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Death Toll Rises To Nine, Crews Search For 150-Plus Still Missing In Condo Collapse; Engineering Firm Behind 2018 Report "Deeply Troubled" By Collapse; Romney Confident Biden Will Sign Infrastructure Deal; Surfside Jewish Center Holds Prayer Service For Condo Collapse; Serena Williams Opts Out Of Tokyo Olympics. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired June 27, 2021 - 14:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta joined by Wolf Blitzer in Surfside, Florida at the scene of that deadly building collapse. And of course, we'll go to Wolf in a moment.

But first the latest on what we know. The death toll today climbing to nine as crews continue desperate searches for survivors. Officials now say they have recovered four additional bodies overnight and more human remains. Five of those victims have now been identified. But dozens more are still missing four days after the collapse.


CHIEF ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE FIRE DEPARTMENT: Our rescue teams are nonstop doing all we can, searching every area, every bit of hope to see if we can find a live victim.


WHITFIELD: This has become an international rescue effort. Teams from Israel and Mexico arriving to assist and those teams are working around the clock. Crews digging a massive trench to aid in the search.

And there are growing questions about why this building suddenly collapsed. Governor Ron DeSantis saying debris is being moved into a warehouse for forensic analysis.

And this, as we learn that the Building Condominium Association was warned in 2018 that repairs on the building could cost over $9 million. Some roofing repairs had already just begun recently.

We have team coverage on the ground in Surfside, Florida tracking all of the latest developments, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much, Fred. This is a really, really depressing situation that's unfolding right now. The numbers keep rising as far as the death toll, as you just reported, is concerned. And the families are clearly distraught as this search and rescue operation continues.

Brian Todd is at the scene of the search and rescue effort that's underway. Brian, we heard from the mayor earlier today with some very, very somber tones.


This search effort is very dangerous. It is painstaking. It is heartbreaking. But they are still going at it very, very hard at this hour.

As you and Fredricka reported, the death toll now stands at nine. 156 people remain unaccounted for. The Miami-Dade Fire officials are saying there is no time limit on when the research and rescue operation is going to turn into a search and recovery operation.

But we did get some additional details in a news conference a short time ago today. The Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava talked about this trench that they are digging that seems to be just massive, and that has yielded some discoveries.

Here's what the mayor had to say a short time ago.


MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE, FLORIDA: We're cutting a deep trench to assist us. It's now 125 feet in length into the pile. It's 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep.

Now, this trench is very critical to the continuation of the search and rescue process. We've continued all night to build that trench. And as a result of that, we were able to recover four additional bodies in the rubble as well as additional human remains.


TODD: And a short time ago the Miami-Dade fire and rescue chief Alan Cominsky gave a little bit more detail about that trench. He spoke to our colleague Rosa Flores and described the trench as, quote, "horrific".

He also said, and this is not good news, he said they're not finding the voids that they had hoped to find in the rubble so that maybe they can find someone alive in there. That's not good news whenever you're talking about a situation like this, trying to pull people out of rubble of a collapsed building. When they're not finding voids, that is just horrible news at this hour.

So some of the basics we can confirm to you now: nine deaths have been confirmed by local officials. Four of those people have been positively identified. Also as Wolf and Fredricka mentioned the Army Corps of Engineers is now on the site. They are getting more and more help pouring in here. They're lending assistance.

Also the Israeli national rescue unit is here. They arrived today. We've talked to Israeli officials today. They're eager to get to work. And they have some experience with this from their work at home.

We do have word from local officials that evidence from the site is going to be taken to a warehouse where they can examine it further.

And some new details that we can tell you, Wolf, according to some 2018 emails. And this is related to that investigation that the Morabito Consultants firm did -- that structural engineering firm did in 2018 when they inspected the building.


TODD: According to these 2018 emails after they estimated the damage there, they had estimated that the cost to repair those damages would exceed $9 million. That's according to emails posted on the Surfside City Web site. But that was related to that 2018 survey by Morabito Consultants.

We have also heard from city officials, two of them, who told us that this building behind me, this upscale high-rise building that's right next door to the collapsed building, when that building was being put up, and they believe it was finished a couple of years ago, there had been concerns raised by residents of the Champlain Towers South Complex about shaking from that construction of that upscale building which is technically in north Miami Beach.

