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Condo Board Warned of Building Decay; Number of Dead Rises to 11; Rush to Inspect High-Rises After Collapse; Obama Comments on Election Claims. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 29, 2021 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00]

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, as always.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: Thanks.

HILL: Great to see you. And in person.

O'SULLIVAN: Yes.

HILL: Which is a really lovely treat.

Donie, thank you.

And CNN's coverage continues right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you here from New York. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us.

As rescuers begin their sixth day digging through the debris of the deadly condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, CNN has learned that residents of Champlain Tower South actually got a letter about decay in their building less than three months before this tragedy. The April letter warned, quote, the concrete deterioration is accelerating and that the roof situation has gotten much worse. This as families of the missing are desperately seeking any information about their loved ones. At least 11 people are confirmed dead. They range in age from 26 years old to 82 years old, and 150 remain missing this morning.

SCIUTTO: One hundred and fifty.

As federal investigators and structural engineers converge on the scene, there are now clues about the building's structural integrity. These photos were taken just 36 hours before the building collapsed by a contractor who was there to service the pool. That contractor told "The Miami Herald" that he saw standing water in the parking garage, and this, exposed and corroding rebar, those are metal bars within the concrete, in the concrete of the pool equipment room on the south side of the underground garage.

Our team is following all the latest developments from south Florida.

Let's begin, though, with CNN's Rosa Flores in Surfside.

So, Rosa, I mean this letter gets to the possibility, at least, of missed warning signs. I mean the reason for the letter was explaining a $15 million special assessment to condo owners to address some of these issues. Those payments were set to begin just days from now.

What else do we learn from the letter, and how severe these warning signs might have been?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jim, it's very telling that in the 2018 report that we've been talking about, it warns about this happening. So really what stands out to me about this is that we should listen to engineers and follow the science.

Let me recap it for you because in 2018 the engineers warned that there was major structural damage, that there were exposed and deteriorating rebar, that the waterproofing was beyond its useful life, and it warned that if that waterproofing was not replaced, it would create an exponential deterioration.

And so fast forward time -- oh, and at the time, the assessment was estimated at $9 million.

Now, forward time to April of 2021, we know that the estimate increased to $15 million. And specifically in that letter it states that the deterioration did indeed accelerate.

Let me read from that report and you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about here. It reads, quote, because so much of the needed concrete waterproofing work is underground, we must pull up almost the entire ground level of the lot to access the areas that require repair. It goes on to say, this includes the pool deck, the entire entry drive, and ground-level parking, north side contractor parking, and planters landscaping. That is the area that experts believe should be the focus of this investigation, that bottom portion, the foundation, the structural integrity of that, Jim and Poppy.

And so, of course, all of that is part of the -- will be part of the investigation. For now, this letter just gives us a better idea of what it was and what it looked like just months before this collapse.

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: And on top of all of it, bad weather expect to come back in and complicate things for the rescue crews?

FLORES: You know, these search and rescue teams have had challenge after challenge. Starting today, we're expecting thunderstorms for the rest of the week, with extended lightning. And if you look at the debris pile, you'll see that this is a partial collapse. There's a portion of the building still standing. So there is mangled rebar. There are large pieces of concrete that are dangling. That, of course, is a huge concern, and it was overnight. My colleague, John Berman, asked the mayor of Surfside about this and here's what he had to say. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: They put a little bit of a lime on the -- on the pile of debris because they did have -- overnight they did have some stuff falling down from the building that's still standing. And that's going to have to be addressed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLORES: Now, there's so many dangers, Jim and Poppy.

Now, we've been talking about the families as well and how they are waiting for answers and how they asked to go to the site. Well, yesterday, we learned from officials that while the families were there, one of the rescue workers tumbled 25 feet, because when it rains, it also becomes very slippery. Again, so many challenges and so many dangers for these men and women that are looking for signs of life.

[09:05:04]

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Goodness, 25 feet. I mean a real danger for the rescue workers.

Rosa Floes, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, let's bring in Abieyuwa Aghayere, a professor of structural engineering at Drexel University, who specializes in structural failure analysis.

