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Death Toll Rises To Nine As Rescuers Keep Digging For Survivors; Trump Organization Could Face Criminal Charges This Week; One-On-One With The U.S. Cyber Security Chief; Officials Give Update On Building Collapse Search Efforts. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 27, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Welcome CNN special coverage of the tragedy in Miami. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Surfside, Florida. We're watching all the late breaking developments. In 30 minutes, we're about to get an update from the authorities, officials here in Surfside. We are going to bring it to you live, that news conference.
We're now more than 88 hours from the catastrophic events that brought down the Champlain Tower south. The death toll has now risen, once again, it's now risen to nine. But still more than 150 people are unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, the history of this building behind me grows even more troubling. Emails have come to light showing the structural engineering firm that had inspected the building back in 2018 suggested repairs that would have cost more than $9 million. So, why weren't those repairs addressed immediately?
We have a team of CNN producers, camera people, reporters on the ground here in Surfside to bring you the very late breaking developments, including CNN's Randi Kaye, she's over at The Shul of Bal Harbor, it's a synagogue, and National Reporter Ryan Young, he's over at the family reunification center. Not very, very far away.
Ryan, first, to you. The Miami-Dade Fire chief says they're not setting a time limit on the search and rescue effort. When it switches to become a search and recovery effort, that's when they give up on hoping for finding someone alive. So what can you tell us about the late breaking developments? I know you're working all of your sources over there.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we've been talking to several people today, especially family members who are still very upset, who are holding onto hope. Today, I think the thing that stood out to all of us is watching family members load onto several different buses and get a chance to go to the site.
Look, this is what family members have been asking, have been begging, have been pleading for over the last few days. They wanted to see the site themselves. And that's something they got to do today. We'll show you this video of basically people arriving back here to the hotel. The whole idea is that folks were really upset. They wanted to get a chance to go out there and offer their help. But that just is not going to happen.
We do know several other search teams have arrived. We know the Israelis have sent over an extra team to go in and start digging as well. In the last ten minutes or so, I actually spoke to a State Senator Jason Pizzo. He was here. He took several photos at the site. He's had a chance to walk through it himself, as he was talking to some of the family members.
He says you can't get an idea of the scope of this disaster. And there are thousands of pounds of tons of concrete that are just on top of each other. And it's been very hard to move. But today they've actually picked up the pace, Wolf, and that is something that everyone seems to be happy about in terms of the way they've been able to turn things over and get this operation streamlined.
On the inside here, for what we've been told, family members have been talking with investigators. Some have refused to give their DNA samples to investigators as they start sifting through the site. Others have, because some people have not given up hope. And they're basically like we're going to hold out for a little while longer, not to say those who have given their DNA have given up hope either.
But the whole idea here is you could really feel the gut punch from so many people as they made several announcements today. They're very upset. Some of the folks that we've been talking to, nonstop today, said today is just not a day they feel like talking any more about this.
So, understandably, Wolf, this has been a very difficult day. It's been very hot, but at the site, they still removed more and more rubble, while here, families are just hoping and praying for something to change in the next few hours. And maybe they'll hear some sort of good news.
BLITZER: Yes, so many are praying. And it's so, so painful to just observe these wonderful people and the hell they're going through right now. All right, Ryan, we'll get back to you.
For the family members and the friend of the missing, the wait grows only more agonizing by the hour. CNN's Randi Kaye is joining us. She's not far away from here at The Shul of Bal Harbor, a synagogue.
Randi, this close-knit community may have lost two dozen members in the collapse. What are you hearing? What are you seeing over there?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We've been speaking with the Rabbi Sholom Lipskar. And he said that they're missing at least 20 people who are associated with The Shul of Bal Harbor, which is a synagogue. They range in age, Wolf, some as young as 20, others in their 60s, he believes. He's very concerned. He's been talking to a mother who's missing seven
family members, also a young couple in both 26 years old, recently married, they're missing. And his childhood friend who he grew up with is missing his parents.