You know, again, whether that contributed to the cause, we don't know, but there were concerns that we are hearing about from city officials that the residents had voiced before this collapse -- shaking from construction of a nearby upscale high-rise building, Wolf.

We're getting a little bit more detail about some of the concerns that people had beforehand.

BLITZER: Yes. The priority, of course, is the search and rescue operation, finding people alive. God willing that happens. But they also want to know what happened and that's going to take a while to figure out.

Brian Todd on the scene for us. Thank you. We'll get back to you.

I want to bring in CNN's Ryan Young right now. He's been with the families.

Ryan, clearly -- and you've reported this. We've discussed this. Patience is running thin.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely, Wolf. As you can understand it. If your loved one was missing for this long, you'd be very upset. That's what we've been noticing from the families. They've been begging for any sort of additional information over the last 24 hours. And it's really turned into a situation where they want additional help.

Now, today we've seen more heavy equipment being moved into the area. There's that talk of additional teams joining the search effort.

I can tell you for the last 10 to 15 minutes or so, we've been watching the outside of the hotel where families were supposed to get information from authorities.

What we've been told by people who were with the families and family members at some point today, they were hoping to get a chance to go over to the site. That's something they've been trying to work out in terms of timing-wise.

We just saw two buses leave this area. Not exactly sure why the buses are leaving this area. But they've got a police escort at this point, Wolf. So there is a belief that some of the family members were loaded onto that bus.

Now look, yesterday we talked to several family members who even shared some of the information that was going on inside these news conferences where they were getting these briefings. And you could feel the pain inside these meetings because they wanted more information from the governor. They wanted more information from the mayor.

In fact, today, listen to the governor having an interaction with some of the people in the area.


LEO SOTO, ORGANIZED SURFSIDE MEMORIAL: Yesterday was very moving. I saw firefighters, and they showed up, and they had toys that they had just pulled from the rubble. It was toys that's full of -- just full of dust. It was toys that belonged to the people that, you know, that maybe not be with us any longer.

And just thinking about that, it was a very difficult moment, just having that connection. It's become almost a sacred place for the community.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What prompted you to do that? Did you know people there?

SOTO: Yes, I had a friend actually. Nikki Langfield (ph). He lives in Apartment 801 with her fiance. They were just about to get married. She just had her bachelorette party. And you know, they were planning on having kids and you know, living their own life.

It's affected me personally but to see how it's affected everybody in the community and to see how they've come together, I've grown as a person.

Like I'm not the same person that I was four days ago. When you see suffering that's happen, it's been incredible. But the way that the community has come together.

And that's why I really value that place and love that place. I really want to do everything possible to give access to the community because it was the only place where there was love in the air (INAUDIBLE) at all times.


YOUNG: Wolf, you've got think about this in really a couple of parts here. There have been family members who have been holding on to hope. But that news that came out today really sucked the life out of this area.

When you're standing in front of this hotel, you see the long faces as people start to come out. We saw the pain yesterday when they announced the additional death, and then today there more deaths that were announced.

The one thing I will tell you, people have been stopping to talk to us because they wanted to show the pictures of their loved ones. Sometimes they don't even want to go on TV. They just want to have a conversation about their loved one so they can make sure that maybe the name gets said at some point.

But what happened today about an hour and a half ago, you could really see sort of the air out of this area sort of just get sucked out of here. The desperation in people's faces. They are upset.

Now, there was that news about the Israeli team coming to join. People were excited about that. They heard about the team from Mexico coming here. They've seen the dogs coming in. So that provided some hope.

But I can tell you, really, the pain here is just multiplying every hour exponentially, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect it's going to get worse as this day goes on. Ryan, thank you very much. Of course, I'll get back to you.

Joining us now, Gregg Schlesinger. Gregg's an attorney who specializes in construction defects. Thanks very much for joining us.

First of all, I understand you know someone who has had six family members living in that building?


GREGG SCHLESINGER, ATTORNEY: Yes, I have. And I don't want to really go into that at this moment.

BLITZER: But you know people, obviously, who have relatives --

SCHLESINGER: Sure. BLITZER: -- who are going through hell right now.

SCHLESINGER: Sure. I'm born and raised here. I live five miles up the street from this tragic event.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about your expertise. The report that was released that was written in 2018 about the construction of this building, it said this. "We completed our inspection and provided our report to the condominium association on October 8th, 2018, detailing our findings and recommendations."

