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Florida Braces for Elsa's Impact; 2020 Documents Detail Urgent Need for Repairs; Demolition Allows Teams to Search in New Areas; Biden Touts Progress but Warns COVID Fight Isn't Over; England Plans to Lift Covid Restrictions on July19; Official: About 1,000 Afghan Troops Flee to Tajikistan; U.S. Updates Embassy Evacuation Plans Amid Rising Violence; U.S. Seeking Safe Haven for Afghan Translators. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 6, 2021 - 04:00   ET



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

Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, tropical storm Elsa is barreling towards the Gulf Coast setting sites on Florida. We will have the latest weather forecast. Plus --


MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: They are diving in, there is maximum effort being applied and it's going to go on 24 hours day, 7 days a week until we pull everybody out of that pill.


CHURCH: Despite the approaching storm, authorities are racing to find more victims in the condo collapse near Miami.

And later why more traffic and higher gas prices are on the horizon for summer travelers here in the United States.

Well the state of Florida is bracing for impact as tropical storm Elsa barrels towards the U.S. Elsa is expected to make landfall in northwest Florida early Wednesday morning. But before that, the storm will bring a potentially deadly storm surge in southern Florida. Not to mention heavy rain, thunderstorms and possibly tornados. At least four counties near Tampa will open emergency shelters ahead of the storm. Elsa slammed Cuba on Monday drenching the island and raising fears of flooding and mudslides. Tyler Mauldin has been tracking this storm and joins us now. Tyler what is the latest?

TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Rosemary. So about 10 million people on the West Coast of Florida that's from Key West all the way up to the big bend of Florida are under a warning right now. Rightfully so because Elsa which is about 30 miles to the cell of Key West is producing 60-mile-per-hour winds right now and it's making a beeline in that direction. You can see the heavy rainfall beginning to pick up in intensity across Key West and that will spread across the rest of the Keys and on into south Florida too.

Miami was hit with some very heavy thunderstorms on Monday and then we had this band set up within the last couple of hours down here to the south of Miami and near Surfside too. Surfside will be dealing with gusty stormy squalls as we go through the day. As will much of the peninsula of Florida as Elsa takes this track. Even though Elsa going to stay offshore of the West Coast of Florida, this code is only telling you where the center of the storm is going to go and the impacts are going to be felt far away from the center. And because of that -- and this is also a right sided storm, very east loaded storm. And so what's on the east side is the peninsula of Florida. So as it takes this track and eventually makes landfall from Wednesday morning near Cedar Cave, we're going to see a lot of impacts across the east coast of Florida.

The sea surface temperatures are quite warm ahead of Elsa, however there is wind shear out ahead of it. And wind shear is the change in wind direction and speed with height and tropical systems don't like that. It impedes them from developing further. So we don't expect this to become a big hurricane or anything like that, it should remain a tropical storm as it pushes up the West Coast of Florida. And we expect tropical storm-force winds today, Wednesday. Heavy rain leaving flooding, storm surge and also the possibility for isolated tornados too.

Here is what I meant by it being a right sided storm. Notice it takes this track up the West Coast, but all the thunderstorms just go right up from south to north up the peninsula of Florida. The West Coast will take the brunt of the activity, but the East Coast will also feel some impacts too. The flood threat is mainly across Ft. Myers, up through Tampa and areas to the north. And again, Rosemary, we have to watch the possibility for isolated tornadoes across much of the peninsula as these squall lines move south to north.

CHURCH: Yes, that is a lot of activity. Meteorologist Tyler Mauldin bringing us up to date on all those details, appreciate it.

Well, the rain and winds may be putting a damper on rescue efforts in Surfside, Florida but another major obstacle is now out of the way. The part of the building that was still standing, since it was demolished late Sunday search crews are found four more bodies bringing the death toll to 28 with 117 still missing.

CNN has obtained documents showing a presentation prepared for residents last year. It detailed water damage to concreate in the parking garage and urged that millions of dollars in repairs be done immediately. More now on the story from CNN's Randi Kaye.



RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This was the scene around 10:30 Sunday night, a controlled demolition of what remained of Champlain Towers South. It was brought down by explosives sending a cloud of dust through Surfside.

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Only dust landed on the existing pile. And a little over an hour afterward, we received the all-clear, and then right around midnight, work commenced on the pile and by 1:00 a.m., we were in full search and rescue operation mode.

KAYE (voice over): It wasn't long after search and rescue efforts resumed that rescuers pulled three more bodies from the rubble pile. Another body was found later in the day. The search for survivors had been hampered by concerns the remaining tower may collapse on first responders and the threat of high winds from tropical storm Elsa.

MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: Being gone, we are now at 100 percent full strength, full on pulling everybody out of that rubble pile.