So he's very concerned. It's why he brought this prayer service together today. And he invited everyone from the community, not just people of the Jewish faith but everyone. He's trying to bring the community together as they search for survivors.
As you can imagine, it's incredibly hard for those who are waiting and still holding out hope. And the Rabbi himself went to the rubble pile, looked around there, said it was quite emotional. And he's also been in touch with the families who have visited there. He's helped arrange some of that.
And he's also talking with the Israel's national rescue unit, which we know arrived today. They've brought ten people with them. We actually interviewed earlier the minister of Diaspora for the state of Israel. The New Israeli Prime Minister sent him here and said, do whatever you can to help the United States in this situation. So he's done so.
And we talked to him, Nachman Shai is his name. We talked to him about his meeting with families and what he thinks about the chance for hope here. Here's part of what he told us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NACHMAN SHAI, ISRAELI MINISTER OF DIASPORA AFFAIRS: We're so, so sorry. And we came here to help as Jews and as human beings. I know the Jewish community is very dear to us. They're one of the best Jewish communities in the country. But it's not only about Jews. It's about everyone that was spending the night there and didn't see the morning coming after.
We feel like this is an act of solidarity to you and, of course, to the Jewish community here that again, in any time of crisis, the Jewish community here and as well is mobilized and coming to help Israel. So this is a time to give back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: So, it's really all about the solidarity right now. And he actually went to the site as well, Nachman Shai, earlier today and said it was quite moving. But his team is holding out hope because 11 years ago, Wolf, they found someone who had been buried in a rubble pile after a disaster, had been in that rubble pile for 108 hours. So he still holds out hope and so does his team.
And they are willing to do more. They brought ten people with them, Wolf, but he said we'll bring a plane, we'll send more people, whatever they need here in Surfside, Florida, they are offering up, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging to hear that. All right, Randi, over at The Shul. Thank you very, very much. And joining us now to discuss, what's going on, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She happens to represent this congressional district. You know this district Congresswoman, very well. Did you ever in your wildest fears imagination, imagine a condominium, a 12-storey condominium building just going down like this?
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Wolf, never in my worst nightmares. I mean you think about all the people who come down here to have their lifelong dreams of vacation fulfilled, they come to retire and live out their retirement years in fun and joy. This community, as you mentioned, is so tight knit. It's had large pieces of its heart torn out of it.
And then the Jewish community, in particular, you know, this is a very tight knit, close community. I can't tell you the number of friends I have who had family or close friends in the building in the middle of the night when it came crashing down. This is the stuff of nightmares.
BLITZER: When you're talking to these people, how are they coping? It's so awful.
SCHULTZ: It is. It is unimaginable grief mixed with hope, anxiety, frustration. They did -- you know, thanks to Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who's done a fantastic job just coordinating these efforts, she was able to make sure the families could come closer to the site in our faith, obviously, making sure that you have proximity to your loved one when they potentially have passed away is so critical.
And so I saw that the families had a chance to do that, getting them even up close so they can see the magnitude of what they're dealing with, I think, is going to help them with either beginning to have some closure or getting some better sense of what we're facing here.
BLITZER: I know you've spoken to family members who are desperately searching and hoping and praying for the best. Tell us about those conversations. You know some of these people as well.
SCHULTZ: I do and I've had a chance to be down at the family reunification center. And, literally, when I walked in the other day and saw friends of mine who I didn't even realize had family under the rubble and, you know, hugged them and was able to reassure them we're helping to get their family members internationally, to get visas to come over here, we're trying to make sure, we do everything we can.
And that I have wanted to be here. I had a chance to meet and sit down and have a bite with the Mexican search and rescue team and our resting search and rescue team members. They are the best of the best. Being able to communicate that to them directly when they say, Debbie, you know, how are we going -- they have to go faster, it's painstaking, we have to have patience, which is incredibly challenging, but know that everything that can be done is being done, and that gives them some solace. BLITZER: Stay for, and now for the first time, the authorities did allow family members to actually go to the site to visit and see the rubble, what's going on in the search and rescue operation. Some of them didn't want to go, but several of them did take a bus and go over there. You know, I don't know, God forbid, if you or I were in a situation like that what we would do, but it's so heartbreaking to even think about what these people went through looking at that destruction.