Professor, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

ABIEYUWA AGHAYERE, PROFESSOR OF STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING, DREXEL UNIVERSITY: My pleasure.

HARLOW: When you heard that reporting from Rosa, when you read what "The Miami Herald" has uncovered about the shocking need for pool repairs that the contractor came and took these photos of -- I think we can pull them up for you -- just months ago, and then this three- month-ago letter to residents saying, this is how bad it is. We need to address this and it's going to include a $15 million assessment.

When you put all of this together, what does it indicate to you as someone whose specialty, again, is structural failure?

AGHAYERE: First off, I want to say that my heart goes out to the families impacted by this.

Some of the things we can learn from this is that this -- the report from 2018 and the letter itself indicates how critical it is for us to maintain our structures in a timely manner. If they had addressed this issue in 2018 per chance we would not be where we are at today. Because what happened -- what was happening in other parts of the building that were exposed to saltwater, in the case that the structure was crying out for help and needed, you know, the engineers to really go in and figure out what's happening to the structure, because these flat slab structure has, you know, punch and sheer is a critical failure mode where the -- the column punches through the slab. That needed to be checked to make sure that it was ruled out.

So some of the things that I learned from this, again, like I said, is to maintain our structures in a timely manner, and also to make sure that structures that are on the coast like this, that are exposed to saltwater, are inspected, not every 40 years, but inspected sooner than that. Maybe 10 to 15 years.

The codes are changing. This particular structure did not have what we call structural integrity reinforcement because it was built in 1981. In 1989 the code introduced structural integrity reinforcement, which is rebar that goes from column to column in both directions. That would have prevented the pancaking effect or the domino effect that happened during the failure of this structural.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Aghayere, as I look at this here, I mean I'm curious, you kind of have to look inside the building to know what's going on, but there were clues on the outside because it talks about concrete cracking and the head of the homeowner's association, you know, as you were saying, says that that's a sign about the rebar, the metal reinforcement inside rusting, perhaps, from saltwater and so on.

So when I look at that, I wonder, how do you look at and assess other buildings in the area to see if they have similar internal problems here? And do you consider that a priority now, an urgent priority to look at other buildings like this?

AGHAYERE: I believe so. I believe -- in fact, buildings that were built prior to when the structural integrity reinforcement came into being in the code, need to be inspected to make sure -- especially those along the coast -- to make sure that the concrete is not deteriorated, because if it is, then the design thickness of the concrete that was exhumed during the design may not be there. The rebar may be corroded. That was depending on during the design may not be there. So they need to be inspected.

HARLOW: Well, we know that residents are still allowed, anyone who wants to stay, in the sister building, which is Champlain Towers North, which was built a year later by the same developer, same design, you would assume same or very similar materials.

Now, they are being given other housing if they want to leave, but should they, at this point, even be allowed to stay, in your assessment?

AGHAYERE: Now, from what I've seen of the building that collapsed, the structural drawing that I have reviewed, I will say that if it's exactly the same in that sister building, then I would not go into that building because I believe that the sheer walls should be reviewed, the walls that help resist the lateral wind loads, the columns should be reviewed, the -- HARLOW: But I would note, Professor, I would just say that just --

just because they're similar buildings it doesn't mean they were maintained the same way, right?

[09:10:03]

AGHAYERE: Yes. That's correct. That's correct. But, still, if they were designed exactly the same way -- because part of the investigation is going to have to ask the question, was the original design adequate?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

AGHAYERE: That's part of the, you know, the questions that will be asked. It will not be as --

SCIUTTO: And you're saying that this is a design --

AGHAYERE: It will not be --

SCIUTTO: That was used in 1981, but no longer used after a number of years later? I mean is there something specific to this design that you think is at issue here?

AGHAYERE: Well, there was -- like I said, the structural integrity reinforcement was included in the code and brought into the code to prevent the pancaking effect. So if a column were to fail in (INAUDIBLE), the slab/column connection, there would not be the pancaking effect where the slaps are dropping on each other.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

AGHAYERE: So that is not present in the current structure that we're talking about.

So any structure that doesn't even have that structural integrity reinforcement I believe should be inspected to find out whether there is even deterioration taking place and so that that can be arrested and that we don't have punch and sheer (ph) failure.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Goodness, so many -- so many broader questions here for others perhaps in similarly designed buildings.