KAYE (voice over): Teams on the ground are very clear, this is still a rescue mission, not a recovery mission.

COL. GOLAN VACH, COMMANDER, ISRAELI NATIONAL RESCUE UNITE: I said to the families like two days ago that the chances to find somebody alive is close to zero. I'm realistic, but we are still full of hope.

KAYE (voice over): With the building demolished, rescue teams can now access areas closest to the building. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis noting rescuers are also able to reach where a lot of the master bedroom areas were. Now, 12 days into the rescue efforts, first responders are not giving up, despite the toll it takes on them.

OBED FROMETA, CHAPLAIN, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE, TASK FORCE 1: They'll go through sleeplessness. They'll go through feelings of remorse, maybe feelings of depression.

KAYE (voice over): And for these rescuers, it's personal. They are part of this community and know some of the victims. Task Force 2, one of Miami-Dade's fire rescue teams recovered seven-year-old Stella Catarosi from the rubble while her father was also working on the pile.

FROMETA: It's not pressure, but its motivation. Its urgency above and beyond what we would normally wear. It's not in our soul as much as it is here.

KAYE (voice over): To help, Florida State Senator Lauren Book and her four-year-old twins started making and hand delivering homemade cards like these to the rescuers on site, which she says brought many to tears.

LAUREN BOOK, (D) FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: We started asking for cards and then elementary schools and camps started sending their cards in and bringing their cards to our Senate offices. And every day, we just started handing out more and more and more cards. We are in the 500 plus now. So, we've just really just started handing them out and giving these small pieces of love to these first responders.

KAYE (voice over): This first responder was overwhelmed by such kindness when he needed it most.

CAPT. OMAR BLANCO, MIAMI-DADE RESCUE: We've got all the bandages and tools to address any situation, but to warm the heart, a letter from a child is always one of those that really soothes the soul.

KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, Surfside, Florida.


CHURCH: And the investigation into the collapse is still in its early stages and it is too soon to draw definite conclusions. But an engineer hired by the town of Surfside spoke with CNN about something he noticed in pictures and video of the debris.


ALLYN KILSHEIMER, HIRED TO INVESTIGATE COLLAPSE: The reinforcing steel that we could see in some of the photos and some of the debris might not be arranged in the manner that was suggested by the drawings. Not that it wasn't the right number of reinforcing bars. Looking at certain elements in the debris pile and as they were removed from the debris pile and we knew that there was supposed to be making this up essentially 16 bars in about a 10 foot area, but 25 percent of those were supposed to be not only where the columns are, that is in the slab now, not a vertical thing.

And we look at it and there were only one or two bars. Probably because couldn't fit them in there, but that doesn't mean the right number of bars weren't there, it just means they might not have been arranged the way the drawings ask for. That is not unusual to expect and that does not necessarily mean that it had anything to do with this terrible situation.


CHURCH: U.S. President Joe Biden is set to deliver remarks later today focused on the fight against COVID-19 and his administration's push to boost vaccinations. This comes just days after the U.S. fell short of the president's July 4th vaccine goal and as fears grow over the rapidly spreading delta variant. CNN's Phil Mattingly reports the White House.



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Biden may have fallen short of his goal of having 70 percent of American adults with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccinations by July 4, didn't mean he was going to stop the celebration, stop that acknowledgement of the progress White House officials made clear, they have made historic, in their minds, and certainly when you compare it to the rest of the world, unmatched at least up to this point. But it doesn't mean that there are not real, very palpable concerns inside the White House from the president on down about what those who haven't gotten vaccinated yet may face. Those concerns driven primarily by the delta variant. Clearly a more transmissible version of the coronavirus, something that is shredding throughout the country at a larger clip -- at a quicker clip than I think anybody expected over the course of the last several weeks.

That's particularly problematic in the states and localities where the vaccine rates remain exceedingly low. Particularly in a number of states throughout the southeastern part of the United States where they just simply haven't been able to push vaccine rates up. The reality is this, regardless of the variant, regardless of the strain, vaccinations are proving to be extremely effective when you talk to White House officials, when you talk to public health officials.

At this point in time, the deaths that have transpired because of COVID-19 right now, almost 99 percent of them are coming from those who are unvaccinated. And yet the administration still acknowledging a lot of work to be done. It's going to be one of the key components of a private briefing President Biden receives from his COVID response team Tuesday. Also public remarks the president is expected to give. Bottom line here from the White House is, yes, they had a July 4th celebration, the largest public event that they'd held at the White House since President Biden took office. And yes they wanted to note the historic progress they feel they have made when it comes to the pandemic.

