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Search of Surfside Rubble Grows More Urgent as Storm Threatens Downpours, Possible Tornadoes; Officials Give Update on Search and Rescue Efforts at Collapse Scene; Capitol Police Release Letter Highlighting Enhanced Security Measures after January 6 Attack. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 6, 2021 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Any moment now, Surfside and state officials will provide an update on search and rescue efforts at the site of the condo collapse. Right now, 117 people remain unaccounted for, at least 28 have been confirmed dead.

That challenging operation, it's growing even more urgent this morning as Tropical Storm Elsa zeros in on the South Florida coast. Authorities watching closely to see what impact the storm will have on their efforts as the outer bands are expected to hit that part of the coast.

Following the demolition of the remaining structure, crews are operating at 100 percent now that worries about the rest of the building are not an issue. They do have access now to the full site. That's important. And according to the Miami-Dade County mayor, teams have been able to begin searches in that entire grid.

Let's begin with CNN's Rosa Flores in Surfside. So, we've been looking at live pictures of the search and it certainly doesn't looking pretty. Sustained winds of 120 miles per hour, rain throughout the day. It's not hurricane force, but is that weather impacting the search?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's quite a blessing that Elsa did move to the west and so we are not getting those outer bands any more today, Jim. We did get some yesterday. But even though there was pouring rain, even though there were some wind gusts, these brave men and women continue to sift through the rubble looking for survivors. According to officials, they only took breaks when some of the lightning was very dangerous.

But as you were mentioning, the big point that officials are making today is that they have access to 100 percent of that site. Because of the portion of the building that was still standing before the demolition, they couldn't access a third of that area. Well, now, for more than 24 hours, they have actually been able to look for survivors in that entire section, according to the fire chief. They continued to de-layer, which means that they are going floor by floor, going through, trying to find voids, still trying to find survivors. It's still a search and rescue mission.

But, Jim, I've got to tell you, emotions are very raw here. I was just at the memorial wall, which is about a block from where I'm standing. I met a man who flew here from Uruguay who was in tears, adding pictures of his sister to this memorial wall. And I asked him if he still had hope that his sister was alive, and he said, no. After a week, he had hope. Now, he says that he doesn't. He says that he's asking his sister -- he said she's up there. He says that he's asking his sister to pray for him and for his family because they're hurting this morning.

SCIUTTO: I spoke to a relative last night who said similarly, that they had sadly lost hope. Well, we certainly feel for them. I cannot imagine. Rosa Flores in Surfside, thanks so much.

Let's speak now to Arthur Sorey III. He currently serves as the city manager of North Miami Beach. And thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

I wonder if I could ask you about what's happening across the area now, and that is really a reassessment of a whole host of properties there. On Friday, city officials evacuated one of them and now you have -- I mean, the Miami Herald reporting you have residents across the city sending in pictures from their basements and other parts of the structures that they're building, saying, hey, this looks bad to me, what are we going to do about it? I just wonder if inspectors able to make the assessments and are they finding anything that requires urgent care at this point?

ARTHUR SOREY III, CITY MANAGER, NORTH MIAMI BEACH: Well, thank you for the question. We're doing an inventory of all of our buildings over in the city of North Miami Beach. We have over 150 structures, both residential and commercial. We're placing emphasis on the residential buildings at this time just to check all of them. We started with the ones five-storey and higher, with some of these concerns that residents are sending in (ph).

So we're doing the reviews. You know, you can't do them fast enough for us. You know, everybody is afraid in the time of the wake of what happened at Surfside. So we're doing our best and our building department is working diligently to review all buildings to make sure we're keeping all of our residents safe.

SCIUTTO: Listen, I know these are difficult judgment calls, because there are some things that are isolated that may need to be repaired but certainly don't threaten the entire structure of the building. But what I'm confused by is you had all of the warnings with Champlain South Towers and it just seemed that the condo board, the owners decided not to address them, right? I mean, who decides?


