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At Least Nine Dead, 153 Missing amid Search for Survivors; Families, Crews Hoping for Miracles as Rescue Window Narrows; Biden Orders Airstrikes on Facilities Used by Iran-Backed Militias. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 28, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Welcome back. It is the top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Thank you for being with me this morning.

Loved ones are looking for answer that unfortunately may not come for some time. 152 people remain missing this morning as search and rescue teams work around the clock in Surfside, Florida. Nine people are confirmed dead in this condo collapse. Eight of those victims have been identified.

There are two significant positive developments in the last 24 hours that may aid these search and rescue efforts, fire fighters have contained a deep-rooted fire and the weather is now much more favorable for crews. That has helped rescuers carve out a trench as they search for missing residents.

Also this morning, sadly, details about a 2018 engineering report of this building that showed it had major structural damage. More on that in a moment.

Let's begin though with our Rosa Flores again this hour in Surfside, Florida, for the latest on the search and rescue efforts. What can you tell us, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, the fire chief saying that they are using every single tool in their tool box very aggressively. They are using canines, sonar, we've drones over the pile of debris. They've also, like you mentioned, cut into the debris with a trench, creating a trench.

Now this is really important and I think I should explain it a little more because it would give you an idea of just the type of work that is being done at this site. According to the fire chief, this trench is 40 feet deep, so about three storeys high. It is 20 feet wide and 125 feet long.

Now, we've heard investigators call this a pancake collapse. So imagine taking a slice of that collapse, it allows to you see the different layers of concrete.

Now, the fire chief telling me yesterday that, unfortunately, they did not see as many voids as they would have wanted to. Of course, voids are signs of life. We know that they announced yesterday that four bodies were recovered and also some remains.

Now, about the investigation, and this is important for the families, because they're waiting at the reunification center right now, they want to know about their loved ones, they eventually will want to know exactly what happened, what caused this horrific collapse.

We've learned from the police that homicide detectives are working in tandem with the search and rescue teams. So whenever a body or remains are found, these homicide detectives photograph the scene, collect evidence and also DNA is taken, samples of DNA.

Now, that is important because whenever remains are found, then that DNA can be compared, Poppy, to the DNA that we know that the loved ones at that reunification center had provided authorities. This will hopefully expedite the information that these families are hoping to get sooner rather than later.

Of course, I know that they would want to learn that their loved ones are alive and that is why the search and rescue efforts continue around the clock. Poppy?

HARLOW: And they've been very clear, it is still search and rescue because they believe there could be people alive in there. We certainly hope there are. Rosa, thank you for that reporting.

So far, eight of the nine deceased victims have been identified with respect to those who have died. We'd like to read all of their names here.

Here is what we know. The first victim 54-year-old Stacie Fang. She was pulled from the rubble Thursday but later died at the hospital. She's the mother of Jonah Handler. He was also pulled alive from the rubble on Thursday morning during the dramatic rescue captured on video.

The remaining victims identified are Antonio Lozano, 83-year-olds old, and Gladys Lozano, 79, Manuel LaFont, 54, Leon Oliwkowicz, 80 years old, Luis Bermudez, 26, Anna Ortiz, 46, and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74 years old. Of course, as we get more information, we will bring it to you.

Now, the dozen, of family members of missing victims are growing, understandably more frustrated.


Some of them saying they're just not getting answers in a timely manner. Some of them were taken by bus to the collapse site on Sunday.

Our Nick Valencia joins me again this hour. Nick, I mean this was a hard -- impossible choice they had to make, but for some of them going to the site is what they wanted to do. What are they telling you?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a combination of emotions, Poppy. The fire chief here and the local fire telling us that it is a combination of emotions, everyone processes things differently.

The family is currently in a briefing right now with local officials. And I asked Pablo Rodriguez, who I just got at the phone with, if he would like to join us on camera, he wasn't able to but did want to. But he did want to record the message for our viewers his. And you can just hear how distraught he is, his voice trembling as he gave us his message.


PABLO RODRIGUEZ, MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER ARE MISSING (voice over): As the days tick on, it is harder to hold on to any little hope that we do have that we'll be able to see them again alive. It is been especially difficult this weekend because they were always coming over on the weekend, we would always be together so my son is still asking when we can call them, when are they coming over, when are they coming over, when are we going to see them again. And we can't tell him yet that he's not going to be able to see them again.

So we're sitting by anxiously awaiting any news to be able to move on to the next steps. That is the only hope we really have right now of -- regarding them. The only other hope that is starting to increase is that there are investigations going on. People are starting to get interested in the story. The owners had complained many times about the board, about the finances, about the condition of the building. And for the board to have allowed the building to get into this condition of disrepair is unconscionable. So we are hopeful that this doesn't go away and that the people that allowed this to help are held responsible.


VALENCIA: Now, as we're talking here, we just saw a bus with some of those family members in them on their way to the site presumably. We know that another group is going to be taken at 2:00 P.M. More on Rodriguez, he was one of those over the weekend, Poppy, that volunteered for a mouth swab in the event his DNA could help identify the remains of his grandmother and mother.