It goes onto say "Among other things our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public."

Three years later, they were saying there was a $3 million price tag or whatever to start doing this. Does it normally take three years to deal with a situation like this?

SCHLESINGER: No. This is a situation that should have been dealt with immediately. Once you start talking about structural defects and safety, that requires immediate attention. And it wasn't done.

That report indicates the columns that are made of concrete and steel were spalling out. We see a photograph of that structural column that holds up that building is spalled out. It's lost its structural integrity which sets up the potential for a collapse.

What we didn't see was any additional exploring or destructive testing to find out just how bad that structural defect was.

BLITZER: So why? The question is why? Who is responsible? You get a report like this which was written on October 8th, 2018 and then apparently nothing -- not much of anything is really done.

SCHLESINGER: There's probably numerous reasons why. One, I find a bit of fault with that structural report. That engineer should have done additional exploration. You see something that's unsafe, how unsafe is it? You must do exploratory demolition pilot holes and look to see just how bad that rusted out steel that is supporting that concrete, that's supporting the building is.

And that wasn't done. It wasn't done for three years. We know it was bad, because the building collapsed.

BLITZER: Who bears the responsibility for that failure?

SCHLESINGER: Hey look, this in and of itself, might not have been the total cause. There might be numerous contributing causes. We know that the soil had some issues. This building is settling. If the building is settling, it adds structure forces to members that may already be structurally impaired and defect. That will add a sort of flexing and possible collapse that we have.

And what should have been done is exploratory holes. When these folks saw this building that was having problems and it was sinking, what we do here is we do a pilot hole. We go into the ground and we have -- get a geotechnical engineer to drill and core drill and see hey, what's going on with this structure?

Do we need to do any kind of reinforcing? Do we need to add additional pilings? Do we need to pressure grout to stabilize this building so we don't have the kind of catastrophe that happened? And three years in this weather -- unacceptable.

BLITZER: There are a lot of building just like this one, including one, a sister tower condominium building right almost next door that a lot of folks are worried about right now built a year later.


BLITZER: But by the same construction company, and in the same area along the ocean. How worried should those folks be?

SCHLESINGER: They should be concerned. If they are not, and if the individuals up and down this beach aren't getting threshold inspectors out doing proper inspections and not just observing spalling at columns, at beams, at slabs and then going the extra distance and spending the money to do demolition just like that column, should have been peeled back, shored up and structurally supported.

How many columns were in that condition? How far back was that rusting? We know it was bad. Really bad.

BLITZER: If you lived in that sister tower that's still up, they're recommending that people evacuate, but they don't necessarily have to. Would you stay there overnight?

SCHLESINGER: No. I would not.

BLITZER: And you would tell your loved ones if they were living there to get out?

SCHLESINGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: What about other buildings in this area. If we, all of us who know this area well, I know it. You know it.


BLITZER: There are tons of buildings that were built in the 80s and the 70s --


BLITZER: -- and the 90s that along this exact same surface.

M1 :Right. Exactly. I've personally inspected some of the buildings and seen spalling and telltale signs of potential structural failure. Those are addressed, the people up and down this coast, because we are relatively new area.

[14:14:55] SCHLESINGER: As you know, 70s and 80s, we had an explosion in growth here in population and building. Those buildings are 40 years old facing this ocean which has a caustic, salt air that eats away at the concrete and steel.

Anyone who has a car parked along the ocean knows in a year it's being rusted out. The brakes are rusted, so they should be concerned. Proper maintenance, daily maintenance. Not this 40 years, bare minimum.

Every five years, get an engineer in there. Maintain your building. Once you see cracking going on, repair it so we don't get into this situation. If you have an issue with the ground, the soil, the substrata, get a geotechnical engineer in here, have him do core boring and drill down and see what's going on down there. See if something is shifted or changed.

BLITZER: I've been here for two days and a lot of folks who live in this area, in similar buildings are very nervous right now. They're saying most of them, some of them are leaving, but they're very nervous.

Gregg Schlesinger, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Thanks for all your work as well.

You know, it's a sad, sad story that's going on here, but our coverage from Surfside, Florida will continue in just a moment.

Coming up, we're going to hear directly from a woman who actually climbed out of the building in the dark of the night with her dog. Her remarkable story of survival. That's just ahead.



