is just one of dozens of families now waiting for news.

Well, President Biden is expected to speak today about the ongoing search and rescue efforts at the building collapse.

HARLOW: Overnight, the president authorized an emergency declaration following discussions between the White House and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Let's go to the White House. Our John Harwood joins us this morning.

Look, the president has been very clear, FEMA will do whatever you need, and I believe he's going to address all of this later this afternoon. What can you tell us?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, this is one of those moments where from the president on down, everyone feels a sense on a human level of helplessness about the plight of those families.


But the one thing a presidential administration can do is authorize the resources through FEMA. Yesterday, the president said that as of late in the afternoon, he had not spoken to Florida Governor DeSantis, was waiting for that contact. That contact came later in the evening. And he did, overnight, authorize emergency assistance through FEMA. And so what that means is teams on ground, it means direct cash, financial assistance over the longer term, it will mean loan assistance and all sorts of logistical help that FEMA can help coordinate through state and local authorities.

And we also expect for the president to speak on this later today. He's going to be meeting with the Afghan president at the Oval Office. We expect to see him before cameras and you could expect him either at that moment or separately to address this tragedy. And, of course, the expression of grief and empathy is something that Joe Biden is very familiar with and something that he has displayed throughout the tragedies that he's suffered in his life and that he has experienced as a public official on behalf of constituents. So, yes, we'll hear from him later today.

SCIUTTO: John Harwood, thanks so much. Of course, we'll bring you the comments as they happen. Please stay with CNN as we follow this breaking news, this sad news, near Miami. At least four deaths now confirmed, of course, sadly, 159 people remain unaccounted for in that building collapse.

Key question, what could have caused this? How could this happen in the 21st century America. We're going to speak live with an architect, next.

HARLOW: Also the building collapse now an international incident, many families from Latin America among the missing. We'll have the latest.



HARLOW: We are continuing to follow the tragic breaking news in the search for survivors in the condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida. Vice Mayor of Surfside Tina Paul joins me this morning. Madam Vice Mayor, I'm deeply sorry and I know our words cannot do much, but can you update our viewers this morning? Is there any update? The last we heard is 159 still unaccounted for.

VICE MAYOR TINA PAUL, OF SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: That is correct. That is last update that I have received as well. I raced over here to get to the meeting and I passed by a lot of media and people waiting around the community center, which is across the street from us, awaiting for answers there.

HARLOW: This is a really tight community. I mean, we've heard from so many people from your community yesterday and today, and I wonder about you. Are you personally impacted? Do you know anyone who may have been in the building?

PAUL: Thank you, Poppy. I am personally impacted in that. I know two people that escaped from the building. One is a former commissioner who I served with for four years previously and his wife. And there are two couples that are still unaccounted for that I know from the community that I've known for several years. And even if I don't know the people, they're my community so it matters.

HARLOW: We've heard from families holding out hope that their loved one is alive in the debris, and it is possible, right? There are voids that have been formed an some space that we've seen first responders crawling through to try to access anyone who may be alive. What is the best way for them to get answers? Because there are some frustration among some and that's no criticism, but they're wondering where to go who to call.

PAUL: Right. And I think, if they call us, we will get the information to them. I've had people call me independently and I've put their names on list that we have collected of the people that are still unaccounted for. And we will find the information for them as best we can.

I've been -- companies have reached out to me with equipment that they want to donate for us to help with the excavation. I know we've got equipment brought in yesterday from one of those sources and there are two other sources that have reached out to me. There is a team from Mexico that is also trying to work at the site but they have to go through the proper channels with the Miami-Dade County and such. And I said, if there is anything we can do to help them, if they need authorization from us, we are willing to do that.

HARLOW: We'll put that number on the screen that people can call, but, again, it is 305-614-1819 or they can go to, I believe, it is

You told, Vice Mayor, The Washington Post that this collapse came a day after this building passed inspection. Is that correct? And what kind of inspection? Full structural down to the foundation inspection?