But they also acknowledge and will continue to acknowledge over the course of the next several weeks officials say there is much more work to be done and a very dangerous variant that is now spreading that can complicate things. No expectation of a large public outbreak, but certainly the possibility of outbreaks in those areas of lower vaccinations levels and that right now is where White House officials are most focused.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: And earlier I spoke with CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner and I asked him whether a full FDA approval could help fight vaccine hesitancy in the U.S.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Having a full approval for a vaccine would go a long way to convincing those folks who are willing to get vaccinated but are a little bit worried about whether it's safe and effective. It would go a long way to convincing them to go ahead and get the shot.

CHURCH: And, doctor, Israel says that preliminary data shows a drop in coronavirus vaccine protection and links that to the spread of the delta variant. How concerned should we be about this and what needs to be done about that?

REINER: Yes, this recent data, and we just basically have the top lean data from Israel, suggests that the mRNA vaccines might be only about 63 percent effective against contracting illness, but still really terrifically effective, 93 percent effective, against serious illness or hospitalization.


CHURCH (on camera): And Dr. Reiner went on to stress the importance of the vaccines, which he says are preventing deaths from COVID-19.

Well, in Missouri, COVID cases are on the rise and it is forcing one health system to transfer its COVID patients to other hospitals because of staffing shortages. Starting Friday, Cox Health moved about a dozen patients to other facilities in the region. Data has shown COVID cases are rising in states with lower vaccinations rates. In Missouri, only about 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

And Missouri is not alone with its rising infections and low vaccinations rates. We are seeing a similar situation in other southern states in the lighter shade of green like Arkansas. Infection rates are on average three times higher in states that have vaccinated a smaller share of the public than the U.S. on the whole. And that is according to Johns Hopkins University.

Well an outbreak of more than 125 COVID infections has been traced back to a Texas church camp. The lead pastor of Clear Creek Community Church says that even though the camp upheld strict safety protocols, hundreds of children and adults were exposed to the virus. The Galveston health district is investigating the outbreak and helping with contact tracing. In a letter to the church community, the pastor said we are surprised and saddened by this turn of events. Our hearts break for those infected with the virus.


Meanwhile in the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson is outlining an end to COVID restrictions. He says the plan is to lift them in about two weeks but will make the call on Monday. Meaning there will be no more legal requirements regarding masks, physical distancing and crowd size.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: There is only one reason why we can contemplate going ahead to step four in circumstances where we'd normally be locking down further and that's because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine rollout.


CHURCH: And Germany's public health institute is loosening restrictions for travels from the U.K. and a handful of other countries saying they no longer represent areas of variant concern. However the delta variant is driving up cases in the U.K. So let's bring in our Cyril Vanier. He joins us from London. Good to see you Cyril. So the World Health Organization says it is a mistake to ease restrictions prematurely. What's Prime Minister Boris Johnson's calculation here given the questions raised regarding the delta variant driving up these infections and the current vaccinations rates? CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rosemary, certainly there's a

little bit of cognitive dissonance for people who've been through the last six months here in the U.K., like myself. Because the last time we heard of possibly 50,000 new infections a day, the country was on the cusp of shutting down almost totally for 2 1/2 months and that was just the beginning of this year. Now Boris Johnson is saying we might have 50,000 new infections a day in two weeks, and still he will more than likely get rid of all remaining restrictions.

So to your question, Rosemary, what is the rationale, what is philosophy behind this? Well, the philosophy is that COVID restrictions have always been the result of a cost benefit calculation. And now that the population is vaccinated to the tune of 2/3 of adults fully vaccinated, almost 2/3, Rosemary. Well that cost benefit calculation changes. Listen to Britain's new health secretary, Rosemary.


SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: We can't live in a world where the only thing that were thinking about is COVID and not about all the other health problems, not about our economic problems, our educational challenges, and we have to make use of a vaccine that is thankfully working.


VANIER (on camera): So the government has said for a long time we are going to have to learn to live with this vaccine like we live with the flu because it's not going to go away. And now the government believes that the level of vaccinations within the population allows us to do that.

Where the government is getting pushback, Rosemary, is on lifting all restrictions including face masks. Face masks in enclosed spaces, public transports. Now you have the opposition says it is reckless. You have bereaved families who are saying this is a stain on the memory of those who died. You have mayors of some regional town saying face masks should at least still be mandatory on public transport, right, these enclosed spaces where we know COVID can be transmitted. But the government for the moment appears adamant, Rosemary, that this will be starting July 19 a matter of personal choice and not a matter of law.

CHURCH: Yes, it will be interesting to see what individuals decide to do. What they feel comfortable with. Cyril Vanier joining us live from London, many thanks.