WHITFIELD: All right.

We'll have more from Surfside, Florida in a moment.

But first, confidence being expressed by a Senate Republican that the bipartisan infrastructure deal will become law. Senator Mitt Romney this morning telling CNN's Jake Tapper he trusts President Biden and that his Saturday stance to pass a bipartisan deal no matter what are the words Romney trusts.


SENATOR MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I am totally confident the president will sign it if it comes to his desk. The real challenge is whether the Democrats can get their act together and get it on his desk.

I do trust the president, and he made very clear in a much larger statement that came out over the weekend, carefully crafted and thought through piece by piece, that if the infrastructure bill reaches his desk and it comes alone, he will sign it.


WHITFIELD: All right. This after some interpreted remarks by Biden from earlier in the week as threatening a veto.

Let's go straight to the White House and CNN's Joe Johns. So Joe, what's the feeling from the White House today?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the significance of this, Fred is that it looks like at least for now, the cleanup at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue appears to have worked with Republicans including Mitt Romney saying they're glad the president put out the statement indicating he's not going to veto the infrastructure bill if he doesn't get that big spending bill that a lot of Democrats want.

Of course, that spending bill could set off a huge partisan food fight up on Capitol Hill. The question here at the White House today is whether everybody on the staff got the memo.

Listen to the conversation between Jake Tapper and Cedric Richmond earlier today on CNN.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Clarify, for once and for all, Biden will, if it happens that the bipartisan infrastructure bill lands on his desk on its own -- I understand that's not your preference -- but if that were to happen, he would sign it, yes or no?

CEDRIC RICHMOND, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Well look, I don't think it's a yes or no question. The president's words speak for themselves. I speak for the president, but I don't put words in his mouth. And where he has a clear statement, I let that do the speaking.


JOHNS: You know what? It is sort of a yes or no question, and the president is on the record on that issue in that statement yesterday.

He said the bottom line is this. "I gave my word to support the infrastructure plan and that's what I intend to do." He says, "I intend to pursue passage of that plan which Democrats and Republicans agreed on Thursday, with vigor."

So Fred, another example of the president of the United States reading the tea leaves up on Capitol Hill, especially in the United States Senate where he served so long.

Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Joe Johns, thanks so much, at the White House. Appreciate that.

All right. Still ahead, prayers in Surfside, Florida as crews search for possible survivors in the rubble of a partially collapsed condominium. These photos showing Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue paying their respects at the memorial site that has been erected there.

And we'll be right back.



BLITZER: Welcome back.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Surfside, Florida where rescuers continue their frantic search for survivors. There's also an effort right now to come together and pray for survivors.

Randi Kaye standing by. She's over in a Jewish community center where a special service is about to begin. Randi, certainly an extremely difficult time for members of this community and for the entire area.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. There is a special prayer service that will be held here at the Shul of Bal Harbour. We've been speaking with Rabbi Zalman Lipskar this week who has told us that he believes he's missing about 20 people who are associated with his synagogue which is right here behind me. The age range is about 20 to 60 years old.

He did tell us just moments ago that they have not received any negative news about any of their synagogue members so far today and that they do believe it is still very much a search and rescue mission.

The rabbi also told us that this prayer service is really to honor the victims who are associated with this terrible tragedy, also the family members.

And the prayer service, Wolf, is open to everyone of all faiths. They want everyone to come here to the synagogue and pray for those who have been affected by this. He actually went to the site, the rabbi went to the site this morning, that pile of rubble, with Governor Ron DeSantis here in Florida. He spoke to the governor. He visited that. He said it was a very moving moment for him.

And he hopes to bring some of the families there as well. He's trying to work that out.

He's also very much in touch with Israel's national rescue unit which is here. They're on site as of today helping the Miami-Dade folks dig through the rubble and hopefully find some survivors.

Now, in terms of what this synagogue is dealing with, he's been in touch with a mother who says that she's missing seven family members. There's also a couple that he's been in touch with. Their family at least, their 26 years old, married recently, they're missing. And he's also missing the parents of his childhood best friend.

So for this rabbi, it not only is very personal because he knows people who are missing. But he's also trying to console those who are missing people. [14:29:54]

KAYE: But again, his goal is really to bring the community together. Listen to what he told us.