I mean, if in these other properties you find things where the engineers say this could be dangerous, it requires X amount of money to fix and should be done now, I mean, whose decision is it? Can you require legally to make these changes necessary? SOREY: Well, yes. We can require that they turn in their 40-year recertification documents. That's what happened in Crestview Tower circumstance. We requested and we gave them 30 days to turn in their documents or we're going to close the building regardless. So it's really our job.

What's the job of the engineer, as they go through their 40-year recertification to submit the paperwork to the city. That way, we can review it to make sure the building is safe. This was just a lapse in communication between the engineer and the tower. We got the documentation on the 2nd of July, we closed the building on the 2nd of July.

SCIUTTO: You have hundreds of properties there, right, to look at, and these can be difficult judgment calls. What is the timeframe for getting through -- getting to the point where you and residents, frankly, can be comfortable that if there are issues that require attention where they live that they'll get done, that they will know and that those changes will get done. How long is it going to take?

SOREY: How long it's going to take, I can't give that answer at this time. I just know my department is working diligently. The mayor of Miami-Dade County suggested everyone do this audit. We started our audit on the 29th and we came across our first building on the 2nd.

So we're moving as fast and methodical as we can through our list inventory to review every building to make sure all of our residents are safe.

SCIUTTO: Well, Mr. Sorey, Arthur Sorey III, thanks so much for joining us. And to you, we're going to join in progress a press conference under way. This is the lieutenant governor of Florida. Let's listen in for the latest updates.

LT. GOV. JEANNETTE NUNEZ (R-FL): -- northwest at 12 miles an hour. Maximum winds are near 60 miles an hour but Elsa is expected to near hurricane strength tonight prior to making landfall in Florida. We also expect Elsa will be making landfall along the Florida west coast tomorrow morning.

It's important that Floridians not to focus necessarily on the cone, as we know, impacts are expected well outside the area of the cone. The storm will be lopsided with most of the rainfall to the east of the center of the storm.

Right now, we have tropical storm warnings for 22 counties along Florida's west coast and a hurricane watch is now in effect for the Florida coast stretching from Pinellas to Dixie.

Storm surge also continues to be a concern. There is a storm surge warning in effect for 12 counties between Taylor and Lee Counties on the gulf coast.

As we know, here in Florida, storm surge can be dangerous and life threatening. We ask that locals heed the emergency warnings and do not go to the beach. Much of North and Central Florida have experienced above normal rainfall over the past weeks. So we're anticipating an increase in potential flash flooding conditions, especially since we have that 300 percent increase in the last 14 days.

Ahead of the storm, the state has issued a state of emergency to allow for flexibility of response and resources. We have received and requested an emergency declaration from FEMA. We have more than 800,000 electrical workers on standby. The governor continues to be in constant communication with the counties that are likely to be impacted, to make sure we have sufficient resources. They have been putting in their requests and we have been filling them expeditiously as needed.

We will continue to monitor that situation, as well as the governor continues to remain focused on the efforts here in Surfside. We ask Floridians to please begin their preparations. That includes being prepared to potentially be without power for a few days. Have enough food, have enough water, for each person in your family including pets. Please stay tuned to the Florida's weather channel, make sure that you are constantly monitoring all local official warnings.

If your area is asked to be evacuated, it is for your own safety. Counties will open shelters as needed, especially for special needs, if they issue evacuations. Please be careful as you begin to make your storm preparations. The governor and our division of emergency management director have consistently reminded Floridians the dangers of generators. Make sure you use proper tools, proper materials if you're cutting down trees, make sure you do that safely.

Overall, the state and Floridians, we know, are well-equipped to be able to handle the storm. We have our state emergency response teams working around the clock to ensure counties have all the resources they need.

And now I'll say a few words in Spanish.

SCIUTTO: Nette Nunez of Florida giving an update particularly as the storm heads that way. Rosa, tell us what you're seeing on the site now as officials update on the situation.


FLORES: You know, what we know from officials here, Jim, is that they continue to do their search and rescue missions. They're working around the clock. We know that these brave men and women are working in 12-hour shifts, most of them only taking breaks to check their pulse and their oxygen levels to make sure that they can continue working, to make sure that they can continue sifting through the rubble, looking for survivors. It is still a search and rescue mission here, according to officials.

