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Heat Wave Shatters All-Time Records; Biden Meets with Western Governors about Wildfires; Israeli Commander Says Tunnels Discovered; CNN Tours Champlain Towers North. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 30, 2021 - 09:00   ET


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


Rescue crews and families in Surfside, Florida, say they're still clinging to some hope. But as the search for survivors enters its seventh day, the hope for a miracle, that's what it is, is growing dimmer. A rescue worker telling our John Berman this morning that the bodies of more victims were found overnight. Right now at least 12 people are confirmed dead, 149 others remain missing.

Experts are intently focused on determining exactly what caused this collapse. The families, understandably, are demanding answers. We're going to take you live to Surfside in just a moment.

Also this morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci warning the U.S. could see, in his words, two Americas as the divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated widens.


And the highly contagious delta variant now accounts for one in every four new coronavirus cases across this country.

HARLOW: And on top of all of this, the extreme heat across the United States is taking a deadly toll as record-high temperatures grip parts of the U.S., the West Coast, the East Coast, and Canada. Canadian officials say they have seen a large increase in deaths over a four- day period. They are trying to determine just how many of those are actually to be blamed on heat.

Here in the United States, President Biden will address the record heat and persistent threat of wildfires with governors from western states today.

We have a team of reporters covering all of this, so let's begin with our Camila Bernal. She is in Blaine, Washington.

Camilla, you've been on with us all week talking about how deadly and dangerous this heat is. What are officials doing to keep people safe?


Well, the priority today is making sure that the hospitals are not at capacity. We were told that in some cases patients had to be moved in order to make space at some of the emergency rooms.

I do want to point out that the temperatures are a lot lower, but the effects of the heat wave are going to be seen over the next couple of days, maybe even weeks, especially when it comes to health. We were told that here in the state of Oregon -- or, excuse me, in the state of Washington, already at least three people have been reported dead because of the heat.

We are also told that about 1,400 people had to be taken to the hospital during this heat wave. Just on Monday alone, about 700 people at the emergency room. These are numbers that they have never seen before.

And in Oregon, also record-breaking numbers. We were told that just in the Portland area alone, about 500 people had to be taken to the hospital.

And we spoke to Multnomah County's health officer about what this is doing to doctors, to hospitals, and this is what she told us.


DR. JENNIFER VINES, MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OR HEALTH OFFICER: They are very busy. They have been distributing patients and working to make more room in the hospitals to help with some of the logjams. But they are very busy and there's literally active conversation right now about how else we can create some capacity and take some of the load off our emergency rooms, which are extremely busy and starting really yesterday and through the night.


BERNAL: And there are two other things that are concerning and dangerous. First, power outages. Thousands were left without power during this heat wave. Many are now being told to conserve energy.

And then, of course, the potential for those wildfires. A lot of these governors today will likely be expressing their concerns to the president because these fire seasons are just becoming longer and longer and deadlier and they need the help desperately.

Jim. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Paula, a similar situation in Canada. More than 230 deaths report in British Columbia just since Friday. And I wonder, I was in the Pacific Northwest this past weekend. One of the issues, a lot of residences don't have air conditioning, right, so you don't have a way to mitigate this when the temperatures go so high.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. In, you know, the West Coast really, half as many people have air conditioners than normally would in the East Coast. Having said that, this was really unprecedented to hear authorities talk about it. Three to four times as many calls to 911, paramedics and police on the scene and in so many cases it was too late.

You could see the police themselves were making this appeal because they were listening to family members on the phone stunned that when they checked on family members, even in the span of 24 hours, that they were already in extreme distress or unfortunately had already passed away.

An extraordinary statement from the chief coroner in B.C. saying, look, we do have to investigate all these deaths, but they say many of them would have been heat related.

You know, the issue here has been how frequently this will happen. These are not areas that are used to these kinds of temperatures. This is a public health emergency, right. You just heard Camila talk about the hospitals. Then we've had these deaths in B.C.

Linton, B.C., again, in British Columbia, for the third straight day recording the hottest temperature in Canada ever, over 120 degrees. That's hotter than the hottest temperature ever recorded in Las Vegas. Environment Canada is not couching this, right? They've put out their climate change report. And they're saying this should be a once in a century event. Guess what, it could happen one every 12 -- 20 years, perhaps once every five years.