Well the U.S. attempts to relocate Afghan translators before the Taliban can get to them, but a messy visa system known for its delays means some may get left behind.

And the U.S. saw hundreds of shootings across the country during the fourth of July weekend, we are tracking the alarming surge in gun violence with the latest data. That's still to come.



CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. Well new reports claim about 1,000 Afghan troops have fled the battlefield seeking shelter in neighboring Tajikistan. It comes as Afghan officials in the northern province of Takhar say Taliban forces failed to capture its capital city being pushed back by government forces and armed civilians. If true, it's a much needed victory for the government. The Taliban now control more than 190 districts according to the Long War journal. CNN has not independently confirmed these details. Meantime the U.S. is making sure that its remaining diplomatic presence in Afghanistan is ready for potential threats. CNN's Oren Liebermann has more now from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials are in the process of updating evacuation plans for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and this comes as the Taliban is making tremendous gains very quickly in the countryside of Afghanistan taking over districts and pushing back the Afghan military.

Now every U.S. embassy has an evacuation plan especially those that are warzones or conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Kabul. But with Bagram Air Base closing, it takes out one of the options to get U.S. troops, U.S. diplomats and U.S. contractors out. So those plans need to be updated. A senior defense official says the plans are in-depth, the plans are extensive because they need to be able to be implement very quickly should a situation arise in which the U.S. needs to evacuate its citizens out of Afghanistan.

Now that senior defense official stresses there is no need right now to get everybody out, that would be the remaining 650 or so troops as the U.S. nears the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, as well as the diplomatic presence and a few hundred contractors that remain to help the Afghan military. But the U.S. intelligence community is very closely watching the advance of the Taliban. So that would be a key element here in seeing what they do and how they do it. The senior defense official stresses there is no one consensus on how this will all play out. And that intelligence estimates are a bit all other the place as they watch the Taliban and hear the Taliban make its statements about what its intentions are.


Nevertheless, the Biden administration has made clear that it sees now and the immediate future as a time to hand over the fight against the Taliban to the Afghan military. The White House and the Pentagon saying late last week that the withdrawal would be complete by the end of August, but for all intents and purposes, it is effectively complete now. The vast majority of troops in the country are there protecting the U.S. embassy there, as well as protecting the airport. So this fight now largely on the Afghans. A commanding general there who spoke with our colleague Anna Coren in Afghanistan said that they would begin a counterattack, but so far counterattacks by Afghan military forces have retaken some districts, but only some. The Taliban moving quickly through the countryside.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.


CHURCH: And as troops withdrawal, the U.S. is also scrambling to protect thousands of Afghan translators who could now be targeted by the Taliban. A U.S. official and other sources tell CNN that the Biden administration is asking a number of central Asian countries to take them in. A top Republican in the House Foreign Affairs Committee says that there should have been a better plan. Earlier I spoke with Kim Staffieri, cofounder of the Association of Wartime Allies. She weighed in on what should be done to keep these translators safe.


KIM STAFFIERI, COFOUNDER, ASSOCIATION OF WARTIME ALLIES: Right now I believe that every special immigrant, visa applicant from the U.S., needs to be evacuated immediately. I also think that this should've taken to a U.S. territory and not a third country. There are asylum laws and immigration laws that would protect them should they fail to earn the most difficult visa there is to earn in the United States.

CHURCH: And what location are you talking about, where do you think these thousands of Afghan translators should be moved to?

STAFFIERI: Well specifically we've actually had many discussions with Guam, you know, from their government leaders to their high level business leaders and they are ready and they want to welcome these people and take care of them.


CHURCH (on camera): Staffieri was also critical of the Biden administration's plans to relocate translators, she calls their choices very poor.

Well authorities are said to be in hot pursuit of gunmen who raided a private school and kidnapped scores of people in northern Nigeria. Police say at least 26 students and a teacher have been rescued. Officials in Kaduna say that the attackers captured about 140 students. Armed men have been targeting schools and even hospitals for abductions for ransom. This is the 10th mass school kidnapping in northwest thigh Nigeria since December.

Well rescuers in Japan are digging through the muck and debris hoping to find survivors after Saturday's deadly mud slide. Officials say four people are now confirmed dead and 24 unaccounted for. The threat of rain and more landslides has hampered rescue efforts and many survivors no longer have a home. At least 130 houses were destroyed in the disaster. The local governor says the prefecture will investigate the mudslide. One angle that will be looked at is whether it's tied to recent housing projects and deforestation.

Well time for a short break. When we come back, radical groups clash with police in two major U.S. cities. Who they are and what they are hoping to accomplish?

Plus, teenagers under arrest in Hong Kong are being accused of terrorism. Police say that they seized these weapons and materials. We're live in Hong Kong for more on that.