I can tell you that since the standing portion of the building was demolished on Sunday, that gave way for more areas to be searched. According to officials, a portion of the rubble, Jim, was actually holding that building together. It was holding that building upright. That's why they knew that it was so dangerous. They knew that it had to be demolished.

Now, based on just how this building was demolished, the goal was for the building to be demolished in a very small footprint because they didn't want this building, the debris, to fall over the rubble that they had already searched and set them back.

And so based on the way that this was demolished and based on video that we obtained yesterday from the Florida Task Force Two, you can actually see that the footprint of the demolition was very close to the base.

If you look closely at those videos that we obtained, you even see that the sign of this condo building that was in front of the building was still there. It was intact. And so the demolition very close to the base, that allowed for search and rescue teams to go to those areas that they had not been able to search due to safety concerns. A third of that site had not been touched by search and rescue teams because it was so dangerous.

Now, Jim, one of the big concerns for survivors was, first, their belongings and also their pets. Many of them still thought that some of their pets were inside that building before the demolition. From officials, we know that at least three sweeps were made of the building before the demolition to make sure that they could get to any -- anything that -- any surviving pets. They didn't find anything. According to officials, they used drones to do everything that they could to retrieve any animals or pets, that, of course, didn't happen.

The demolition, Jim, was very emotional for a lot of these survivors. Some of them telling us that they couldn't even watch the demolition because it was them watching the destruction of everything that they owned. And it's not so much the material things, it was the mementoes, the heirlooms they had from their families.

I talked to one man who, really, all he wanted to get from that building was a picture of his mother. And --

SCIUTTO: Rosa, hold that thought, if you can for a moment, because we're back to the press conference here. This is I believe the mayor, Daniella Levine Cava. Let's listen in.

DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D-MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FL): -- on the morning of day 13. Active search and rescue continued throughout the night and these teams continue through extremely adverse and challenging conditions. Through the rain and through the wind, they have continued searching. They paused only briefly for lightning, which is legally required, for up to 30 minutes for pauses whenever there's a lightning strike within 2.5 miles of the site.

Regarding the impacts of Tropical Storm Elsa, we do continue to expect occasional gusts and strong showers today and we're closely monitoring the weather and we now have our weather service embedded within our search and rescue teams to work closely to track for any changes that could impact the work to assure the safety of our first responders.

Through the teams' ongoing efforts, we have recovered four additional victims. The number of confirmed deaths is now 32 with 26 of those identified. 191 people are accounted for and we have 113 reports of people who are potentially unaccounted for.

As I have mentioned before, these -- the detectives are conducting ongoing and very thorough review of these names and reports. Many were originally submitted incomplete. So we may have only a name without an apartment number, without a date of birth or other details. So of that 113, only around 70 of those are people we have been able to confirm were in fact in the building during the collapse.


Our detectives continue to follow-up on every single report that was submitted, but in many of these cases, they weren't able to reach the person who originally submitted the report. So it's a distant relative or someone overseas without clear details and that makes it very difficult for us to determine whether an individual was, in fact, in the building.

We continue to urge all of the families who are missing loved ones to please reach out and connect with us so that our detectives can file missing persons' reports with the police and we want to confirm every single account.

Every single life that has been lost is a beloved family friend, a best friend, someone's child or parent or niece or cousin or grandparent, and we know that waiting for news is unbearable. The waiting, the waiting, and the waiting is unbearable. And so receiving that your loved one is gone is also unbearable. But we need information to be able to confirm exactly who is missing.

Please continue to hold all of the families in your hands and your hearts and your prayers during this unimaginably difficult time.

We're also working hard to provide respite and support to the men and women of the USAR teams wherever possible. And today, we brought in cooling stations closer to the site to provide relief from the ongoing heat as well as county buses where they can take quick breaks from the wind and other conditions. We are also grateful to the support from Royal Caribbean, which is providing a docked ship where the first responders can also rest in between the shifts.

