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At Least Four Dead, 159 Missing in Condo Collapse; Derek Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years for George Floyd's Murder. Aired 12- 12:15a ET

Aired June 26, 2021 - 00:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, I am Paula Newton. We begin, right here, in the United States, where, at this hour, an intense search for survivors is underway.

And this is almost 48 hours after a devastating building collapse in Surfside, Florida, near Miami. Part of the 12-story Champlain Towers came crashing down during the early hours of Thursday morning. At least 4 people have now been confirmed dead and 159 are still unaccounted for.

The cause of the disaster, of course, is still unknown. Rescue crews have been facing daunting obstacles, with heavy smoke from fires within the building hindering their efforts. Heavy winds as well and rain have also added to the challenges facing emergency workers.



NEWTON (voice-over): A vigil was held in Surfside Friday night to remember the lives lost and pray for those whose whereabouts remain unknown. CNN spoke to Miami-Dade's Fire-Rescue chief, who had a message for anyone falling into despair.


CHIEF ANDY ALVAREZ, MIAMI-DADE FIRE-RESCUE DEPARTMENT: Have hope. There's always hope. I was in Haiti and, eight days after we were there, we took a girl out of a collapse. And you've got to have hope. And we are doing everything that we can to bring your family member out alive.


NEWTON: So much grief there already. One official calls the search efforts "painstakingly laborious" and stressed it will take some time to reach every person. CNN's Randi Kaye has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The desperate search-and- rescue operation is intensifying, a race to find survivors in the rubble from the partially collapsed building in Surfside, Florida. Search-and-rescue teams not stopping for a moment.

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D-FL), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: These are the best first responders in the world. These are the ones that are sent to trouble spots. They have been to 9/11. They've been to Haiti. They've been wherever there is a disaster, and they are bringing that expertise to bear right here, for our residents, for our visitors, in Surfside.

KAYE: The death count now at four. Three of the bodies have been identified, according to the medical examiner's office. Both, heavy machinery, as well as small buckets, being used to carefully lift and move around debris to access search areas.

While 120 people are now accounted for, the number of unaccounted for has increased to 159. Rainy weather and intermittent fires breaking out on the site, complicating an already-difficult rescue effort, an effort that is not without risk to those who are involved.

CAVA: 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 -- they are proceeding because they are so motivated.

KAYE: President Joe Biden today promising continued assistance.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promise you, the administration, Congressman, will do everything possible to be of assistance now and after.

KAYE: Families standing by trying to hold out hope that their loved ones will be found alive.

MARIELA PORRAS, FRIEND OF MISSING FAMILY: How buried are they in there?

Is there a possibility that they are alive?

Like, truthfully, look at this mess.

I mean, what are the chances?

KAYE: Building resident Kevin Spiegel was out of town when the collapse happened. His wife was at home.

KEVIN SPIEGEL, HUSBAND OF MISSING WOMAN: I was just there this weekend. We had the most wonderful, wonderful weekend with our granddaughter, Scarlett. It was wonderful. And how, from one second to the next second, a dramatic change in life, it's unbelievable.

KAYE: So many families with questions about how this could possibly happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Building falls down in a third world country where they don't have building codes. And with all the strict building codes in this country, a building shouldn't collapse like that.

KAYE: And promises being made that the answers will come.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): There's a lot of other people throughout this community and really throughout Florida who want to know, well, how could a building just collapse like that?

Whenever the local efforts are under way with that, the state will support whatever we can to do this right but also to do it timely so that we get the answers to the families.


DESANTIS: And that we get the answer to the people of Florida.


NEWTON: Thanks to Randi Kaye for that report.

This tragedy is reaching well beyond the United States. Dozens of Latin America nationals are among the unaccounted for so far. For more on that we turn to Stefano Pozzebon in Bogota.

Stefano, it's been heartbreaking to hear the stories of loved ones, who were there in Florida to visit or relax or who lived there. And all of their relatives now reaching out and wondering what happened to them.

STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yes, definitely Paula, let's remember there are more than 30 people from at least six different countries in South America that are still missing almost a day after the tragedy.

And on top of those who were there visiting friends, relatives, those who were there just to get a vaccine -- let's remember we are in the midst of the pandemic. COVID pandemic is hitting South America very badly. Some of the people who were staying at that complex were in Florida to try to get a precious jab (ph).