Abieyuwa Aghayere, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

AGHAYERE: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: With at least 11 now confirmed dead but 150 people still unaccounted for, hundreds of community members have gathered on Surfside Beach. Last night they held a vigil remembering the victims of that condo collapse.

HARLOW: Our Nick Valencia joins us again this morning.

Nick, good morning to you.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

HARLOW: Authorities did identify three more of the deceased last night.

VALENCIA: That's right, Poppy. Ad so many family members still have not received official word, but they tell me that they're beginning to accept that their loved ones have perished.

We did get the names of three who were identified, pulled from the rubble. And with respect to the deceased, we'd like to read their names here out loud.

Marcus Joseph Guara, 52 years old.

Frank Kleiman, he was 55.

And Michael David Altman, 50 years old.

Family members here are waiting for that closure. And among those families who have received some closure is the family of Sergio Lozano, who says that he actually could see the apartment of his parents from the view of his own, often enjoyed cooking with each other. He has found solace in knowing that his parents' bodies were found in that debris together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERGIO LOZANO, PARENTS DIED IN CHAMPLAIN TOWERS COLLAPSE: I could see my mom cooking from my apartment when night would fall. Their kitchen where my dad would sit and watch TV. It wasn't there. It's just like -- I don't know.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the search continued, were you -- did you have any hope that they would be found alive?

LOZANO: I didn't. I was just praying to God that they went quick, and that they were together. I was told they were in bed together. That's the end of their romantic story, they went together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VALENCIA: And, of course, there's always hope. It's the last thing that remains here. But that is dimming with so many family members I've spoken to who said that they're not going to wait for official word from the locals here, from the local authorities to start that period of mourning.

Abigail Pereira (ph) has two friends, including their six-year-old daughter, who are still among the missing. She said last night to me that she's not going to be doing any more interviews. Instead, just focusing on her pain and how to manage that.

Saria Cohen (ph), whose husband and brother-in-law are also among the unaccounted, also declined our interview request, saying instead that she'd like to focus on the legacy of her husband. I asked her if she had a message for our viewers, and she said to take in a good deed in the merit of her husband Brad Cohen.

This is day six of the search and rescue, but for so many they're just waiting for that official word that this mission will soon turn into a recovery mission.

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Nick Valencia, thank you for honoring their lives and bringing us their words like that very much.

SCIUTTO: So many families.

Still to come this hour, families are demanding answers as a community vows to make sure that something like this never happens again. We're going to speak to a commissioner for Surfside, Florida, about the community's responsibility. That's next.

HARLOW: Also, former President Obama says his successor violated a, quote, core tenet of democracy. His warning for America is ahead.

And an unprecedented high wave shattering high temperatures across the country, from coast to coast, as Americans flock to cooling centers. When will the relief come?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:19:19]

Welcome back.

In the wake of this tragic collapse, CNN affiliate WPLG is reporting the city of Miami Beach is deploying an army of structural engineers to inspect buildings all across the city, all of them currently undergoing their 40 year recertification process.

SCIUTTO: Yes, lots of concern among people living in similar buildings and in a similar area.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us now.

So, Brian, condo owners up and down the coast of Miami-Dade, I mean they're understandably asking questions right now about their own buildings. What do we know? And I suppose the question is, how quickly can these inspectors get through all of them?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Poppy, condo owners throughout this region are -- of course, are very, very worried this morning about all of this, trying to prevent this kind of calamity from happening to them.

[09:20:03]

We got an exclusive inside look at what one condominium complex in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, about five miles north of here, is going through as they scramble to repair some of the damage in their complex, which is about the same age as the Champlain Tower South. Take a look at what we saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): Municipalities on the Florida coast are scrambling tonight to make sure the kind of collapse that happened in Surfside doesn't happen to them. CNN got exclusive access to the re-inspection and repairs going on at the Winston Towers complex in Sunny Isles Beach, just a few miles north of Surfside. We saw worried residents complaining about the red tape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't (ph) get marching orders for 40-year examination.

