Return to Transcripts main page


12 People Confirmed Dead, 149 Still Unaccounted For; New Details Emerge About Building's Structural Decay; Temperature Soar as Heat Wave Grips Western U.S.; Researcher: Delta Variant "Most Prevalent" in U.S.; TPLF Fighters Reject Ethiopian Government's Ceasefire Offer. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 30, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.

Desperation grows at the building collapse site in Florida as rescue teams work through the night. The officials leading search efforts tell families with missing loved ones there is still hope.

The delta variant rapidly becoming the dominant coronavirus strain in the U.S. So does that mean you should wear a mask even if you are vaccinated? Seems the experts are sending mixed messages.

And the U.S. House will vote on a bill to investigate the January 6 insurrection.

Thanks for joining us. It is 4:00 in the morning in south Florida where rescue workers are now in their seventh day of digging through a huge mound of concrete and metal hoping against hope they meet find someone alive. On Tuesday, they found a 12th victim from the still unexplained collapse of the Champlain Towers, 149 people remain unaccounted for.

U.S. president Joe Biden will visit Surfside tomorrow to meet with families and rescue workers. Structural engineers say they are trying to pinpoint the trigger event behind that collapse. Workers have removed more than 3 million pounds or 1.3 million kilograms of concrete from the site. One Israeli expert on the scene says they're looking in the areas where the condo's bedrooms were, but they're buried under four to five meters of concrete. The Miami-Dade fire chief says rescuers are facing a massive task.


ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DATE FIRE CHIEF: We see the magnitude of this damage. We see that that building almost collapsed almost in the footprint where that building stood. I'm taking about 12 stories with subterranean garages all within that same footprint. So I'm trying to emphasize the magnitude of what we encounter. What we're seeing. And we still keep pushing forward. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: The town commissioner of Surfside, Florida says the condo association didn't do enough to alert residents about the problems with their building. That comes as we are hearing audio from emergency dispatchers on the night of the collapse. CNN's Boris Sanchez reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This building does not look stable. A Quarter of the building that's left -- we still have people standing upstairs that need to be evacuated.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As families brace for news about the loved ones, new details emerging about structural decay inside Champlain Towers South. In a letter first obtained by CNN's "ERIN BURNETT OUT FRONT," condo board president estimating the building needed $15 million in repairs.

Telling residents in April, quote: The concrete deterioration is accelerating, the roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated. Adding, the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection.

That initial inspection, a 2018 survey completed by a consulting company outlining major structural damage including significant corrosion and cracking beneath the pool and entrance drive. The area below the pool drawing scrutiny as these photos obtained Monday by the "Miami Herald" taking below the pool deck two days before collapse showing damaged concrete and standing water.

Notably according to the "New York Times" in 2015, building management settled a lawsuit alleging water frequently seeped in through the structure's outer walls. By 2021, the board president Jean Wodnicki telling residents that new problems had been identify and warning that rebar holding portions of concrete together was rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface.

ADAM SCHWARTZBAUM, ATTORNEY: That was a total alarm going offing that off that something needed to be done on an emergency basis. And conversations that we're having with victims is that they were told not such a big deal, everything is fine, we can put it off. So, you know, people didn't take these warnings seriously.


And now we see the results, you know, and it is devastating.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): An attorney Adam Schwartzbaum filed a new class action lawsuit on behalf of residents. At least the third lawsuit filed against the building's management. His grandparents also lived in the Champlain Towers South for three decades and voiced concerns about water leaking into the garage more than ten years ago.

SCHWARTZBAUM: So we're talking about decades of people raising serious issues about water intrusion, about problems with the building, and the condo association setting on their hands and waiting and waiting until it was too late to do something about it.

SANCHEZ: And officials have vowed that there will be a meticulous and expansive investigation, including the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, who says that she supports the state attorney in Miami-Dade County's effort to have a grand jury investigating exactly what caused the building to collapse. Of course for family members, that is going to be a long process. In aiming at getting answers as to how the tower came crashing down for quite some time.

Boris Sanchez, CNN, Surfside, Florida.


CHURCH: The condominium collapse has plenty of other residents in south Florida worried that the same thing could happen to them. The mayor of Miami Beach 5says more than 500 buildings in his city are undergoing 40 year reviews. Meantime newly released documents show the Champlain Towers condo was generating controversy even before it opened. Builders were briefly ordered to stop construction on the penthouses in 1980 because of code violations. A week later, the town council granted the buildings an exception allowing the construction to go forward.

