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Death Toll Rises to 27, Unaccounted for Now 118; Biden Pleads with Americans to Get Vaccinated as Variant Surges; Golf Pro, Two Others Found Dead at Georgia Golf Course. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 5, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I appreciate your time today on this special holiday edition of Inside Politics. I hope you'll come back and join us tomorrow. Boris Sanchez picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon and thank you for joining us. I'm Boris Sanchez in for Ana Cabrera.

Right now, urgency and anguish in Surfside, Florida, as the outer bands of Tropical Storm Elsa inch closer. The death toll rising. More remains discovered. Officials though saying the site is now safer.

Late last night, officials bringing down the rest of Champlain Towers South ahead of Elsa's arrival. And now as efforts enter day 12, rescuers, for the first time, are combing through debris that until now is too dangerous to search.

A short time ago, we learned 27 people now confirmed today, 118 remain unaccounted for.

CNN's Tom Sater is standing by with the latest on Elsa's path. But, first, let's take you to Surfside and CNN's Natasha Chen, who is live on the scene there.

Natasha we heard from the mayor of Miami-Dade and the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as well a short time ago. What's the latest?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, they found more people overnight since the demolition at about 10:30 P.M. And we're told from the mayor of Surfside that the search and rescue efforts resumed 20 minutes after that demolition, so really fast. They were able to clear the area, give the green light and get back to work. And that's something that Mayor Burkett said that the families really appreciated that type of urgency.

Mayor Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County did say that just to explain how precarious the remaining structure was. It was being held up by a pile of rubble. So this really needed to happen to bring this down in a controlled way instead of letting the storm perhaps take it down the wrong way and on top of people, so for safety reasons, and to access areas that were close to the remaining structure, this really was necessary, even though it is emotionally difficult to watch, thinking of all those families and the lives they lived in that tower.

Here's Mayor Levine Cava talking about that.


MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D-MIAMI-DADE, FL): To collapse an entire apartment building is a devastating decision and the demolition was in no way a decision that I made lightly. Bringing the building down in a controlled manner was critical to expanding our scope of search.


CHEN: And searchers have told us that they found pieces of furniture just reminders of the life that was there. And Congresswoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz yesterday also mentioned that demolitions can sometimes be seen as a spectacle, a show people want to see from the street, instead, this was far from it. People asked to stay inside because of the dust pile and debris that would have been -- that came up after the demolition. And she said, just think of the lives that were there.

This is a continuation of the tragedy, and officials also made sure to tell the public that they did thorough sweeps, thermal imaging to make sure there were no pets, no animals remaining in the structure before they demolished it. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Yes, Natasha. They also gave no indication that this has become a recovery effort. They stress that this remains a search and rescue. Natasha Chen from Surfside, thank you so much.

Let's check in to the CNN Weather Center, and Tom Sater who has more on the path that Elsa is on, and how it could impact Florida. Tom, what's the latest?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Boris, right now, we have got a couple things that are in our favor. First and foremost, where we are in the calendar year, it's early July. We're not going to see the monster hurricanes develop. Now, that's different when we get to the end of August and through September.

With that said though, of course, this is Elsa now. We're already at letter E and there will be a land fall, most likely has a tropical storm. We're just hours away from a land fall in Cuba. This is going to starves it of some energy. We've already seen that earlier as it made its way through Espanola interaction with land. So it probably will lose some strength. I mean, sustained winds are at 65 miles per hour.

But the concern has always been in, of course, the Surfside area because of the winds. Imagery here, Elsa has had a tough time going. So many things were against it. It was moving too fast to really generate a lot of intensity and grill. Typically, this time of year, they're smaller in size. Radar is now showing some of the rainmaking its way up to the keys.

It looks like in the Miami area in Surfside, we're out of the cone of the track, which is good news. You want to see that trend to the west and away from the operation that is going on. We have got our warnings all the way up to Cedar Key. Landfall most likely will be north of Tampa, even north of Cedar Key, and that will be on Wednesday morning.


But conditions will deteriorate and I really don't think it's going to make its way to a hurricane strength. So we're looking at a tropical storm. So I don't want anyone to get carried away. Obviously, take precautions, tie down loose objects. We will have some strong gust. I'm more concerned about isolated tornadoes, and that includes the Surfside area.

