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President Biden Touts Infrastructure Bill in Wisconsin; President Obama Warns of Dangers of Misinformation; Florida Rescue Efforts Continue. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 29, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK, top of the hour now. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

And we begin with the search of survivors in Surfside, Florida. President Biden and the first lady are scheduled to visit this disaster site on Thursday. At this hour, so many families are still waiting for any word on their missing loved ones.

It's been six days since the catastrophic collapse at Champlain Towers South at those condos. Officials just gave an update, but the numbers remain unchanged. The bodies of 11 victims have been found and identified, but 150 people remain missing.

The weather is adding to the risk for rescuers. There's worry about lightning strikes as the teams move through rubble and steel.

CNN's Rosa Flores has been following every development of this for us.

So, Rosa, I know that there are many hazards that the rescuers might be facing. So what's happening at this hour?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Alisyn, I talked to the state fire marshal about this. And he put it like this.

He says that the entire pile of rubble is divided into a grid. So, the piece of the building that you see behind, because this is a partial collapse, that is considered the alpha section. Now, that was evacuated on Thursday; 35 people were removed from that building.

Then there's other sections of this grid. It includes bravo, charlie delta. And what these rescuers are doing is, they are tunneling. So some of them are actually under that rubble, shoring up areas and risking their lives to go under there looking for voids and signs of life.

There are other rescuers that are on top of that mound. And they are delayering. So they are peeling pieces, debris, concrete. Some of it is pulverized. Some of them, it's just very large pieces of concrete that is very dangerous.

Now, you were talking about the weather moments ago. That's one of the biggest issues, because rain makes the surfaces very, very slippery. And if you look at the actual alpha portion of the building, the building that is still standing, you will see that there's mangled rebar, there's very large pieces of debris.

That's one of the biggest concerns right now, according to the mayor of Surfside. He says that it is -- it is an area that they have had to block off because of the dangers. Take a listen.


CHARLES BURKETT, MAYOR OF SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: Overnight, there were issues with some debris falling off the building. The west side of the pile had to be cordoned off a little bit, because it was becoming excessively dangerous to work there.

What has happened is that I understand the work still continues from the sides and underneath. But that area was cordoned off until they can sort of get their arms around the debris that's falling down.


FLORES: Now, Alisyn, the fire marshal tells me that, because this collapse happened at 1:30 in the morning, they believe that most of the people were in their bedrooms. They have learned that the bedrooms had carpet, the bathrooms have tiling in this building.

And so one of the things that the searchers are looking for is carpet. They're trying to find and following the flooring to make sure that they get to the areas, hopefully with signs of life.

And I want to leave you with this, because the fire marshal shared with us that they have been finding mementos, a lot of personal items, including a birthday card that was very touching for the searchers and for the fire marshal as well. It had butterflies on it. It had blood on it, Alisyn.

And the fire marshal tells us that they're taking these mementos, these personal items with a lot of care, because, for some of these family members, this is the only thing that they have to remember their loved ones -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Oh, Rosa, it's just -- it's heartbreaking, all of these fragments of life that they are finding. Thank you very much for being there for us.

Now, earlier today, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis met with the families of those who have died and who are still missing.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Yes, this is turned out upside-down the worlds of a lot of really great people, not only in this state, but beyond. And to hear the stories of the folks who are in the towers who either

passed away or are missing, the amount of I think sympathy that's been pouring in is emblematic of some of the lives that many of these people had been leading.

They have touched people all across this world.


CAMEROTA: Nick Valencia is live in Surfside, Florida.

So, Nick, it's day six. What are the families saying today?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a lack of willingness here to listen to some of these briefings on behalf of some of the family members.


Some have altogether stopped listening to the press conferences that we get in the mornings, because they tell me they're just not expecting to hear anything new at this point.

It's something that I have asked Surfside mayor about, if he's giving or if local officials here are giving the community a false sense of hope by continuing to make this a rescue mission and not transitioning to a recovery mission.

He believes, he says, that some of those still unaccounted for may have survived this. In fact, he keeps using this comparison of Bangladesh. Just take a listen. Hear what he had to say.


BURKETT: One of the other questions by the family members was, how long can people survive under the rubble, which was an excellent question. And there didn't seem to be a good answer to that.

From May 2013, where a woman was pulled from the ruins of a factory in Bangladesh 17 days after it collapsed. Nobody's giving up hope here. Nobody's stopping. The work goes on full force.


VALENCIA: That comparison, though, may not be applicable here.

I asked the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue to respond to that. They said it just may not be a fair comparison. The nature of the collapse, the type of collapse that it was, how it pancaked down, they say, and not only that, but the type of materials used here to design or that was used in the design of this building are far different from what's used in Bangladesh and places like Haiti, another comparison that we hear.

So we are now at day six, where some family members, they're not waiting for the officials to give them word as to whether or not their loved ones are dead or alive. They have come to grips with never seeing their family members again. They're starting to lose hope.

And what's evident to us here is the evolution of that loss of hope. When we got here on Thursday, there was such a strong belief and feeling after that teenage boy was pulled from the rubble that some sort of miracle would happen to these family members still waiting for their loved ones.