Well amid the heart break of this tragedy, we're also hearing some incredible stories of survival. CNN spoke earlier with Sharon Shechter who escaped her 11th floor condo and she described the terrifying race to flee the building and what she saw when she finally got out.


SHARON SCHECHTER, COLLAPSE SURVIVOR: We had to go in the garage. We were, you know, a little concerned because apparently we were told that it collapsed. But you have no choice and we just have to get out. So it was like Titanic. It felt like the movie Titanic. So we step into the garage and 2 feet of water. We were trying to find a light -- I had a flashlight, I said let's just find the light, let's go -- just find some light. Because that will show an exit.

Finally fire rescue came and they were asking people to walk on the cars and climb over the car to get to the front of the building. So one person climbed on the car but fell in. Because I guess it wasn't security after all the debris was falling. So they got a ladder, they helped us. I, you know, helped people push up because they had to climb on a tire to get up. So I'm pushing people up and they are pulling them over and we finally for the out.

And that is when you saw the lights. And you really -- the impact of what was going on. And as soon as you saw someone you knew, you just hugged and said, we survived. You're a survivor. And not realizing how many people were just taken down in that part of the building. And it was just devastating. Absolutely devastating.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: Just a terrifying experience there. And meanwhile, the mayor of Surfside is vowing to keep up the search for survivors. He cited a miraculous rescue from 2013 as a reason to keep hope alive.


CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA MAYOR: One of 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 collapse. Nobody is giving up hope here. Nobody is stopping. The work goes on full force.


CHURCH: On Tuesday, Burkett also shared that more than $1.9 million has now been raised to help those affected by the collapse. He says some of those funds have already been distributed to families and nonprofits.

Officials in Canada are linking an historic heatwave to a sudden spike in deaths. At least 233 people have died in British Columbia since Friday, a far higher toll than normal. Canada shattered its all-team record high for a third straight day on Tuesday. In a village in the country's west, the temperature reached 121 degrees Fahrenheit.


The blistering heat also being felt across the Western U.S. where we're now seeing highways in Seattle buckle and crack. And the hot dry conditions, along with strong winds are helping fuel fires burning in Northern California near the Oregon border. CNN's Camila Bernal has more now on the conditions across the West.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the kind of heat you cannot escape.

BREE OSWILL, PORTLAND, OREGON RESIDENT: It's like a lockdown but, you know, we're not going to solve it by putting on a mask or getting a vaccine. It's just sort of perpetual. It's scary.

BERNAL (voice-over): Record breaking temperatures. In Portland, three of the hottest days ever recorded three days in a row. The all-time high Monday, 116 degrees -- in Seattle, 108.

DR. JENNIFER VINES, MULTNOMAH COUNTY HEALTH OFFICER: We saw the forecast and started mobilizing immediately, realizing that this was going to be a life- threatening heat event.

BERNAL (voice-over): In Multnomah County, Oregon alone, 97 people take into the emergency room or a clinic with heat-related illnesses since Friday, with an all-time high of 491 EMS calls.

VINES: That's a total for a typical entire summer for Portland. BERNAL (voice-over): Numbers the county says are unheard of and a burden on local hospitals.

VINES: They are very, very full, many at capacity with conversations ongoing starting late last night and early this morning about how to free up more space.

BERNAL (voice-over): Power outages making the situation even worse. Streetcar services in Portland suspended Monday because of a system wide power outage and a power cable melting in triple-digit temperatures

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That they're being down, it's kind of unfortunate this morning.

BERNAL (voice-over): Hundreds trying to escape the heat at cooling centers in Oregon and Washington State.

DALE KUNCE, CASCADES REGION CEO, AMERICAN RED CROSS: The Red Cross traditionally doesn't support cooling centers. This is represents again that new normal of -- this is the first time it was 116 degrees, it won't be the last time.

BERNAL (voice-over): Washington Governor Jay Inslee says climate change cannot be fixed with air conditioning.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: We have to attack the source of this problem because this climate is changing so fast in my state, it is hurting the fundamental aspects of our culture and our economy.