And add to all of this, wildfires, right. Now we have two fires burning out of control in B.C. They are actually saying that the helicopters have had to stall their engines at certain times because they're just overheating trying to fight that fire.

SCIUTTO: Goodness.


Paula Newton, thank you for the reporting. Camila Bernal, to you as well, thank you very much.

The president will meet later today with governors from western states to talk about this record heatwave and the growing threat of wildfires.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Jeremy Diamond joins us now from the White House.


Jeremy, I mean you have long-term issues here certainly, but what immediate steps is the Biden administration planning to take?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And this is what we're seeing is the confluence of all of these different factors happening at the same time. This incredible drought, these record heat waves happening in the Pacific Northwest and also the threat of wildfires. Already this season of wildfires outpacing 2020, which was a record year in the state of California at least in terms of wildfires.

So the president is going to be addressing some of those immediate challenges and also looking towards the future and towards this wildfire season that has already begun and is expected to only get worse. And that is why he will be sitting down today with seven governors of western states here at the White House, some of them meeting virtually. And the president will be talking about some of those immediate challenges as we said, but also going longer term.

One of the immediate steps that he's looking to take is raising firefighter pay to ensure that no firefighter is making less than $15 an hour. The administration hasn't yet released the details on exactly how they're going to pay for that and what they're going to be doing.

But the president would all -- will also be speaking with these governors, asking them what additional resources they believe they need for this immediate heatwave and the drought that is happening right now and also to prepare for the worsening of this wildfire season.

This administration already released its plan, its comprehensive strategy back in May for combatting wildfires. And that called for thinning of hundreds of acres of forest in the Pacific Northwest. That hasn't happened yet.

So, again, a lot of these things require longer-term planning. And this administration, which has been here for six months, hasn't yet been able to enact many of those plans. So, at this point, they really are focused on mitigation and again on trying to improve the conditions for firefighters who are going to have a very, very busy season ahead.

Jim. Poppy.

HARLOW: It is often dangerous, dangerous work. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you.

Turning now to the deadly condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. The commander of the Israeli rescue team told CNN this morning that more bodies have been found, but also that new tunnels were discovered in the rubble overnight. Possibility, at least, of spaces in there, which is crucial.

HARLOW: Rosa Flores joins us with the latest.

Rosa, good morning.

Look, I mean there's such a delicate line to walk here between giving anyone false hope and also reporting what we've been told. Do you have any sense of what these tunnels were for, what they might indicate, and do we have an official increase in the death count?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know we don't have an official increase in the death count. And I've been trying to get more information about these tunnels because, Jim and Poppy, you're absolutely right, we don't want to give people false hope. But the fact that tunnels were found, according to the Israeli

commander, is a big development. I can tell you, I've talked to the fire chief here, one of the fire chiefs that's in charge, and he told me that this is one of the worst collapses that you can respond to as a first responder because the spaces that they were seeing were so tight that it was very difficult for them to even get through the rubble.

We've talked about the trench that was built by these rescuers, that was cut into that debris to try to get to that smoldering fire that we were talking about. When I asked the fire chief to describe what he saw once that trench was completed, he said, quote, it's horrific.

When I asked him to explain why, he said because the spaces were so tight that there could be no signs of life there. They were hoping for these tunnels. They were hoping for these voids. So the fact that the Israeli commander is telling our colleague John Berman that they found tunnels overnight is extremely significant.

The commander said that they were portions of the balcony -- it was by a balcony where they found these tunnels that they were able to crawl through them. Here's what he said. Take a listen.


COL. GOLAN VACH, ISRAELI NATIONAL RESCUE UNIT: This time it was between the balconies.


VACH: So the balconies, between them remains a big space of air that we crawled, we crawled in those tunnels. We called the people and unfortunately we didn't find anything.

BERMAN: But spaces big enough to crawl into at this point?

VACH: Yes.

BERMAN: Which feels new.

VACH: I personally crawled in.

BERMAN: What makes this one so difficult?

VACH: The gap between the space -- the gap between the layers between the floors. These tunnels that we found right now were almost the first to be big enough to enable people to stay between them. Most of the collapse is very, very tight. The collapse was major.


FLORES: Now, we don't know exactly where those tunnels are, but I want to give you a brief lay of the land.

[09:10:03] The piece of the building that is still standing, what you see right over my shoulder, in the grid that was created by first responders, that is alpha. And the grid pattern goes from west to east, alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, and so on. And so that is what first responders are using. They're putting it on a grid, going methodically, Jim and Poppy, through this area to try to find these voids, to try to find these tunnels.