RABBI ZALMAN LIPSKAR, THE SHUL OF BAL HARBOUR: We've been through tragedy -- all multiple generations and history of tragedy. And we're resilient people. And I think that's been helping some of the people from other faiths as well seeing the community come together and saying these people are resilient. They can -- they've been through tragedy and can get through this. We can get through this with each other.


KAYE: He says he's been sitting with these families and giving them positive energy and praying with them. He also told us about the donations that they've received. He said they received pillows and blankets and nearly 6,000 individual donations.

And, Wolf, the rabbi himself has opened his home to people who are homeless, offering them a bed or a couch or something. Everybody here pulling together, Wolf, as you know.

BLITZER: Yeah. It's such a moving moment, indeed. We'll watch it together with you, Randi. Thank you very much.

Coming up, we're going to hear directly from a woman who climbed out of the building in the dark of the night with her dog. Her truly remarkable story of survival, that's just ahead.

And for more information, how you can help the victims of the surfside building collapse, go to



BLITZER: With the truly immense tragedy unfolding here in Florida, we do want to bring you those stories of survivors as well.

CNN affiliate WPLG spoke to one woman who climbed her way out of the building in the dark of the night.

Joseph Ojo has more.


SHARON SCHECHTER, SURVIVED BUILDING COLLAPSE: I mean, I was one of two, I think that survived on my floor.

JOSEPH OJO, WPLG REPORTER (voice-over): As Sharon Schechter was fast asleep.

SCHECHTER: I started hearing noise that was a little unusual.

OJO: Her condominium came crashing down.

SCHECHTER: It felt like the whole building was shaking.

OJO: She looked outside to see what was wrong.

SCHECHTER: I realized, I said oh, my God. Where's the building?

OJO: Then quickly grabbed her dog and ran for safety.

SCHECHTER: I literally walked out with nothing.

OJO: Sharon tells me she and others tried running down the only available stairwell but they were faced with a ton of rubble.

SCHECHTER: There was no way. We were screaming help, we're here. Come with us. Banging on the door.

OJO: She tells me she had to climb through the rubble and on top of cars to get out.

SCHECHTER: It was pitch black. It was like titanic. We're finding our way out until we get to some light.

OJO: And once she got out.

SCHECHTER: It's like Mike, Mike is in the building. Where's Mike? I called him. I have his number.

OJO: All she could think of was her neighbors who didn't make it out.

SCHECHTER: I feel like I'm mourning every moment.

OJO: Sharon operates a Medicare insurance business out of her apartment. She says the building collapsed so quickly that she wasn't able to grab her personal items like her passport and important documents for work. Although her livelihood is gone, she's grateful to be alive.

SCHECHTER: I'm hoping there's a reason why I survived, a bigger picture.


BLITZER: Thanks, Joseph Ojo, for that report.

Meanwhile, the Noriegas were among the many families who rushed here as soon as they heard the building had collapsed. Ninety-two-year-old Hilda is missing but somehow her family found some mementos in the rubble.


MIKE NORIEGA, GRANDMOTHER MISSING IN CONDO COLLAPSE: We arrived here about 2:30 a.m. on the night this happened. While we were waiting and praying and sobbing, we were looking at all the debris, and my father looked down. His mother was actually in the building when this happened, my grandmother.

And he actually found this. It's a birthday card, so she had a birthday brunch a couple weeks ago. And so this is all addressed to my grandmother. This is a picture of my grandmother, and my grandfather that, unfortunately, is no longer with us, and that's my dad in the middle. It's a beautiful message in the mess of everything, and it's very comforting to be able to see this, because really what are the chances?


BLITZER: You know, Fred, these stories that we keep hearing, the wonderful people who are still missing and way too many are still missing right now, but each one of them has a powerful story there, and the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, the grandparents. You know, you worry so much about what's going on. They're still keeping up hope, but it's by no means, as you know, no means easy.

WHITFIELD: Not at all. I mean, that one gentleman, it sounds as though he has grasped, you know, with some resolve that he has only memories, but there are others hoping there will be a void, some sign of life as the crews continue to search.

Wolf, we'll return to our coverage in just a moment. For now, we're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Surfside, Florida.

We have a special guest right now, Jimmy Patronis. He's a Florida state fire marshal. He's also Florida's chief financial officer.