So, again, Wednesday morning, we are not going to see this generate much in the way of strength since it's got to interact with Cuba first. It might generate 5 miles per hour more when it gets into the warmer areas of the straits.

But notice the rain in Miami. For the Surfside area, the greatest rain will be later tonight overnight into a good portion of tomorrow and then it slides north of that region. That's where for Ft. Myers to, let's say, maybe around Port Charlotte is where that heaviest rain will be. So there will be a surge one, two, three-foot on that western coastline. But the good news in Miami is the rainfall totals the next five days are the lowest in this entire peninsula and in toward the southeast. So that's some good news.

It shouldn't be much different than what they've been dealing with in the past week. Concern, however, a feeder ban could spin up a small tornado and that's something they'll be watch closely and we will as well.

SANCHEZ: Yes, that would be extremely problematic. Let's hope not. Tom Sater, thank you so much.

SATER: Sure.

SANCHEZ: With us now to discuss the latest from Surfside and the demolition that we saw overnight is licensed structural engineer Matthew Roblez. Matthew, thank you so much for joining us today.

So, the rest of that Surfside building is demolished. I wonder what that means for investigators that are looking into the cause of the collapse.

MATTHEW ROBLEZ, LICENSED STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: I think, first of all, it's a good thing to continue the search and rescue and nobody designs a building when a natural event is coming to pass the day up. So, it's a good thing it had to happen. And, actually, I really think it's going to help the investigation, but, really, most of the investigation has already been done in 2018 and people just ignored it.

SANCHEZ: And you mean that because of the inspection that was done at the time of the garage level and the area under the pool. Actually, we have new documents that CNN obtained about the condo's condition more recently, in October of 2020.

Look at this. Quote, there is no water proofing layer over the garage and the driveway or any area except the pool deck and planters. This has exposed the garage to water intrusion for 40 years. Where there is water proofing, it has failed. Water has gotten underneath and caused additional damage to the concrete.

Matthew, how does that shape your thinking about the cause of the collapse?

ROBLEZ: It, first of all, scares me to death that it went unnoticed for that long. And, really, that's the type of thing that brings buildings down, that's the type of damage that you see. It's the stuff that is kind of hidden unless you have a trained eye to look at it because the average person is going to be look agent the water proofing. And water will kill a building. Concrete -- water kills concrete. It just really does.

SANCHEZ: And there's yet another red flag that I wanted to ask you about, because before demolition, engineers in a new New York Times piece highlighted another potential problem with some of the columns that were still standing. The engineers pointed to inconsistencies between the design and the steel rebar that was visible, apparently, they say there was less rebar used than the drawings originally called for. How concerning would that be?

ROBLEZ: That's very concerning. And it was built in the 1980s, and we've learned a lot since then. We now have special inspections. On every set of plans that we make now, we have to put periodic special inspections and when the special inspections are going to happen, such that this doesn't happen. But given the age of the building, honestly, I'm not trying to cause fear, but it's not that surprising.

SANCHEZ: And why do you say that?

ROBLEZ: Well, because there wasn't as much control back then. And 40 years ago, we had more of a let's trust the contractor type of mentality, as time has gone on, we put more safeguards into it. I mean, you know, we had multiple building codes back then across the country. Now we have one building code, an international building code. So, there's been a lot of stuff that we've learned from this things like this and I'm sure there will be more regulations and things like that, which is a good thing.

SANCHEZ: I'm curious about this report regarding the amount of steel rebar that was used. What would be some of the reasons that the folks working on the building would have taken that approach?

ROBLEZ: You know, it's hard to say why people do the things they do, but it could be anything from an honest mistake because it does happen. Because when you think about this, the difference between a number five bar and a number six bar is only one-eighth of an inch. So if something is mislabeled, how hard is it to tell an eighth of an inch, so a number five bar went in or a number six bar went in? And so that could have been a possibility.

I would like to think that they were what I would call a mistake as opposed to someone just not doing their job, but it is difficult and mistakes do happen.


SANCHEZ: So, at least two buildings in Miami-Dade County have been evacuated out of an abundance of caution since the building collapsed. And based on what we've learned in the past week, do you get the sense that we're going to see more evacuations out of precaution?