SCHULTZ: And I think seeing it up close and having a sense of the magnitude of what they're facing, seeing that there are crevices now open the tunnels that the search and rescue teams have dug, they can see that where they're sending the dogs in and they're crawling in themselves to try to search for any, either remains or potential people that might be alive. That gives them, I think, some peace, I think some ability to hold onto hope with the gravity of the situation being right in front of them, begin to manage their expectations.
BLITZER: Do you still have hope that they'll find some people alive?
SCHULTZ: As long as their telling me, these search and rescue guys are -- guys being a gender neutral term -- there are women on that pile too, as long as they're telling me that it's still possible, I do have hope. And I'm going to continue to help reassure my constituents all the way until we have to switch gears and they say it's now time to focus on recovery.
BLITZER: Yes. Priority number one is the search and rescue operation.
BLITZER: Then priority number two is to figure out exactly what happened to make sure that we learn what happened so it doesn't happen again, because, as you know better than I do, this is your congressional district. How many buildings are along Miami Beach?
SCHULTZ: All the way down the coastline.
BLITZER: All the way down towards (INAUDIBLE), Ft. Lauderdale.
SCHULTZ: All the way up the whole coastline of my district and all the way on down. We're going to have -- thankfully, Mayor Levine Cava has ordered an audit of all buildings over 5 stories that are over 40 years old. Hopefully other cities will go along with that.
FEMA, President Biden, has sent down resources, the NIST, which has national expertise at the federal level on infrastructure and examining accident and tragedies like this. We've got all the experts, seamless work together, federal, state and local. And that's so critical. And Mayor Burkett, the mayor of Surfside, has been really been on top of this and keeping track of his constituents as well.
BLITZER: Yes. I spoke with him several times. I spoke with the Mayor Levine Cava. They know what they're doing.
SCHULTZ: And we're going to be together for the long haul for these people.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz --
SCHULTZ: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: -- we're praying together with you.
SCHULTZ: Thank you for covering this.
BLITZER: And we're staying on top of this. We're watching all of this so closely. Pamela, I got to tell you, it's heartbreaking to speak with family members. It's heartbreaking to speak with others who have spent quality time with them. And you look as much as you see what you see on television, when you see it in person up close, it's so heart- wrenching.
BROWN: Just to see it, the smells, everything about it, I just cannot imagine what those family members are feeling right now who are just waiting for word about their loved ones. Thank you so much, Wolf. We'll be back with you there at Surfside, Florida, shortly.
Well coming up this hour, part one of my exclusive interview with Cyber Security Chief Brandon Wales, the railroad consequences of devastating cyber attacks and his warning to companies paying hackers huge ransoms.
Also this hour, the new book investigating QAnon's origins and its disturbing staying power, I'm going to speak with the author.
But, first, we are learning the Trump organization could face criminal charges in New York sometime this week. Former Watergate Prosecutor Nick Akerman joins me next to discuss what those charges could be and who prosecutors are after.
BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the condo building collapse here in Surfside, Florida. Here's what we know right now. Nine people are confirmed dead and there are currently more than 150 people unaccounted for.
The victims' family members are holding out hope. Officials did allow them for the first time to privately see the site firsthand. In any moment now, the authorities are about to give an update on the search and rescue operations. They will be making statements, answering reporters' questions. We're going to have live coverage, of course here on CNN. Pamela?
BROWN: And we'll be back with you, Wolf, as soon as that happens. But in the meantime, as soon as this week, the Trump Organization could be hit with criminal charges. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office informed the company's lawyers of potential charges and they're tied to an alleged scheme to dodge payroll taxes by providing employees with benefits, like cars and apartments. Just a short time ago, CNN spoke to a former Trump Organization executive vice president. And here is her answer about whether she thinks Trump deserves to go to jail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA RES, FORMER EXECUTIVE VP, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: You know, it's not only what I know of his personality and the way that he operates but what I've observed over 20 years of really the last five or six, certainly. I mean, that's an opinion of a citizen, not even somebody that knows Trump.