BERNAL (voice-over): The governor believes the impact of this will be seen far beyond the Pacific Northwest.

INSLEE: Everyone's going to get hit by this climate catastrophe.

BERNAL: And the county's health officer telling me that they had to move patients in order to make space at some the emergency rooms that were at capacity. She also told me that the number of people taken to the hospital with heat-related illnesses, which is about 100 at the moment, will likely go up. It's going to take days many even weeks to really understand the effects of this heatwave.

Camila Bernal, CNN, Portland.


CHURCH: And our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us now with the latest forecast. So Pedram, the big question everyone is asking is much longer will these extreme temperatures persist?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The extreme nature of it where we've been into the upper 40s, close to 50 degrees, Rosemary, that is dwindling here in the next couple days. But it still going to be well above average. We think into the middle 30s. It should be in the middle 20s this time of year. And you noted this, speaking in Celsius but in degrees Fahrenheit, 120 degrees Fahrenheit is the observation we saw is 49.5 degrees Celsius in British Columbia. Again, third consecutive days, Rosemary, noted with this temperature. And it happens to be the hottest temperature at this 50 degree latitude marked northwards.

So the northernmost temperature for this value to see it reach. You will notice 117, 118, these are temps in the past 24 hours that have all set records across the Pacific Northwest.

Now the jet stream had been kind of shifted well to the north, high pressure camped out across the region and this really set the stage here for tremendous heat to build. We have heat warnings stretching to the Arctic Circle. All of that beginning to weaken a little bit and this area of warm air in high-pressure begins to shift a little farther towards the east.

Now we do again expected temps to stay above average. Notice in Portland, almost 90 degrees, cools off to 84. Should be 77 this time of year. Nowhere near really over the next seven days. So that's the concern that the long term trend keeps us about ten degrees above average which would be considered a heatwave if we didn't just come off of one that was giving us 115 to 120 degree readings.

Now we know our body does an incredible job to efficiently cool itself off, but that's only when the atmosphere is dry. In desert environments when you're sweating, that evaporative cooling off of your skin allows your body to cool off by as much as 22 percent of the heat being removed from your skin. When it's humid outside, as it has been across British Columbia, across parts of the Northwest, this prohibits that evaporative cooling and of course your body continues to sweat. You continue to lose a lot of fluids, Rosemary, and the sodium and potassium levels in your body have been altered, which can then alter your heartbeat and your overall well-being. And that is what's leading to a lot of these heat related illnesses in this part of the U.S. -- Rosemary.


CHURCH: Yes, certainly important to know. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri, many thanks.

The delta coronavirus variant may now be the most prevalent in the United States. A top researcher at a company that identifies variants says delta is responsible for about 40 percent of all new U.S. cases. But that research has not yet been peer reviewed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday that delta accounted for about 26 percent of new infections in the two weeks leading up to June 19.

Meantime, mixed messages from the CDC and W.H.O. on whether vaccinated people should wear masks have been causing some confusion. Especially ahead of the United States fourth of July holiday weekend. L.A. County is recommending people mask up in public indoor spaces. But the top U.S. expert on infectious disease says that the CDC guidance that says that it is OK to skip the mask if you're vaccinated still stands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: There should be a degree of flexibility and discretion distributed throughout the country. There will be some regions who feel given the dynamics within their state, their city, their county, that they just want to be extra especially careful. They want to go that extra mile of care.

When you have such a low of vaccination super imposed upon a variant that has a high degree of efficiency of spread, what you are going to see among under-vaccinated regions, be they states, cities or counties, you're going to see these individual types of blips. It's almost like it's going to be two Americas.


CHURCH: And by that he means one that is highly vaccinated and one that's not. So far that 47 percent of the American public is fully vaccinated. That's according to Johns Hopkins University.

Well, despite the celebrations in Ethiopia is Tigray region, after the military withdrew, there are growing concerns that the violence is far from over. We'll explain.



CHURCH: Tigray fighters are rejecting the Ethiopian government's announcement of a ceasefire fueling growing fears of more violence. In a surprising reversal, the Ethiopian military withdrew from the Tigray regional capital, Mekelle, on Monday. People in the northern town of Shire celebrated the departure of government allied Eritrean forces. But the spokesman for the Tigre Peoples Liberation Front calls the truce a joke and rebels are promising to force the Army and its allies out of the region.