The last we heard, they're no longer going into that building that you see behind me because it is considered unstable. They've actually created an area around it where first responders can go to because of the instability.

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you know, you look at those pictures there and you realize, you know, the painstaking work. They're using their hands and buckets, right? It's -- you know, you can't because they don't want to make it any less stable.

HARLOW: It's incredible what they're doing.


HARLOW: Teams from around the world joining those teams in Florida.

Rosa, thank you for keeping us posted on all of it.

Well, still to come, CNN will take you inside the Champlain Towers North. That is basically the sister building, built a year later by the same developer. What can investigators learn from that structure?

SCIUTTO: And Dr. Anthony Fauci warning that we may soon see two Americas as the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant spreads between vaccinated and unvaccinated parts of the country.

Plus, chaos in New York City's mayoral primary after the board of elections counted tens of thousands of test ballots. They're going to recount. What now?



SCIUTTO: As the search through debris at Champlain Towers South enters its seventh day, there are lingering questions about its sister building just next door, the North Tower, and whether it's safe.

HARLOW: The North Tower is identical pretty much to the one that tragically collapsed last week. CNN was able to go inside that building for an up-close look.

Our Brian Todd was in the North Tower, on top of it, Brian.

And, again, just to remind people, this was built by the same developer, same design a year later, right? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy and Jim. This was

built, the same design, almost identical, completed one year after the South Tower. And I've got to say, there's -- it seems to be, from what we saw, pretty stark difference between the upkeep, the management between one building and another from what we've been able to find out now.

Here's a look at what we saw at that North Tower.


TODD (voice over): Naum Lusky is president of the Condominium Association of the Champlain Towers North complex, the tower identical to the South Tower, but completed one year later.


TODD: At the North Tower, their focus on maintenance borders on obsession.

LUSKY: I mean everybody said this is a twin building of the other one and that they -- if something happens to that one, it might happen to this one, too. But it's nothing further from the truth.

TODD: Lusky and his team gave CNN access to the garage, the pool deck and the roof of his building.

TODD (on camera): So that's normal.

TODD (voice over): In the garage, no signs of cracking, no exposed rebar, no water or really any moisture at all. The sump pump designed to pump water from the garage, brand-new. The waterproofing on the pool deck has been overhauled. Even the planters on the pool deck are designed to prevent erosion and sinking.

On the roof, every fixture and wire covering is sealed to repel water. From that vantage point, we could see the balconies. Three years ago, at Lucky's insistence, the tiles on the floors of all the balconies, 113 units, were ripped out. The cost to residents, a little over $10,000 each.

ROBERT ANDAI, VICE PRESIDENT, CHAMPLAIN TOWERS NORTH CONDO ASSOCIATION: We went and we were proactive. A lot of people did not want us to take the tiles down. The tile, one is the amount of weight that you have. The other on is that if you have penetration of water, it hides underneath the tile and then it can go into the rebar through the -- as the cement deteriorates.

TODD: These Condo Association leaders believe every balcony in this entire region should have its tile removed. As Lusky and his colleague, Robert Andal, reassure jittery residents, Lusky says he can't stop thinking about the friends in the South Tower he lost.

LUSKY: I prefer not to go over there. I get very, very emotional. I haven't sleep in three whole days. It's completely horrible. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And right now the dynamic at that North Tower is all about the confidence of the residents. After the collapse, according to the Condo Association presidents, many at the residents there were, of course -- of the North Tower were, of course, scared.

Many of them left. Said they didn't necessarily want to come back. But they tell us that after the collapse, after state, federal and local inspectors came through that north tower and inspected it top to bottom and gave it a very clean bill of health as far as its maintenance and its upkeep and its construction and its foundation, well, a lot of the residents have since returned.

Poppy. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Brian Todd, good to have you there. Thanks very much.

Well, one resident of the south complex, Sarah Nir, is sharing the terrifying story of how she barely escaped with her two children just moments before Champlain Tower South collapsed. She says she heard loud, knocking sounds in the middle of the night. Thought her neighbors were doing renovations. She then describes her family's just-in-time escape.

Have a listen.


SARAH NIR, RESIDENT WHO ESCAPED CHAMPLAIN TOWERS SOUTH: It was a big boom. And I was running to see where the sound come from.