We've spoken over the years on different occasions over the years, usually not good occasions. This is a horrible occasion right now. Tell us what the latest information, Jimmy, that you have.

JIMMY PATRONIS, STATE FIRE MARSHAL: So as of about 5:00 this afternoon, we will have the largest deployment of urban search and rescue members. We'll have almost 270 on the ground. That's the largest deployment we've ever had in the history of the state of Florida, non-hurricane. So, you know, typically you have a category 5 hurricane, hurricane Michael, we would assemble the forces together. This is the greatest effort that's been put together by Florida non- hurricane.

BLITZER: What else do you need?

PATRONIS: It's Sunday. Prayers are good. The men are working 12 hour shifts. The men and women that are here now between -- they work from 12 midnight to 12 noon. And there's a crew taking a rest right now. But the groups are coming in from the state, the other parts of the state later this afternoon and we'll get almost 370 sets of boots on the ground.

BLITZER: Some family members who are obviously desperately searching for their loved ones, their moms and dads, whatever, they would like to go over there and see the scene.


And some of your colleagues have said that's okay.

What do you think?

PATRONIS: So, we're doing exactly that. You're going to start to see an effort where a balcony is going to be set up at an adjacent property, where the family members will be able to watch the progress. I think it's important. I think that transparency is going to help them come to grips with how hard the state is working, the resources, international resources to save lives.

BLITZER: You've had a lot of international help and help from all over the country including the federal government.

PATRONIS: Sure. I'll tell you, the FEMA administration was here earlier today. Appreciate the administration coming down. The governor has been here about four days straight, showing his leadership.

But it's a team effort. This isn't a Republican issue. It's not a Democrat issue. It's an international issue and lives are at stake.

BLITZER: It's now day four. When does the search and rescue operation become the recovery operation?

PATRONIS: The men and women -- we were just talking to task force 4. They are resting because they're ready to go back to work. They don't stop. They will stay in focus of saving lives until the mission is over. And right now, we haven't seen that day.

BLITZER: You still have hope that there are survivors?

PATRONIS: I do. I do. And I made the comment, today is PTSD day in America. I think of what the men and women have been going through right now as they've been searching and searching. Can you imagine how healing it would be to everybody as soon as they found somebody?

So, that effort is still afoot. With Haiti there was eight days in the rubble where an individual was found alive and well. I have hope.

BLITZER: I know a lot of the family members have hope. You understand their frustration.

PATRONIS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I assume you've spoke within some of them.

PATRONIS: It's raw. I have. It's raw.

You're not supposed to experience trauma this way. And at the same time, the men and women of the urban search and rescue teams, it's difficult for them to deal with the type of trauma of sorting through debris to save someone. But, look, these search and rescue teams are embedded with trauma surgeons. They're embedded with engineers. They are built to do exactly what they are doing right now day or night, hurricane or non-hurricane.

BLITZER: And if you find someone, God willing, who is alive, they could be transported very, very quickly to get the medical attention they need.

PATRONIS: You may have somebody who needs a field amputation. You don't know what it takes in order to save somebody's life.

BLITZER: And you have doctors here and nurses?

PATRONIS: Yeah. And they're embedded with the teams. They're there working right now side by side their co-workers.

BLITZER: Have you personally ever seen a building like this along the Atlantic Ocean collapse? Within 11 seconds. All those apartments on the ground, and all those people missing?

PATRONIS: It's not natural. The video is traumatic. It looks like a designated demolition.

But, you know, we'll get to the bottom of that. Right now the mission is saving lives. But there are investigators that are studying films, engineers that are studying films. More importantly, those engineers are telling us what they can move and what they can't move because the building is still not a stable building.

There's actually laser beams shot at the building. It happened yesterday. The building moved. These men and women are searching, but the building moved, and it sets off an alarm. They evacuate the site. So, they are working under incredible conditions with an unstable threat.

BLITZER: What about the building next door?

PATRONIS: Yeah. So the building on the left and right, those are fine. Just the building to the --

BLITZER: That survived?

PATRONIS: That survived. That's the one they're studying.

BLITZER: No people are still in there?

PATRONIS: No. There's no people in there. But again, they're shooting beams at it. If the building moves a millimeter, it sets off an alarm, they evacuate -- they evacuate the recovery with the alarm.