But I do know him and I know that he's very deliberate, very measured and very vengeful and he doesn't follow the rules. He never did follow the rules. So does he deserve to go to jail? I imagine he does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: I'm joined by former Watergate Prosecutor Nick Ackerman. Nice to see you, Nick.
So, before we get to the specifics of this case, do you agree with what we just heard? Does Trump deserve to go to jail?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I think we have to see what the evidence comes out here. but, certainly, based on what we know at this point, the fact that his chief financial officer is about to be indicted for tax fraud, we know just from what we read in the papers and what we've heard from Michael Cohen, his former attorney, and others, that everybody who does anything in the Trump Organization does it at the behest of Donald Trump.
So I think the bottom line is we all expect that Donald Trump is up to his eyeballs in tax fraud. We know that his father was in terms of moving the family wealth over to Donald and his siblings in terms of a phony company that was set up to funnel money to them without having to pay gift tax.
It seems to me that based on what we know it's just a question of whether or not the D.A.'s office can come up with admissible evidence squarely putting the knowledge in Donald Trump's head and the direction with Donald Trump.
BROWN: You were part of the Watergate case. How does Trump compare to Nixon?
AKERMAN: Well, Nixon was a one-shot tax deal that we're talking about in terms of his taxes. It was a backdating of a deed that involved a lot of money, but it was a one-shot deal.
As I said before, it seems that this whole system of evading taxes, trying to game the system, trying to get around the system by not paying what you're supposed to be paying seems to be the way of life of the Trump Organization. If you look at what the New York Times reported in terms of the past history with the Trump Organization and with Donald Trump's father, it seems to me that this really makes Richard Nixon look like a one-shot criminal compared to Donald Trump.
BROWN: So, help us understand as for this Manhattan D.A. investigation just how serious is this, both for the Trump business and for the CFO, Weisselberg.
AKERMAN: Well, it's extremely serious. First of all, Mr. Weisselberg, according to press report and according to basically the lawyers from the Trump Organization, appeared to concede that he's about to be indicted on serious tax felonies, criminal tax felonies, all of which can involve substantial jail time. That's very serious.
BROWN: I want to --
AKERMAN: With respect to the Trump Organization -- I'm sorry.
BROWN: No, go ahead.
AKERMAN: Yes, with respect to the Trump Organization, I mean they can be fined. They can be fined significantly, but it has greater ramifications than just the fines, because you've got creditors, you've got banks that have loaned money to the Trump Organization, all of whom are going to get very skittish, are going to be worried about where the money is going to come from, whether or not the Trump Organization is going to be good on their debts, which could ultimately drive Donald Trump into another bankruptcy.
And on top of all that, if this case goes to trial, which it may very well do, there's going to be a chance for the public to actually see some of these tax returns that Donald Trump has hidden from the voters when he first ran in 2016 and, again, refused to release while he was president and when he ran for reelection.
BROWN: I'm going to ask you regarding those potential charges over allegedly failing to pay taxes on perks. Trump's lawyers say it's outrageous, it's unprecedented, it's never happened before. Is that accurate? Is this unusual?
BROWN: Well, let me say this. It is unusual. I've been doing criminal tax ever since I did the Nixon tax case back in 1973 both as a prosecutor and a defense lawyer. It is unusual to be building a case based on these kinds of perks. I think the real question now is, how much are we talking about?
What is the value of these perks? How much money has been -- has the government been cheated out of as a result of using these perks? Just because Donald Trump came up with a new way of cheating the government and defrauding the state and local governments doesn't mean that this shouldn't be brought as a case.
What the defense lawyers are now trying to do is to minimize the charges. They're trying to, in some way, make it sound like, well, these aren't really serious tax charges. The proof in the pudding is going to come when we see that indictment and how much money is actually involved.
BROWN: Okay. Nick Akerman, thank you so much for joining us on this Sunday evening.