And I saw all the garage collapse.

(INAUDIBLE). God watch us. God was waiting for us to leave the building. And then another big boom. Then we didn't see anything. It was suddenly quiet after the big boom, and it was white clouds all over.


SCIUTTO: Goodness. They survived by seconds.

Joining me now is Gregg Schlesinger. He's an attorney who specializes in construction defects.

Mr. Schlesinger, thank you for joining this morning.

And, listen, we know it's early. There are many potential causes, explanations being explored right now. But there is some focus on the lower levels of this structure. So when you hear someone there who was a witness to it, and said that before the whole tower came down, that that pool platform collapsed. How significant is that to you and does it give you a clue? GREGG SCHLESINGER, ATTORNEY SPECIALIZING IN CONSTRUCTION DEFECTS: It

definitely gives us a clue. This has come together, information is coming out. Additional photographs are coming out. We have the 2018 engineering report. We have "The Miami Herald" photograph. The 36 hours prior to the collapse of the pool area showing significant spawling (ph). It gives us a lot of clues that the column and the base and structural slab failed. And probably more likely than not brought down the entire building.

This was, obviously, a preventable incident. It should have never happened. Your last reporting on the North Tower where it was properly maintained, things that show initial rust, decay are repaired, (INAUDIBLE) proactive. Buildings that are properly maintained can last indefinitely. Buildings not properly maintained, we have this situation.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you, because, as you note, you mention, for instance, in January 2019 there were -- 2018 there was an engineering report which cited the need for repairs.

In 2019, residents of Champlain Towers South complained about construction just next door, saying that, you know, the construction work was actually shaking the building, you know, these residents said. And I just wonder that when you see multiple warnings like that over several years, does that surprise you? Do they stand out? And are you surprised there wasn't a more urgent effort to address these issues?

SCHLESINGER: Well, sure, there should have been more -- much immediate attention after the 2018 report.


SCHLESINGER: But in addition, you have, where you talk about the building to the south under construction, that would have a seismic load. And we all know about this in the industry. But if you have an already compromised column where the steel is degraded -- so we have a structural defect, that's known in 2018.

And you're experience seismic loads. Certainly that's going to degrade and can cause or contribute to cause an accident like that. Don't forget, we also had work going on the roof where you don't know how much of a point load might have occurred by loading that roof. Again, another stressor on a column that's degraded.

And, finally, we do know, and we have an engineering professor from FIU that was noting that this building was subsiding.


SCHLESINGER: Subsiding also adds a load to the overall structural integrity of a building.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you wonder if it was a combination of effects.

SCHLESINGER: Sure. SCIUTTO: There is now an audit of other buildings in the area underway

in Miami-Dade County. Hundreds of buildings. And the early audit has shown some issues in some of these buildings that are coming up. Balconies that need to be immediately closed, et cetera.

Do you expect to see more of that around there? And I guess the question is how do you discern between what could be localized issues, minor issues, toward -- and ones that might have a catastrophic effect like this one?

SCHLESINGER: Sure. Additional investigation. That was -- that's been one of the things I've been kind of knocking on is the report in 2018 was not enough. It showed structural defects throughout the building, right. But you have to do additional investigation. You have to peel the concrete on the column just to see how bad it is. In other words, you need to go do more. You need to look elsewhere.

The building envelope has drywall and acoustical ceilings. You need to peel it back in certain areas, inspect to see whether the joining structural members in that building are also compromised. That wasn't done. There wasn't any additional exploration of the soil to determine why the building was subsiding.

We know since the '80s doing investigations up and down the beach that once we get involved in the restoration of concrete -- and that's what I do, I restore concrete structures, buildings very similar to this.


Once we get and peel back and start looking, they're always a lot worse. So what you see at the surface doesn't always indicate what's going on below the surface.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Goodness. And with catastrophic results in this case.

Greg Schlesinger, thanks so much for taking the time.


HARLOW: It is what you've heard from all the experts for weeks now, but it's a reality now. The delta variant is now believed to be the most prevalent COVID variant in the United States. Up next, what this means for those in areas in states with pretty low vaccination rates.

We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Take a look at futures here, slightly lower. We just learned that the U.S. private sector did add 692,000 jobs in June. That's great news. That's ahead of Wall Street expectations. That's from the ADP report. We have the big jobs report that comes out Friday. We'll keep a close eye on the market.