It really strikes me that just a week ago, all of these families were together under normal circumstances over the weekend, as you just heard from Pablo say it is time that they usually spend together. And his young son asking where his grandmother is and where his great grandma is and they have not yet had the heart to tell them -- to tell him what happened.

So we will keep an eye on what happens here, but, clearly, a range of emotions being felt by everybody. Poppy?

HARLOW: Of course, how do answer that impossible question from your children? Nick, thank you for your excellent reporting down there and hearing his voice just -- wow, it really brought it home for so many people.

As search and rescue crews are combing through the rubble in Surfside, the community is still in shock. My next guest, Gabriel Groisman, is the mayor of Bal Harbour. He lived in this building for more than ten years as a child. Over the weekend, he tweeted this picture of him along with this three daughters, and writes, in December for my 40th birthday, my wife took me on a scavenger hunt that traced my life. Our first stop was Champlain Tower South, my first home in Southern Florida when I moved here in 1984, the tower behind me is no longer standing.

Bal Harbour Florida Mayor Gabriel Groisman joins me now. Good morning, I'm so sorry it is under these circumstances and I have to start with you where I just left off with our reporter, Nick, and that is how do you explain something this like to your children, to your girls?

MAYOR GABRIEL GROISMAN, BAL HARBOUR, FLORIDA: So, thank you for having me. Look, I explained it to me girls the way it is. I tell them what happened. And the reality is, at this point, no one knows why this the building collapsed, just the fact that it collapsed and that we have over 150 people still missing.

And I tell them what I tell everybody, which is we have in Miami-Dade fire rescue, we have the best team in the world out there not just in their technical abilities but in the care and emotions that they have when I visit with them, seeing the hard work that they're doing to do everything they can to find survivors.

HARLOW: One of the elements of this that adds so much pain, and I know you've talked about this as being a member of the Jewish community, and as an Israeli-American yourself, is that for the deceased, there is so much in terms of custom, of burial and being by the side of someone who has died that cannot be carried out right now. And I just wonder if you could explain how much more difficult that is making it for the entire community here.


GROISMAN: Yes. To clarify, all of the Jewish customs and laws related to passing and the way you handle deceased are being observed and respected. We have the support from everybody, from the local mayors to the state, to the federal level. I actually just walked out of a meeting about 20 people that are in charge of making sure that any remains or bodies that are found from the moment that they are pulled out of the site and treated not just with respect but in accordance to Jewish law. And it is important for the families to know that.

HARLOW: Mayor, I know that there is frustration. We hear it from all of the reporters on the ground there. We hear it from family members. I was texting with a mom last night whose mother is still among the missing who we had on on Friday, and some feel as though, I'm sure you heard this, they are not getting enough answers soon enough. Are you hearing that from them?

GROISMAN: Yes, I'm hearing that from them. And the reality is if you could just put yourself in their shoes for a second, it is not even a possible feat. But if you were to try, you would realize that it is not fast enough, it is never fast enough. But I can tell you, and as I've told them, I spent most of my time in the family center with the families, hours and hours a day.

But between that, I come to the site for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening. And from day one the work is being done that is incredible. It is a very dangerous site, as you've seen many times, I'm sure. We have half of the tower still standing. They're working right under this tower, which isn't even stable, to try to find the bodies.

At the end of the day though, for the families, like you said, it is true, it is not fast enough. But it is never fast enough for them. It is a very difficult site and they know -- they know in their heart that everybody is doing what they can, and I can confirm that they are. And we all are still hopeful, we're remaining hopeful this many days out. And although with time that we hope that starts to dwindle but we have to hold onto it.

HARLOW: It has been meaningful, really meaningful, to see even from a distance, people from around the world coming to help, the team from Mexico that is arriving today. And if you could just speak to the members of the IDF, who came over the weekend with such expertise to help as well.

GROISMAN: Sure. Sure. On the first day, we had a group from Mexico called CADENA, which means chain, a volunteer search of experts. They came on the site. And then many of the family members that are Jewish were asking the governor and the county mayor if they can allow the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force search force team to come help out, to just lend a hand to the Miami-Dade team, and they said yes. And it was coordinated rather quickly. It took two days, but they came from across the world and their team is on the site helping out and that the county has accepted them graciously they're working hand in hand. Of course, still, there are hundreds of members from Miami-Dade County and from the state and the team from Israel is 11 or 12 that came down to help out.

Look, this is a team effort and in every single aspect. If you go over to the community center, you have people from all over the world, of every religion, race. And together just there is an overpouring of food and apartments and money and anything to help the families, and there is also an overflowing of prayer, which is something that we need at this time. Because at the end of the day, we need to work but we also need a miracle.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. Mayor Gabriel Groisman from neighboring Bal Harbour, thank you very much for your time this morning.

GROISMAN: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: We're going to talk to someone involved in these rescue efforts, what their team is finding ahead and what should lawmakers do to make sure that this can never happen again. I will speak with a Miami-Dade official who is promising legislation to try to prevent another tragedy like this one. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


HARLOW: Well, search and rescue continues in Surfside, Florida. Some families still holding out hope. Listen to this from Andy Alvarez. He is the deputy incident commander with Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue. This is him early this morning.