AKERMAN: Thank you for having me.
BROWN: And we are back in Surfside, Florida, in just a few minutes as we await live updates from authorities on the ground. And we're also going to speak with former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate about the search and rescue operation underway.
Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: This is CNN breaking news. We're live here in Surfside, Florida, where families are so anxiously waiting for answers about their missing loved ones. Authorities are set to give a live update very, very soon. Within the next several moments we'll have a live news conference here from all the top authorities. They'll answer reporters' questions. We'll have live coverage as soon as it begins.
Nearly 90 hours now, 90 hours since that condo building collapsed and 156 people are still unaccounted for, right now hope is the only thing these families have and they want answers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a mother. I don't know the best way to go about this. But it's impossible that in four days nobody has emerged dead or alive. Please don't tell me about the two people. I know about it. It's not enough. Imagine if your children were in there. You're going to leave here and you're going to take a nice picture, and I know you're doing everything you can, but it's not enough. You gave us a promise and you're not fulfilling it and you can fulfill it. Red tape is not important when my daughter is dying.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate is joining us now.
Craig, thank you so much for joining us. Obviously the teams down here are doing everything they possibly can, but how difficult is it during an effort like this to watch desperation turn to frustration? You just heard that mom.
CRAIG FUGATE, FORMER FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: You know, this is how people deal with grief and stress. And we need to let them express their views. You know, they need to tell their stories. But the responders know what they're doing and they have to really focus on their mission, which is trying to find any survivors. And then after that, give families closure by recovering the lost ones.
BLITZER: Do you think after four days it's possible there will be survivors? I know there have been cases over the years where they do find individuals, but what do you think when you look at the video, when you look at the rubble, when you see the pictures?
FUGATE: Well, we found in Haiti a week into that earthquake and buildings that were pancaked that you didn't think anybody could survive. The teams found people. They're using the dogs. Turns out dogs are one of our best tools to find survivors. And what we don't know is there any space or voids where somebody could survive. And this is why it's so difficult.
That pile is shifting. Anything that disturbs that pile could collapse what's left. And that's why the teams are being so slow and deliberate to make sure they don't cause any further damage, nor injure themselves while they try to find any survivors that may still be in that building.
BLITZER: Yes. The men and women of these search and rescue teams, they are heroes. They're risking their own lives going into that kind of a condition.
We learned today, Craig, that the city of Miami has sent letters to buildings over six stories tall here, urging them all to get inspections right away from structural engineers. Do you think that simply requesting buildings to get inspections goes far enough to prevent something like this from happening again? They're supposed to report back, those engineers are supposed to report back to the city within 45 days.
FUGATE: It's a start. Until we actually know what happened, I mean, there's a lot of speculation, there's a lot of people that have opinions, but until we get to what actually happened, we're not sure.
So it's prudent just to start checking for similar types of structures to see if there's anything we can identify. But it's going to be important to find out what happened and to see if that possibly could occur or exist at any other buildings so corrective measures can be taken before we see anything else like this happens.
BLITZER: Yes. It's hard to believe this has actually happened.
Craig Fugate, thank you, thanks for all your expertise, thanks for all your service over these many years.
Craig Fugate, the former FEMA administrator.
We're standing by, Pamela, for this news conference that's supposed to begin fairly soon. All the top authorities are here. They'll update us on the search and rescue operation. They'll make statements, they'll take reporters' questions. Of course we will have live coverage here.
Pamela, this is a minute-by-minute situation for these families.
BROWN: Just hearing that mother talk about her frustration, just that desperation in her voice, wanting to know more, wanting to find her daughter in the rubble, it's just beyond heartbreaking.
Wolf, thanks so much. We'll be back with you soon for that press conference.
In the meantime, up next on CNN NEWSROOM, my exclusive sit-down interview with America's chief cyberdefense official. I asked him about the paralyzing attacks on the country's critical infrastructure and he explains why he thinks paying hackers a ransom is bad for every American.