NIST, our federal partner, continues to work closely with structural specialists, with detectives and the fire rescue crews on site as the evidence-gathering process is well under way. The teams are extremely well coordinated. They're capturing all possible insights from the debris and all evidence is being properly tagged and logged.

The U.S. Geological Survey and National Science Foundation are also sending additional staff and the LIDAR scanners are working so that we can better analyze the debris given the rough terrain of the pile and to make sure that we have the proper equipment and personnel on the site.

All this evidence will be critical to the NIST's eventual fact-finding report. And as we are working on all levels, local, state and federal, to provide answers and accountability for the victims of this unthinkable tragedy. And we're going to be making policy changes, as you know, at every level and at every step in the building process to ensure that this can never ever happen again.

SCIUTTO: We have been listening there to the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, and an important update from her that four more victims have now been recovered from the debris there. That brings the total confirmed death toll to 32. She says 113 people remain unaccounted or I should say 113 reports of people unaccounted for. She said really 70 of those or so have been confirmed missing as they continue to get more information.

We're going to stay on top of all the news out of Surfside and other stories we are following this morning. We'll be back after a short break.



SCIUTTO: Breaking news into CNN, today is six months to the day since pro-Trump riots attacked the Capitol building. And on this day, the U.S. Capitol Police released a letter announcing some enhanced security measures it has put in place since the insurrection, includes crucially a plan to better protect the lawmakers back in their home districts outside of D.C., which has been a big concern for members considering the growing threat.

CNN's Whitney Wild joins me now. So, as you look through this announcement, a number of changes here, not everything that's been recommended, but what stands out to you?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So I think there are a list of things. So, notably, officers on the ground on January 6th were woefully unprepared, equipment-wise as well as intelligence-wise. That's changing. Capitol Police has issued new pieces of equipment to their rank and file. They are also now sending out daily intelligence briefings to their line officers. So that's something that we have heard a lot from these rank and file officers who lamented that they felt like they were in the dark.

Other changes include enhanced wellness services, enhanced member protection which you were just talking about. The other thing I think is really critical is that January 6th exposed a woeful lack of training and critical incident response planning. That's also changing. They have had a flurry of new hires to try to usher in new operational organization when it comes to large-scale events.

SCIUTTO: You told me the example of -- they didn't know how to lock their shields together, to sort of build a wall of defense.

WILD: Yes. There's a piece of video where an official from MPD, that this is -- hopefully we can play the video later today. But my memory of the video is that there was this line of Capitol Police officers who were being instructed by another officer from MPD, I believe, to lock their shields so that they could create sort of like a mini- barrier, and they didn't know how to do it.

And so he was physically -- this officer from MPD was physically grabbing the shields and linking them together and showing them how to do it.

SCIUTTO: That's pretty basic stuff.


I mean, recruitment is also on this list here, and that is key because one of the recommendations that retired General Russel Honore had made was that they don't just need a few officers, they need close to1,000 new officers and there are about 200 below force right now.

WILD: And that was -- I think the 233 number that we had heard was shortly after January 6th. Since January 6th, they have lost 75 officers at a minimum. So USCP says that they are ramping up their recruitment efforts. For example, they're sending out new pieces of video. They're tweeting all the time about the benefits of joining the Capitol Police. I think it's important to note, they are one of the higher paying law enforcement agencies when you look at what a rank and file cop can make. They actually do pay really well across the board.

The recruitment effort -- but the problem with the recruitment effort is that it takes a lot of time. I mean, there are academies at six months. So, getting up to the level that General Honore recommended that will take years. And rank and file officers know that. And as a result of these bleeding numbers, they're working longer hours and the morale is plummeting.

SCIUTTO: Well, I do know two people who volunteered in the last few weeks, so let's hope others answer the call. Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

And still to come, a COVID outbreak at a church camp. More than 125 campers and counselors who attended the summer camp have now tested positive.

Plus, new concerns over the delta variant and whether current vaccines work against them. They do, and pretty well in terms of keeping you out of the hospital and so on. But we want to break down those numbers for you because they are important to see. A live report, next.