ROBLEZ: I would think so. I think the time has come to really take this seriously. And the thing about it is we have techniques now that we can use to where we can look at these type of things in a nondestructive way in such that, number one, we can find some sort of repairs that we could do, carbon fiber wrap, something like that. And so we can actually see what's going on. And I'm telling you, there's no price for a human life, so why not err on caution?

SANCHEZ: Yes, certainly a good point. Matthew Roblez, thank you so much for the time.

ROBLEZ: Thank you very much for the opportunity.

SANCHEZ: Of course. So, the United States has fallen short of President Biden's vaccination goal for Independence Day. The impacts are devastating in areas with low rates of vaccination. COVID case rates three times higher in those areas. The latest on eradicating COVID after just a few minutes.

And a Georgia golf course turning into a crime scene, three there people dead, a gunman on the loose. The latest on the man hunt.

Plus, he's the richest man on earth. So what do you do after you've won capitalism? Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos turning over the reins after more than 20 years leading the company.

Don't go anywhere. We're back after a quick break.



SANCHEZ: President Biden talking of vaccinations as the country misses his July 4th goal, the U.S. falling just short of 70 percent of adults with at least one vaccine dose by Independence Day. And with the delta variant now spreading to all 50 states, the White House COVID response team chief warns the fight is far from over.


JEFFREY ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Well, we've made a lot of progress. I think we're further along than anyone would have anticipated at this point with two out of three adult Americans with at least one shot.

And if you have been fully vaccinated, you are protected. If you're not vaccinated, you are not protected. So we're going to double down on our efforts to vaccinate millions of more Americans across July and August so people get that protection and can enjoy life returning to normal.


SANCHEZ: We're learning that states with lower vaccination rates are seeing COVID case rates that are an average of three times higher. CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now.

Elizabeth, what areas are the biggest cause for concern?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Boris, we can show it to you in vivid color. Take a look at this map. You see five states in dark red Alaska, Arkansas, South Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi, they are seeing particularly high surges right now, and guess what? They all have lower than average vaccination rates and the states in orange also seeing surges, most of those also have lower than average vaccination rates.

Let's take a look at how this plays out in certain states, because in certain states, the difference is huge. So, if you look at new cases in the past week, the U.S. average is 24 cases for every 100,000 people. But take a look at Missouri, it's 108 new cases per 100,000, and Arkansas, it's 110 cases per 100,000, so much higher, more than four times higher than the U.S. average. So, really, it is -- and Missouri and Arkansas have very low vaccination rates. So it's really quite simple in states where the vaccination rates are lower, they are seeing higher COVID-19 case rates.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And, Elizabeth, in some of the states like Missouri, officials are asking folks to start wearing masks again. So, it seems like some of the progress is undoing. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for that.

COHEN: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Let's dig deeper on where the country is headed with a Dr. Peter Hotez. He is the dean of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hotez, always a pleasure to have you on.

I want to ask you about the Delta variant. It's now in all 50 states, apparently, with higher levels of transmissibility. How long before it becomes the dominant strain in the United States?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes. Well, it's already headed there, Boris. So, according to the Scripps Institute right now, it's already the dominant variant, for instance, in Missouri, more than 53 percent of the isolates.

So, what we're seeing now is actually quite interesting. So, Elizabeth Cohen appropriately pointed out it's popping up and the outbreaks are occurring in low vaccination areas. But there's a second piece to this. It's not only low vaccination rates but on top of that, high levels of the delta variant.

So, right now, the epidemic is probably at its worst in Missouri. That two-hit model, low vaccinations and high -- as Elizabeth said, and high delta seems to be the formula that really causes COVID to take off. This is why it's taking off in Arkansas, for instance, why it's taking off in Wyoming. So, those are the two things we have to look out for.

And I think what we need now is to really accelerate our vaccinations in those states if we're going to get our arms around it.

SANCHEZ: And, Doctor, the big concern with delta and perhaps future variants is the effectiveness of the vaccine against them. How soon do you think we may see another variant, perhaps one that is not quite as -- that the vaccine doesn't treat as effectively?

HOTEZ: Well, we may be getting a little bit lucky there because two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, even the J&J vaccine, seems pretty robust against the delta variant, which is going to be the dominant one in the foreseeable future.