BROWN: Turning now to a CNN exclusive and a stark warning from the man in charge of the United States cyberdefense. He says that any business in the country using a computer is at risk for a serious cyberattack and just in recent weeks we've seen ransomware attacks shut down a major U.S. pipeline and stop operations at meat processing plants in several states. And now the nation's chief cyberdefense official says he's concerned hackers will soon go after even bigger targets that could further disrupt daily life in America.
BRANDON WALES, ACTING DIRECTOR, CYBERSECURITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE SECURITY AGENCY: Both of those incidents highlight the actual real- world consequences of cyber incidents targeting our critical infrastructure. And while today those attacks have impacted Americans at the gas pump and at the supermarkets, our concern is where could this go next?
Targeting hospitals, which we've already seen during the pandemic. Targeting the power grid, targeting other critical infrastructure that enables the American peoples' way of life.
BROWN: One of the messages your agency tries to get across to these companies is not to pay the ransom when there is a ransomware attack. But yet with JBS and Colonial they both paid the ransom. How much of a setback is that potentially in this fight?
WALES: We continue to believe that paying ransoms is a bad idea. It has both short and long-term impacts for the cyber security of the country and for potentially the cyber security of those individual companies. A recent study found that 80 percent of companies that have paid ransom have been hit again. And so the adversaries know that they are a target who's willing to pay. We also know that in up to 46 percent of cases even when you pay the ransom you still have data that is corrupted or unreadable even after you received a decryption key from the ransomware operator.
But more importantly, paying ransoms fuels this business cycle. The reason why ransomware is such an epidemic today is because it has been a proven demonstrated successful business model over the last several years and the criminal organizations that conduct these attacks have gotten bolder because they have received large amounts of money from American businesses and businesses around the world that have fueled their -- fuel their operations.
And until we disrupt that business model, until we make it so that they're not raising large amounts of money through relatively unsophisticated attacks, we're going to continue to face this scourge.
BROWN: But how do you incentivize these companies not to pay the ransom if by paying it their services would go back online and their cyber insurance can just pay them back for it?
WALES: There's no guarantee that your services are going to go back online, the decryption keys will work and that will work quickly enough to bring back your services when you want to. As indicated, a recent study found that 46 percent of cases there are problems with the ability to actually get your confidence services back up and running to the way it was before the attack. But more importantly, the way to incentivize it is to focus on ransomware before you actually suffer an attack.
Put in place the right level of security and resilience inside of your networks today. Don't wait to be a victim to then react to the problem. If you have in place some of the basic protections, if you have your systems backed up, offline backups ready, if you've exercised your ability to reconstitute your network in the face of a disruption, you're more likely to be able to ride that out, to not pay the ransom and get your services back up as quickly.
BROWN: So how many other companies are there out there like Colonial and JBS who are clearly very vulnerable to a ransomware attack?
WALES: I think this is really the challenge when it comes to ransomware, is that the attacks surface. The number of potential victims is almost endless because we have seen ransomware target large companies and small, multinational corporations and mom and pop shops, nonprofit organizations. Almost anyone who's operating an internet enabled business in the United States is potentially vulnerable.
So this is not a problem that's someone else's problem, this is everyone's problem. And every business, if they are using computers, should take -- should do the basic cyber security or hire someone else who can help you, but take those basic cyber security steps to make sure that your system is not the next victim of ransomware.
BROWN: And Wales also told me that while the JBS and Colonial cyberattacks obviously got a lot of attention, every single day there is a cyberattack or multiple attacks somewhere in the United States.
And we're going to have more from my interview with Brandon Wales next hour on how the next cyberattack could affect your daily life.
You're watching CNN's special coverage of the condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida. Any moment now officials will give an update on the search and rescue operations. And we will bring that to you live when it starts. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're going to get an update now on the search and rescue operation. Here's the mayor of Miami-Dade.
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: OK. Am I going to start in Spanish? No. OK. Our search and rescue efforts are continuing. For the last 24 hours and throughout the day, we have continued to see the incredible work of our fire rescue team. I could not be prouder of the work of these men and women and dogs who are all part of this operation. Their bravery, their selflessness, their total dedication to this mission.