PAUL: No. What I had said was what was told to me was that they had passed the roof inspection. That is what I was aware of prior to learning they were undergoing the 40-year certification, which is not unusual. That is what condos have to do when they reach that age.

So, you know, I was told they passed a roof inspection. I knew the roof work was going on. That was the only work I was aware of because we have received a complaint from one of the missing couples because the tar was being brought up right by their windows and the smell was just overwhelming for them even with the windows closed.


And so we were trying to work with the -- have our building official work with the site to see where they could relocate tar so it wouldn't be so close to them. HARLOW: The New York Times this morning is reporting that in 2015, one of the residents of the building filed a lawsuit alleging poor maintenance of the building and structural concerns. Do you have any -- I'm not asking you to weigh in on that lawsuit, but do you have any sense of the maintenance of this building from a structural standpoint?

PAUL: Unfortunately, I don't. I didn't receive any complaints from the building other than about the tar issue, which was about a month or two ago, so I wasn't aware of a lawsuit there. But I wouldn't be. That is something that is between the building and the resident who filed it.

HARLOW: And if we could, on the extraordinary work that we've seen, and control room, if you're able to pull up the harrowing video of the first responders wading through water between the floors here of the collapsed building, can you speak to the work that they're doing and every step they take puts them in more danger but they continue?

PAUL: That is what they do. And it is really quite amazing and extraordinary. And I know our staff has been working around the clock. Our public works director has been out there. He was out there last night operating a lot of the equipment that was brought in and assisting. And that is just what they do. And I'm grateful for that.

And the issue is that it is delicate because the structure is partially collapsed, so you still have part of it standing and we don't know how safe that is. That is why the hotel across the way was evacuated as well.

So at our community center, we had two groups of people. We had hotel guests that -- some were trying to go back home and some were still on vacation and we had the residents of the building, which is, you know, more critical because they've lost their homes and their family members.

HARLOW: Well, vice mayor of Surfside, Florida, Tina Paul, thank you for your time. I know you are extraordinarily busy so we appreciate you giving us some of those updates.

PAUL: Thank you, Poppy. I'm happy to help.


SCIUTTO: Well, just moments ago, the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, spoke about the situation in Surfside and calls now for federal help.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I was able to speak yesterday with FEMA Director Deanne Criswell, and they are great. They have supported some emergency assistance. And so, obviously, the search and rescue is the primary. Any lives -- they're trying to save lives and that is clearly the most important thing.

We also have a number of people that have, of course, been displaced, they're never going back. The people that got out are never going to go back and live in that building, of course. And so some of them have lost everything that they have.


SCIUTTO: Still ahead, several families from Latin America are among those missing in the building collapse. A moment ago we spoke to a family from Argentina. A live report on the international impact of this horrible tragedy, that's next.



HARLOW: Right now, rescue crews are searching nonstop for any potential survivors of the deadly condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida. At least four people are dead. This morning we know 159 are still unaccounted for. Among the missing are at least 31 people from six Latin American countries.

SCIUTTO: We spoke to a family last hour from Argentina, and a missing six-year-old girl among them. Authorities have confirmed that nationals from these countries lived or were staying in the building at the time of the collapse.

CNN's Matt Rivers joins us live from Mexico City. Matt, tell us more. The impact of this stretches out well beyond America's borders.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim and Poppy. The more time that goes by since this partial collapse, we're learning that this is not just an American tragedy. This is effecting multiple countries across the western hemisphere so far.

Let me give you the breakdown that we have so far from different governments here. We've got nine Argentinean citizens reported among the missing, six from Paraguay, six from Colombia, six from Venezuela, three from Uruguay and one from Chile, 31 in total at this point. But this is a number that has grown since yesterday, and that might continue to happen today in terms of the number of international citizens involved.

We're getting a little bit information on who some of the people are, including the Paraguay first lady's sister. Her sister and her sister's family are among the missing at this point, including three young children. We know that the first lady of Paraguay has now traveled to Miami. She is in Miami at this point as the search and rescue efforts continue.

We also know from a relative that the Chilean citizen that is reported among the missing at this point is apparently a relative of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelle.


So these people that have close ties.