And also two doses of the mRNA vaccine seem robust against just about all of the variants.

So, I have optimism we'll be able to if we can get everybody vaccinated, at least for the time being, do pretty well. Maybe later on, we'll need a boost, whether it's a boost that's specific for one of the other variants that may arise or just to get our virus- neutralizing antibodies up there, meaning a third immunization.

That's something I'm on Zoom calls on a regular basis now discussing. But the key right now is we've got to halt the long haul COVID cases, especially among young people and the hospitalizations in the states where we have that one, two hit, high delta, low vaccination.

SANCHEZ: Dr. Anthony Fauci is cautioning vaccinated Americans to consider wearing masks in areas where there are high rates of transmission. If you're already vaccinated, what's the benefit of wearing a mask in those areas?

HOTEZ: Well, the benefit is let's take a state like Missouri, for instance, where a lot of people are going into intensive care unit beds in Southwest Missouri. Again, what's happened, low vaccination, high delta. The force of transmission, the force of infection is very high. As good as the vaccines are, over 90-95 percent protective, they're still not perfect.

So when we get the flares in areas where there's lots and lots of transmission, we may want to still wear masks when we're going indoors or crowded places. And, again, this is unfortunately the reality of what Dr. Fauci calls the two Americas. I've called the two COVID nations. In that second COVID nation, where you've got high transmission because of those factors of delta and low vaccinations, that may be the reality at least for a while.

SANCHEZ: Doctor, the Tokyo Olympics are still just a few weeks away. But, already, we're already seeing at least one athlete testing positive after he arrived in Japan for training. Do you think Japan is making a mistake by allowing the Olympics to go idea?

HOTEZ: Yes, it is heart breaking to say we shouldn't proceed with the Olympics, but the reality is we've not done a good job vaccinating the world. We've vaccinated the northern hemisphere. We've vaccinated the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, the northern countries and the U.K., and that's about it. We still have widespread transmission across all of the southern hemisphere. So, of course, we're going to have lots and lots of athletes coming in who are testing positive.

And by the way, the Japanese population is extremely vulnerable. They are now trying to do catch-up, so there's a lot of risk there.

SANCHEZ: Yes. There is still time for officials to potentially do something about it. We'll see if they do. Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you so much for that.

HOTEZ: Thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: Of course. A standoff between police and a group of armed suspects is raising some serious concerns about a group known as Rise of the Moors. They think they don't have to answer to U.S. laws. Are they a cause for concern? We'll speak to an expert, next.



SANCHEZ: A man hunt is underway in Georgia right now, where police are searching for a man who shot and killed a local golf pro at the golf club where he worked. Police say the gunman shot the pro after driving a pickup truck out of the course on Saturday. When detectives opened it up, they discovered two other bodies.

Let's get straight to CNN's Ryan Young who is on the scene in Kennesaw, Georgia. Ryan, have officials explained whether this was a targeted incident?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. So far, we're not hearing from officials, Boris. It might be because they know more about this investigation than what they're sharing. But I can tell you, this is having a wide-reaching effect in this community. People are concerned about this. They are scared.

Look, we just talked to one of the neighbors here who says they want to see more police patrols in this area, especially after something like this so shocking happened in their neighborhood.

Let's take you back to Saturday. According to people in this area, there was some sort of crash on the golf course. Gene Siller, the golf pro, went over to figure out exactly what was going on, and at some point, the man inside the truck produces a weapon and shoots him in the head, shoots a father and the two who is working at a golf course in the head.

That golf pro being shot is something that's upset so many people. In fact, we just talked to a local pastor in the last 30 minutes or so who had this reflection on what's happened around here.


RAND EBERHARD, FRIEND OF GENE SILLER: No one would set out with calculated evil to set out and do something wrong to Gene. Gene was a bringer of light, the goodness of God. He was a peaceful dude. He built community. He didn't have one enemy. So, there's no way that anybody had a premeditated agenda to move into this environment like this. Clearly it's an act of evil.


YOUNG: Yes, Boris, real pain here. You're talking about a father of two, someone who has come in contact with so many people in this community. Folks come to this country club not only to play golf but to be a part of the community.


And so Gene had an effect apparently on a lot of people here. In fact, that pastor was saying, he'd led through service, he would pick up trash, he would talk to people in the area.