Larry Madowo is following developments in choices now live from Nairobi. Good to see you Larry. So Tigray fighters rejected Ethiopia's unilateral cease fire calling it a sick joke is vowing to fight on. What impact will this likely have on the region?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It means that a region, Rosemary, that has already seen so much violence and so much death is so much displacement, might still be in the throes of this conflict for possibility months to come. Because Tigray defense forces say if it comes to it, they might pursue that what they consider an enemy fighting group to Eritrea, to the Amhara region, to the west of the country as well. And so this is not anywhere close to over.

In the meantime, more than 1,000 people have died since this conflict began in November, hundreds of thousands possibly more than a million displaced. And the U.N. and other aid organizations say most of the population of Tigray might be needing food aid. This is a region of 7 million people.

At the same time, sides in this conflict have been accused of atrocities. Including weapons of war that are considered illegal, such as starvation and rape being used here. And now the United States says it is considering how to describe them, is that it's crimes against humanity, it's a genocide. This is Ambassador Robert Godec, who is the acting assistant Secretary of State.


ROBERT GODEC, ACTING U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN MATTERS: The government's announcement of cessation of hostilities does not result in improvement, and the situation continues to worsen. Ethiopia and Eritrea should anticipate further actions.


MADOWO (on camera): The U.S., the U.K. are calling for a public meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the situation. The ceasefire, the unilateral cease fire declared two days ago by the Ethiopian government, which has been refused by the Tigray fighters, many international organizations, many in the international community, see this as a positive step if it's adhered to. However, when the Ethiopian authorities were leaving, the Ethiopian army was leaving this region and Mekelle, they cut off power. They cut off electricity. They cut off internet and phone connectivity. So it's really hard to tell what is going on in there. And that is a situation that is still ongoing as we speak -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: That is important to point out. Larry Madowo joining us live from Nairobi, many thanks.

Well thousands of people have been killed in the conflict that's been going on thousand for eight months. Millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands face starvation. The U.N. says that the fighting is keeping desperately needed aid from reaching people who need it. Earlier I spoke with UNICEF's global spokesman James Elder about what the U.S. and U.N. need to do now.


JAMES ELDER, GLOBAL SPOKESMAN, UNICEF: Absolute accountability when it comes to sexual violence which unfortunately has been rife against girls and moms and women in Tigray, and a ceasefire. Let's open up access.

Again, the United Nations agencies, UNICEF and partners, we know what to do. We've been doing it. But when we have threats, when we have access blocked, when right now we have no telecommunications, we have no roads open, no phone lines, no electricity.

So, Friday's meeting hopefully we fix those scenes. We get access, we get coms, and we get a ceasefire that holds.


That gives the people -- remember, these people, Rosemary, they've done so much themselves. I mean, aid agencies are tireless, but the moms and dads I saw on the ground who give their last piece of food to someone walking past who lost their home, or who would carry a neighbor's child because they just couldn't walk any further, these people need some response.

For whatever reasons these ceasefires happened, we need to take advantage of that. No reprisals political solution. We must have learned now that continued fighting is not in anyone's interest.


CHURCH: The U.N. Security Council is set to discuss the crisis Friday.

Well, the Pentagon says more than 30 rockets were fired at U.S. forces in Syria on Monday. U.S. officials say that they are working under the assumption Iranian backed militias are responsible. The attack was one of the largest barrage of rockets aimed at U.S. troops in the region in recent months. Officials say the rockets fired at the base near Deir Ezzor, where a more powerful longer range version of those more commonly used by Iran-backed militias. There were no injuries among the U.S. forces. But the Pentagon says that two buildings were damaged. The rocket fire came a day after the U.S. launched air strikes on Iranian backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

America's longest war could be over much sooner than planned. Several officials say that the U.S. could finish withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in a matter of days well ahead of the September 11th deadline. We are told as many as 1,000 U.S. troops could remain in Afghanistan to assist with security at the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the city's airport. And this comes amid concerns over the security situation in the country as military officials warn Afghanistan could devolve into civil war.

Time for a short break. When we come back, a key vote in the House on Nancy Pelosi's plan to investigation the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

And bracing for fallout, rising security concerns in Arizona as a partisan-driven so-called audit of the 2020 election wines down. How authorities are responding. That's next.