That miracle, though, on day six has yet to happen -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood. Maybe the miracles have all already happened.

Nick, thank you so much for all of that context. That's really helpful.

We're also learning about more red flags raised about the building's structural integrity before the collapse. Less than three months ago, the head of the condo association board sent a letter to residents warning that the structural damage in the building had gotten significantly worse since it was spelled out in that 2018 inspection report.

Quote: "The observable damage, such as in the garage, has gotten significantly worse. The concrete deterioration is accelerating." And the letter says the damage could be found to be even worse once the work began.

Quote: "Also, when performing any concrete restoration work, it is impossible to know the extent of the damage to the underlying rebar until the concrete is opened up. Oftentimes, the damage is more extensive than can be determined by inspection of the surface."

It concludes -- quote -- "A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by, but this is where we are now."

Just 36 hours before Thursday's collapse, another red flag. These photos were taken by a contractor who was there to service the pool. That contractor told "The Miami Herald" he saw cracked concrete and standing water in the parking garage. "The Herald" points out it is still unclear if what we are seeing here contributed to the collapse.

Joining us now is Stephanie Walkup. She's a forensic structural engineer. She also teaches at Villanova University. Also with us is Jared Moskowitz, who served as director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management.

It's great to have both of you here and your expertise.

Stephanie, I want to pull those pictures up again, because those photos are really interesting. These were taken by, as we said, a pool contractor who you know, named Mohammad Ehsani.

I mean, to those of us who are not structural engineers, this looks bad, but you, with your trained eye, are these red flags?

STEPHANIE WALKUP, FORENSIC STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Yes. So, they're taken by a pool contractor. Dr. Ehsani is another structural engineer who I know in the industry.

The deterioration does look significant at that location. That's in the pool maintenance room, while that is not in the area where the structure experienced collapse. But it is clear that water has been infiltrating the concrete deck in that area for some time, to the point of extensive corrosion at the underside of the slab or beam element.

What is important too to understand is that there's reinforcing steel, not just at the bottom of our concrete slabs, but also at the top of the concrete slab. And that's something that we cannot investigate as engineers without removing these finishes.

CAMEROTA: But, Stephanie, if you had been there as a structural engineer and seen what Dr. Ehsani had seen, would you have sounded the alarm?

WALKUP: In that specific location? No.


It's one isolated location where we have a photograph in, again, one location, further away from the collapse area. That's not something that would be completely alarming to me.

If that distress was observed throughout the entire structure, that's the point where it becomes extensive. That's the point where it becomes concerning.

So, again, we're seeing these photographs, but they're very isolated photographs in the structural engineering report from 2018. We don't even know specifically where those were taken. So, again, there is no real view, say, of the pool deck area or parking garage areas showing just the extent of deterioration.

CAMEROTA: Jared, I want to bring you in because you, through your job, are no stranger to calamity. Obviously, you have seen devastation from hurricanes, from plane crashes.

But I understand that you liken this disaster to the Parkland school shooting. How are they similar?


Obviously, the news here in Surfside is just completely devastating for this community. The similarities are what the community and the families are going through. I was on the ground both here and in Parkland and within hours of both events, and the families waiting obviously to find out information, not getting any updates.

And, in Parkland, the families were in a hotel room waiting for about 10 hours until the FBI and the Broward Sheriff's Office started telling the families about where their children were. The families here now are -- some of them -- most of them are going on

six days at the family reunification center. I mean, I remember the scenes of what that was like in Parkland. And it brings back haunting images.

And so those are the similarities. When you have a disaster of this size affecting this many people, and they're waiting for answers, the toll it takes on those individuals, the mental health that it takes on the volunteers, the firefighters, the police officers, the urban search-and-rescue folks here in the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who's here doing a great job, it just -- it brings back a lot of those experiences.

CAMEROTA: And, Jared, I mean, to your point, 150 people are still missing. The number is staggering. They have family members who are desperate for any information at this point.

And as somebody who has dealt in so many different emergencies, how long do you think this will take? When do you think those families will have answers?

MOSKOWITZ: Yes, look, I don't have a good answer for that. Neither, obviously, do the folks working here. I mean, they're working around the clock. This is the largest effort of its kind I have ever seen in my lifetime.

you have all of the urban search-and-rescue teams in the state of Florida, folks from out of the state. I have never seen this amount of equipment at a site working. You have the federal government, FEMA, the Division of Emergency Management under Director Guthrie. You got the Miami-Dade Police Department, Fire Department, folks from all surrounding municipalities.

The CFO, Jimmy Patronis, and all of his folks at the fire marshal is here. And everybody is working together doing what they can, under the leadership, obviously, of the governor. The president gave a declaration, which is the first of its kind for an event like this.

And so everyone is trying to get those families those answers. But, look, let me be clear, nothing that's going on now for families that have lost loved ones is going to heal those wounds. Those wounds are going to be there. This community of Parkland is still not healed. Those families are still not healed.