Among them was the family of the sister of the first lady of Paraguay, who flew to Miami to follow the search and rescue operations very closely. But it's something that's really affecting the whole of the region, whole of South America, six countries, at least, have been involved -- Paula.

NEWTON: Stefano, stand by for us if you will. I want to go straight to the scene right now in Florida. We're going to bring in CNN's Isabel Rosales.

What is going on in the sense that they continue to look at the site?

And we heard in that report, Isabel, family members saying, I look at the site and I am losing hope.

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hope and duty is what is fueling these firefighters, they're prepared, ready for another long and grueling night. Let me show you one of the biggest challenges that they had today.

Right behind me, as we zoom in, you see there in the night sky by the building, smoke billowing out. They have active fires inside that building that they cannot get to. That is causing dangerous situations for these firefighters.

And not only that but it's also blocking some of their infrared technology that they depend on, to be able to try to find these potential survivors. But nonetheless, they're holding on to hope. They have some of the best here in Miami.

People who are shipped out across the nation and internationally in these search and rescue missions and they tapped into that. The fire- rescue chief reminded us of his time in Haiti at a similar site, where eight days after the collapse, they dug out a young girl alive from the rubble. And that is why they have hope.

NEWTON: All the families trying to keep their hopes up. Isabel, thanks for that update from the scene.

We want to go back now to Stefano Pozzebon.

No doubt people across the world, obviously specifically across these Latin American countries, waiting to see what's happening, how difficult has it been to actually get information?

POZZEBON: It's been very difficult. We last spoke late on Saturday with the Venezuelan consul there in Miami after the collapse of the building. They still don't know the whereabouts of the six Venezuelans, for example.

But one thing that many administrations have been looking to is trying to expedite visas as quickly as possible for the relatives to fly to Miami, to enter Florida and join the search and rescue operations and be there when, hopefully, those missing persons will be found, for example.

The relatives of the six Venezuelans that have been missing that were still in Caracas were able to travel and are en route. The consulate has been telling CNN they are en route to Miami to try to be there.

Many Latin Americans cannot enter the United States without a visa. And so there has been made efforts for the relatives and friends to be there when the moment will come -- Paula.

NEWTON: It's good news that you bring to us, given the visa issues but also the COVID restrictions. It has been more than a little complicated to get these loved ones to the scene. Stefano, thanks so much for staying on top of it. Appreciate it.

You can help the victims and their families. Please head to for links to charitable organizations verified by CNN. Again,

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin received a prison sentence of 22.5 years on Friday for the murder last year of George Floyd. Chauvin will be eligible for parole in 15 years.


NEWTON: And the sentence was for the second degree, unintentional murder conviction alone and does not include two lesser charges which were not addressed.

Floyd's sister said that ruling showed that police brutality is, quote, "finally being taken seriously." But she also said she knows much work remains to be done, a message echoed by the Floyd family attorney.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY: Today represents an opportunity to be a turning point in America. This is the longest sentence that a police officer has ever been sentenced to in the history of the state of Minnesota. But this should not be the exception when a Black person is killed by brutality by police. It should be the norm.


NEWTON: Floyd's family also calls for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. President Joe Biden had asked that Congress approve the measure by the anniversary of Floyd's death in May. But of course, it remains stuck in negotiations, Mr. Biden weighed in on the sentence from the White House.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know all the circumstances that were considered but it seems to me, under the guidelines, that seems to be appropriate.


NEWTON: Those remarks from Mr. Biden came as he hosted Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at the White House. President Biden vows continued support Afghan as U.S. troops withdraw. The Taliban is now making key territorial gains.


BIDEN: The partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not ending. It's going to be sustained and our troops may be leaving but support for Afghanistan is not ending.


NEWTON: President Ghani says the U.S. troop withdrawal is a transformational decision that will have consequential results for the people of Afghanistan. But he says he respects the move and does not consider it abandonment.

A long-awaited U.S. intelligence report on UFOs says, in a nutshell, the truth remains out there. It examined more than 140 sightings of what the government calls unidentified aerial phenomena, most reported by Navy pilots. These are credible people.

Only one of those incidents was explained. As for the rest, investigators said there was no evidence that alien life or foreign countries were involved but the unclassified report could not entirely rule that out.

I am Paula Newton. I will be right back here a bit later. Stay tuned for "MARKETPLACE AFRICA."