REPORTER: Have you been able to find any pockets, any air pockets, anything like that?

CHIEF ANDY ALVAREZ, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: We have. We have found voids within the building that we've been able to penetrate, mostly coming obviously from underneath the building through the basement of what used to be the garage and we have been able to tunnel through the building. But, you know, again, this is a frantic search to continue to see that hope, that miracle, to see who we can bring out of this building alive.


HARLOW: Well, with me now is Structural Engineer Leon Roy Hausmann. He is the co-founder of the Miami chapter of the CADENA Foundation, which responds to hurricanes and natural disasters.

And, Leon, you live ten minutes from here. I mean, this is not only what you do but this is your town, this is your community.

LEON ROY HAUSMANN, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: That is correct. It is devastating for us.

HARLOW: How does this compare to the natural disasters that I just mentioned? You're used to responding to, you know, the tragedies that mother nature wreaks, right? And this is -- this must be unlike what you've seen before.

HAUSMANN: Yes. It is very different, first of all, because usually the missions that we're conducting are abroad.


And to do it in your hometown, in your community, in your area, in the U.S. is just very different and very touching to our hearts. We know a lot of people that were in that building. So, it becomes a bit more intimate.

HARLOW: Are those that you knew among the missing?

HAUSMANN: Yes, ma'am.

HARLOW: I'm so sorry. I want people to understand the extent to which you and your team are going. You've talked about this life locator machine that you brought. What is that and how is it being used right now?

HAUSMANN: Correct. So, the life locator is a device that we have that basically what we're doing, we're scanning the pile of rubble in different locations trying to identify signs of life. And this device and works as a sonar so it could detect life within the rubble -- beneath the rubble for up to 39 feet. And we've been using it all across trying to identify signs of movement, which we're continuing to use and with the hope of finding survivors. That is our main goal.

HARLOW: You have brought up a Hebrew phrase that you say means repair the world. Can you tell us what that phrase is and also for our viewers how that has helped guide you in this work that you and your team are doing around the clock?

HAUSMANN: Sure. The word is tikkun olam. And tikkun olam in Hebrew, it means to repair the world. So in CADENA'S philosophy, that is what drives us to do what we do. And we have over 1,000 missions all across the world and ten nations similar to this one where buildings have collapsed in different areas, like Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Tibet, Nepal, et cetera. And this is what motivated us to do what we do, to go into treacherous areas, like the one that we're working now, and to not stop until we have conclusion.

HARLOW: We heard Commander Alvarez say just in the introduction to you that they have been able to find voids in this search and rescue effort coming up from the bottom. Has your team had similar success in terms of finding more of those pockets where someone could possibly be surviving by entering on the lower levels through what remains of the parking garage, for example?

HAUSMANN: Yes. So I just want to make clear that we are supporting the efforts of the fire department of Miami-Dade, which they're doing an amazing job, nonstop, 24 hours. And we're so grateful that they allow us to contribute to their efforts. So since they are realizing (ph) the rescue mission, we are conducting with them and helping them as much as we can. So, yes, we have been participating in such efforts.

And we remain hopeful, even though that every time, every hour that passes, chances get reduced. We still remain hopeful. We had occasions in the past in which after six days, seven days, we have been able to rescue people alive. So we don't lose hope until, you know, we can continue searching.

HARLOW: That is right, there have been times when people have been found beyond this five days. We are all hoping for that. Thank you very much, Leon Roy Hausmann, to you and your time at CADENA's.

HAUSMANN: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Of course. And for all of you watching, for any information about how you can help the victims and their families of the Surfside building collapse, just go to

Up next, former Attorney General Bill Barr now admits that former President Trump's election fraud claims were, in his words, quote, B.S. The former president is responding to that. We'll have an update ahead.



HARLOW: At least four Iran-backed militia fighters are dead after the United States carried out airstrikes over the weekend along the Iraq/Syria border. President Biden order those strikes.

Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with more. Barbara, what can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Poppy. President Biden ordering those strikes overnight, two sites in Syria, one in Iraq along a border crossing area where the U.S. says these Iranian-backed militias that have been firing against U.S. troops in Iraq are being very active. One of the big concerns is these militia groups have armed drones that are difficult for the U.S. to detect at times. And it is no surprise, the U.S. had been watching all of this very carefully and had wanted to go after these sites as soon as they could essentially nail down the target locations.

These Iranian-backed militias are very strong inside of Iraq and there is concern that the Iraqi government isn't able to be strong enough to get a handle on them. The U.S. doesn't want this to get out of hand, doesn't want any of these future attacks, of course, to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, because that could really set off a new level of confrontation with Iran.

You see the video that was released very quickly within hours of the attack happening. That is a real message, precision strikes, defensive strikes, in the minds of the U.S. but very much a message to Tehran, a message to Baghdad to get the militias to stop doing this.



HARLOW: Very good point. Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon, thank you.