These people live to save lives. It's an inspiration to all of us and to people all around the world. Their work getting the fire and the smoke under control was very, very pivotal, and the good weather today were two very positive developments in the search. And they have allowed the search and rescue effort to move forward without some of the previous challenges that we have faced.
So we continue to sweep the mound with our canines, using all of the technology available to us and machinery to lift the debris. And as of now, the number of confirmed fatalities remains at nine. And we can now report that we have identified an additional four of the victims. We're working to notify those next of kin first. And it is up to them after we'll release to the public and to the media.
So the total number of those accounts for is now 134. Unaccounted, 152. And I want to stress since the beginning, these numbers have been very, very fluid, and they will continue to be subject to change. That's because we get new information, people turn out were not there at the time and so on. And so it is very important to keep in mind that these numbers are not final. And we will bring you new information, of course.
So today we did give all of the families an opportunity to privately visit the site. This was something that many of the family members had requested. And so our teams worked to set up something to accommodate them. And I think that it turned out very well and they were very grateful for the opportunity. And we ask you to continue to pray for all of them, all of the families during this impossibly difficult time as they're waiting for news and to continue to pray for our first responders who continue to toil to find loved ones.
I also wanted to mention that there are some families with missing loved ones whom our detectives have not been able to reach. So if you do not have a police report open, please go to 9301 Collins Avenue here in Surfside and speak to a detective on site. It is very, very critical that if you are missing a loved one that you can report it to us.
The site is open 24 hours a day. We're taking DNA swabs from everybody at that location. So if relatives come in we will DNA swabs and this will be critically important for our identification.
I continue to be overwhelmed with the very generous, moving, outpouring of support from local cities, people, and around the country and the world. Those people have continued donating to our "Support Surfside" fund. We've now raised over $1.2 million. This is incredible. So please, if you want to help SupportSurfside.org.
Thank you and God bless to you all.
BLITZER: The Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County briefing us on the latest information. A very moving moment when she spoke about the families for the first time, now allowed earlier today to privately visit the site, what you're seeing on the screen right now. And she said those family members who went, they were very, very grateful.
She did confirm the numbers once again, horrible numbers. Nine confirmed dead, 152 people still unaccounted for. They have accounted for 134 people. But the sad word still, 152 people unaccounted for.
She praised those members, the men and women of the search and rescue teams who are working enormously long hours. 12-hour shifts. They're rotating in and out. In her words, these people live to save lives.
And Pamela, that is so, so true. I've had a chance to speak with several of them over these past few days while I have been here. And I know some of the family members are frustrated. They want more information. But I got to tell you, and you know this because you've covered these kinds of stories over the years, Pamela. These people are heroes and they will do whatever is necessary in the hope of finding people alive.
BROWN: They put themselves in harm's way to do that. As you point out, I have covered similar stories. I was in Haiti, I was in imbed with the search and rescue team there from Fairfax, and they worked morning through night, painstakingly going through rubble of collapsed buildings, looking for any signs of life even several days after the earthquakes there in Haiti. And you're seeing this there on day four.
The reason why it is slow going or slower than these families would like is because they're still hoping there are people that are still alive there in the rubble. And so they have to be so careful with every single step that they take so that they don't cause more damage and particularly harm someone or kill someone who could still be alive under the rubble. They are still holding out hope, Wolf.
We keep hearing stories time and time again of past disasters like in Haiti where survivors were pulled out of the rubble, eight, nine days after the earthquakes. But as we just heard there from the mayor, there really is no new update in terms of those confirmed dead.
She did say there were an additional four victims identified. But 152 people, Wolf, still unaccounted for. And you just think about all of those people's family, their loved ones, their friends who were just hoping and praying at this hour for positive news that their loved one will be found. BLITZER: Yes. And we're going to back to the news conference,
obviously, momentarily, once the next speaker starts his or her presentation because there are so many questions that the family members obviously still want answered. But everyone wants answered right now. How is it going? When does the search and rescue operation, for example, become a search and recovery operation? These are among the most painful kinds of decisions that these authorities have to make.