As the scab starts to go over the wound, it gets picked off. And so there's a lot that's to come after this. There will be vigils, there will be funerals, and there will be grieving that goes on for a long time here in Surfside.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

Stephanie, about the structure of this building, I'm sure you now have read or know about the excerpts from this 2018 report that tried to, I think, sound the alarm that this building was deteriorating.

And, as you know, after that, there was this condo association board meeting, during which the Surfside building manager, Rosendo Prieto, said something to the effect it was captured in the meetings, it appears the building is in very good shape.

I know it's probably too early to point fingers, but who do you think should have acted on this? Who is responsible when a building starts deteriorating for making sure that catastrophe doesn't happen?

WALKUP: Well, so it's up to the engineering firm investigating to determine the extent of deterioration.

And, again, as I mentioned, sometimes, that's not possible without probing under beneath architectural finishes. But understanding the extent of deterioration is extremely important.


And this is only a nine-page, really preliminary report that we're seeing. But, in the report, it does state that Morabito recommends the entrance and pool deck concrete slabs that are showing distress -- and, again, that's that sort of a vague phase -- be removed (INAUDIBLE) in their entirety.

So, back in 2018, they are realizing that there is distress significant enough to replace these in their entirety at the locations.

It is difficult at times working with a condominium association. This is a big price tag for them. And what we know, as engineers, they tend to move slower. So I do appreciate they started this 40-year inspection a few years early.

But, again, as engineers, it's very difficult to determine whether that reinforcing steel bar has 10 percent corrosion or 90 percent corrosion without getting in there and doing further probes and sometimes some non-destructive testing.

CAMEROTA: Stephanie Walkup, Jared Moskowitz, thank you very much for all of your expertise.

WALKUP: Thank you for having me.

CAMEROTA: All right, we will continue to follow the breaking news from Florida throughout the hour.

And President Biden took his infrastructure pitch to Wisconsin today. Progressive Democrats, like our next guest, were listening very closely.

So, we will speak to Congresswoman Jayapal about the path forward next.



CAMEROTA: President Biden speaking directly to working-class Americans in Wisconsin today.

He says they will benefit from his infrastructure plan the most. But his jobs plan is far from sealed. This week, President Biden was forced to clarify his earlier comments that he would not sign the bipartisan bill unless it came with a separate Democrat-backed social spending bill.

He then said those comments were not a veto threat. But, today, he reiterated he's not completely satisfied with this initial deal alone.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be clear. There's much more to do. And I'm going to continue to fight for more. I'm going to keep working with Congress to pass even more of my economic agenda, so we can keep building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.

As we bring home key parts of my American Jobs Plan, I'm going to make the case -- and I have told this to the negotiators. I'm going to continue to make the case that critical investments are still needed, including those in my Family Plan, American Family Plan.

Maybe the most important among them is extending the child tax credit, which will significantly benefit middle-class and working folks.


CAMEROTA: Coming up, we will speak with one of the lead Democrats fighting for the reconciliation bill.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will be with us after the break.



CAMEROTA: Former President Obama just speaking out now about the dangers of misinformation.

President Obama warned that the speed and prevalence of misinformation has increased in recent years, and that it worries him and should worry everyone. His comments echo some of what he wrote in his latest memoir. And they come as part of an appearance today at the American Library Association annual conference.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The degree to which misinformation is now disseminated at warp speed in coordinated ways that we haven't seen before, and that the guardrails I thought were in place around many of our democratic institutions really depend on the two parties agreeing to those ground rules, those guardrails, and that one of them right now doesn't seem as committed to them as in previous generations, that worries me. And I think we should all be worried.


CAMEROTA: CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter is here.

Brian, I mean, forgive me, but I feel like we know this.


CAMEROTA: You and I deal with this every day of our lives.

January 6. Look no further to the effects and the danger of misinformation than an insurrection on January 6. What do you make from the former president's comments?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, for a former president to address this in such blunt terms, though, does speak to the crisis, we're in, this information crisis that we are in.

We have not had a situation in our lives where a former president feels compelled to speak out the way that Obama has. And he's been doing that with a book last year and now through these public events.

I think -- my impression is, he's trying to come up with the way to be as stark, as blunt as he possibly can be, while preserving the kind of dignity of a former president and the kind of position that would normally entail.

But time and time again, he warns, the biggest crisis in this country is that we are divided along information lines, that we can't figure out a way to communicate with each other. And in this new comment today, he's citing the riot as the evidence of that, the riot of lies of January 6.

And if you listen between the lines there, he's really saying the Republican Party has come unglued. But, of course, what he's not presenting and what really no one's presenting are solutions. You can identify the problem, you can identify what's gone wrong, but it's so much harder to get to that place of solutions.

And we don't see that in this presentation--


CAMEROTA: I mean, it's also his classic Barack Obama understatement of, I would say one party is not as tethered to reality as the or.

I mean, hair on -- this is a hair on fire moment, as I think that you often bring up, I think I try to, that we know this. We know this. We're in different echo chambers, and it's getting really dangerous.

And I agree with you. I don't know what the solution is, but I know that everyone has become more entrenched. And it's gotten deadly.

STELTER: One of the words he's used recently is nationalization. I think that's a helpful way to think about it.