TODD: There are seven buildings in this complex, each either the same age or older than the condo that collapsed in Surfside. Each more than 20 stories tall with at least 250 units in every building. Inspectors show us the damage inside the parking garage right under the pool deck, a layout similar to the Champlain Towers complex.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Similar design.

TODD: The pool water drained for this repair. There are columns and concrete floor cracking, rusted rebar and cables that support the concrete.

Inspector Robert Conde looks at a support column that needs repair.

TODD (on camera): When you look at this now, given what happened in Champlain, how big a concern is this?

ROBERT CONDE, INSPECTOR: A very big concern.

TODD: Why?

CONDE: It has to be addressed. Because it could fail and people could die.

TODD (voice over): These inspectors emphasize this is normal wear and tear for buildings like this and it doesn't mean the building is in imminent danger of collapse.

Still, the work will have to be done to prevent a repeat of the Surfside collapse. A contractor points to something he's concerned about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chlorine from the pool has deteriorated the reinforcing and the post tension cable in these areas. So that's why we have a massive repair underneath this pool.

TODD: And Sunny Isles Beach Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin points out it's the owners of each unit who have to pay for the repairs.

VICE MAYOR LARISA SVECHIN, SUNNY ISLES BEACH, FLORIDA: These buildings are up against a huge assessment potentially, up to $25,000 apiece. This is where our families live, our middle class, our working class, the people that are working in the restaurants, all the kids that go to the school, all the kids that would normally use this pool. These people are not in a situation where they are able to afford that kind of money.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And as urgent as this process is, it is also painstaking. The officials there in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, told us that their process of inspecting and repairing that building and the others around it started about six months to a year before the Surfside collapse. And it's going to take another two to three years to complete.

So, Jim and Poppy, you get a sense of what hundreds, maybe thousands of building complexes in south Florida are going through now. It's going to take a long time to straighten all this out.

HARLOW: Brian Todd, thank you so much for taking our viewers inside to see what is actually happening. I'm glad they're repairing it. Thanks very much.

Well, ahead, to politics. Former President Obama criticizing his predecessor for spreading election lies, while emphasizing the need to protect voting rights, saying it is now more critical than ever. We'll discuss.

SCIUTTO: And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures are mixed. The Nasdaq composite and S&P 500 closed at record highs on Monday powered by gains in tech stocks. Investors are waiting on the big jobs report out at the end of this week. We're going to see how markets opened this morning. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:28:05]

SCIUTTO: Former President Barack Obama is describing former President Trump's lies that the 2020 election was stolen as, quote, a whole bunch of hooey. Not far from what Bill Barr has said about those claims.

HARLOW: Yes, that's very true, minus the profanity.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Listen to what Obama said during a virtual Democratic fundraiser last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: In this election, what we saw was my successor, the former president, violate that core tenet that we count the votes and then declare a winner and fabricate and make up a whole bunch of hooey.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon is with us.

John, this was your "Reality Check" this morning. That was excellent.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Thank you.

HARLOW: But, look, what I think is interesting is, this is the second time in pretty much as many weeks that we've heard President Obama come out publicly to criticize his predecessor. But, more importantly, to warn America. And it's rare for a president to do that. And it just shows how important this moment is.

AVLON: I think that's right. And this goes beyond sort of the breaking in decorum between not criticizing president --

HARLOW: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Right.

AVLON: But really focusing on a future threat that's looming, that's being enacted in states.

What he's talking about is raising consciousness beyond the issue of voter suppression, which is urgent. But to something new and even potentially more troubling, which is election subversion. A lot of these efforts in states to undercut the power of secretaries of states that have shown any kind of independence to put the state legislature in charge of those elections that sets up a future potential conflict where they could try to overturn the results of these elections. This is the downstream effect of the big lie. It's being instituted in state legislatures right now. There's an effort in Arizona. There's -- there -- Brad Raffensperger in Georgia was basically cut out of the loop by the state legislature.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

AVLON: So this is serious stuff.

[09:30:00]

But folks need to realize what -- it raises the stakes for really de- legitimatizing our democracy going forward.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: So Barack Obama certainly not alone among Democrats.

AVLON: Yes.

SCIUTTO: He's actually not alone among Republicans.