And you've got to give this Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, you've got to give her a lot, a lot of credit. You've got to give the mayor of Surfside a lot of credit as well because they have been working -- everyone here has been working nonstop. I think they've maybe gotten a couple hours sleep at night. But they are so dedicated, so determined to help these families, and hopefully, help find the loved ones.
And Pamela, as important as it is to determine what caused this collapse, right now, the most important thing is to find the loved ones. Let's go back to the news conference.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Thank you so much. First, I want to say in my faith tradition as well as Mayor Levine Cava's, when someone perishes, when someone's life has come to an end, we say may their memories be for a blessing.
And so I think it's important to just acknowledge that we have lost lives in this very tragic situation and may their memories be for a blessing.
I do want to commend Mayor Levine Cava who really has been the quarterback of this entire local state and federal effort. We really have seen a seamless process that has shown no daylight. And Mayor Burkett of the city of Surfside and his whole team have been dealing with unimaginable, unprecedented crisis, and have really risen to the occasion. And I can tell you, it gives me peace of mind as a member of Congress that represents this part of our community, to know that we're not dealing with any stress or tension here and that's incredibly helpful.
I did have a chance to meet Administrator Criswell, the FEMA administrator, was down here. I know she was part of this briefing this morning. I had a chance to talk with her. Mayor Levine Cava and I did that together. One of the things I think is important to stress, we are used to dealing with natural disasters and the aftermath of natural disasters here in south Florida. Obviously we live in hurricane alley.
And so, you know, FEMA in our midst is a common occurrence. But what we're talking about here, as I've said before, is an unprecedented tragedy. An unprecedented crisis. And one that is incomparable really anywhere in the U.S. before now. And so making sure that we inject and infuse humanity rather than bureaucracy throughout our response is so incredibly critical. And so Administrative Criswell was talking with us today, and really
was -- she stressed that it was really important and wonderful for the mayor and other officials here to give the families an opportunity to come closer to that rubble pile and to be able to grieve in their own way.
To be able to try to get some solace out of the closeness and the proximity to their loved one. To really hold on to hope or to perhaps begin to face the enormity of the crisis that we're dealing with here. To see up close the tunnels that have been burrowed by our incredible search and rescue teams, and I had a chance to sit down with the resting teams today while the active teams were on the pile, and talk with them.
I met and spoke with the Mexican search and rescue team. And they are really, you know, obviously, we wish we all weren't here but they were very glad to be able to be here, to be able to do everything they could to help our teams which have been nonstop. I met one of the incredible dogs, Lexie, who's been all over that pile. And being able to talk to them and hear the hope that they have so that I could reassure my constituents that yes, believe them when they still have hope.
You know, we obviously have some realism that we're dealing with but I keep telling them, as long as the experts that we trust are telling me they have hope to find people who might have been able to survive, then we have to make sure that we hold on to that hope.
And then lastly, it's another important thing so that we're infusing humanity throughout this entire process. Normally, when we are dealing with a tragedy, a crisis, a disaster, FEMA, you know, when we're in the aftermath of a hurricane, you know, you're sending your name in on a Web site or you're registering with an 800 number.
All the registrations are being done face to face here. That was a decision that was made, you know, early on so that we could make sure that we are understanding that this tragedy, this crisis happened to people that were just living the normalcy of their lives. And the gut of this community was cut out in an instant. And so recognizing and making sure that we keep that humanity threaded throughout this process is going to be critical.
I will go back to Washington tomorrow. We're in the midst of the appropriations process, making sure that we can have the resources we need and that those continue to flow, thanks to President Biden, making sure that we coordinate through all three levels of government is going to be critical and I'm happy to be here as part of a team to do that. Thank you so much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Congresswoman. And now our Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett.
MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: I just want to add a few comments to what Mayor Cava said. And she was very comprehensive. But that today my -- I started my day visiting the families and I ended my day visiting with the families. And I learned a lot.