BLITZER: We're grateful to you, Jimmy Patronis, for what you're doing. We will stay in close touch with you. And please also thank the men and women who were working with you, risking their own lives right now. These are heroes doing what they're doing and we so appreciate it.

PATRONIS: You all are putting a face to the effort. And I got to tell you, CNN has covered it like nobody has seen. I appreciate what you do. Thanks, buddy.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Please come back.

PATRONIS: Will, do, will do.

BLITZER: Jimmy Patronis, helping us better appreciate what's going on.

Fred, you heard it directly from Jimmy, it's an ongoing operation. There's hope four days into this calamity.

WHITFIELD: Right. And I love that he does try to offer that comfort, reminding people that someone was found alive eight days later in Haiti. Of course, circumstances very different, but, of course, hope and prayers are very strong.

Thank you so much, Wolf.

We'll have more from Surfside, Florida ahead. And we'll also take a look at the heat warning across the Midwest, Portland reaching -- northwest, rather. Oregon reaching the hottest temperature in Portland ever today at 108 degrees.


And in the world of sports, Serena Williams making a decision about the summer Olympics in Tokyo. More on that.

Plus -- plus sex, power, feminism, she wrote the book on it, but this is the only story she never told. CNN Films, "Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story" tonight at 9:00, right here on CNN.




DR. SAJU MATHEW, PUBLIC HEALTH SPECIALIST: Tennis has really changed my life.

I think when we talk about tennis it is a physical game. Tennis also has a psychological component to it. It works on your body fitness. It works on your health and it works on your mind.

There are a couple of studies, one from Copenhagen, that it has actually shown that tennis adds about 9.7 years to your life. It works on your mental help. It requires the ability to communicate and talk to people. So, it's also a social sport. Tennis lowers your blood pressure, agility on the court. You have to

lunge, you have to move forward, backward. You have to squat. You've got to jump. You've got to run fast. It's a total body workout.

You can burn 400 to 1,000 calories in just one hour of playing the game. As a physician, I had so many people coming to me and talk about back pain and difficulty and flexibility, blood pressure, bone health. Tennis helps with all of that.

That's why I like this game. We have people with Parkinson's disease where it helps you with stability and hand/eye coordination.

Anytime you pick up a new sport, my advice is check with the doctor, really go out there and find a local court and enjoy this game that you can play for a lifetime.


WHITFIELD: All right. In the sports world today, Serena Williams announces she will not be playing in this year's Olympics in Tokyo starting next month. And a massive crash at the Tour de France caused by a spectator.

CNN's Carolyn Manno has more.


CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Fred, four-time Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams said she will not pursue additional medals this year for what she described as a variety of reasons. Williams confirming the decision from Wimbledon which begins tomorrow. The 23- time grand slam champion avoiding specifics when asked about the Tokyo Games.

SERENA WILLIAMS, PRO TENNIS PLAYER: There's a lot of reasons that I made my Olympic decision. I don't really want -- I don't feel like going into them today, but maybe another day. Sorry.

It is in the past it's been a wonderful place for me, but I really haven't thought about it, and so I'm going to keep not thinking about it.

MANNO: The 39-year-old joins fellow grand slam legend Rafael Nadal in withdrawing from the Tokyo Games. Serena will instead look to win a record-tying 24th major and eighth Wimbledon title beginning on Tuesday.

In the meantime, French authorities have launched an investigation into the fan who triggered a massive crash during the first stage of the Tour de France. The fan stepping in front of the peloton, holding a cardboard sign for the TV cameras. Dozens of cyclists fell like dominos and several injured.

At least one rider had to drop out of the race. Authorities are asking for witnesses to help find the woman who held the sign, because she left before investigators arrived. A spokesperson representing the organizers of the tour confirming to CNN they were the ones who put in the complaint to the authorities.

There is also a second pileup closer to the finish line. That involved four-time champion Chris Froome and dozens of other riders. In the end, it was Julian Alaphilippe who won the first stage and thus took the yellow jersey.

But, Fred, I can tell you, having worked the Tour de France for a number of years, the lack of self-awareness from the fans is often startling much to the detriment of the riders and the peloton as was the case this weekend -- Fred.


WHITFIELD: Really dangerous and potentially life threatening, too. All right. Thank you so much, Carolyn Manno, for that report.


WHITFIELD: All right. Hello, again, thank you so much for joining me.