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Prince George's County Executive Holds News Briefing

Aired February 22, 2003 - 16:01   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go to a press conference right now on the roof collapse. Listen in.
JACK JOHNSON, PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY EXECUTIVE: We're getting quite a number of calls, hundreds of them, about leaking, flooded basements all over the county, and right now, at least 300 or more, and what we want to say to the citizens is that we have coordinated our response with the police and the fire department. They are going to respond to the house to make certain that you're not compromised in terms of being electrocuted. So if there is a substantial amount of flood in the basement, we're asking you not to go down there. Call the fire department. The fire department will not be able to pump the water out of the basement today, because of the high volume of floods, flooded basements that we have, but we will turn off the electricity to make certain that people are not electrocuted or that they are hurt.

So we're again asking all of our citizens to be patient, but to call fire personnel or a police officer will stop by. I've just talked to Chief Wilson and the chief of the fire department, and they're working on that, and that is happening now as we speak.

On the roof collapse that's right here, we have sent two additional canine units, and the canine units have not confirmed any hits. We understand that we now have access to the entire structure, and except for a small portion of the structure. And the -- so right now, we have not confirmed that there is anyone in there.

So we're cautiously optimistic that things are flowing in the right direction. We're quite pleased, as we are right now, that things are looking up. We've had a total of eight injuries. Six of those individuals have gone to doctor's hospital. They're minor injuries. One is at Prince George's Hospital. And my understanding is that the other person is at Providence Hospital.

So we have about 16 individuals that are in the structure right now. They're going hand by hand. They are picking up the debris by hand, putting them in buckets and bringing them out. So it's going to be a long operation. The fire department will demonstrate to you in a few minutes, if you're interested, in how the canine unit works.

And in addition to that, the fire department will give you a briefing about 4:30 on the structural integrity of the building and what they're doing to shore up the building.

We have also contacted the police department. Chief Wilson has indicated that presently, there are no reports of missing people that have been called into the police department. Now, that doesn't mean that there isn't any right now, because people will normally call much later, because sometimes they don't know whether their loved person has gone to this store or some other place. So we will not expect any missing persons report now.

So again, we are cautiously optimistic, based on the last canine search, that things are moving in the right direction and we're hoping that we will not have any casualties. We want to again thank the police department, the fire department, and all of the other rescue personnels and public safety people and individuals from the Department of Environmental Services that are dealing with the structural integrity of the building. All together, are working well. They are coordinating everything. And as you can see, we have a huge amount of people here, and we're going to continue this operation.

But in addition to that, we want to remind citizens who are having flooded basements that -- to be patient. We will get there. We're not going to be able to pump. And then, in addition, I've learned that there are a number of roads and other access that are flooded and are being blocked, so we have a huge public safety issues on our hands. It's all being taken care of. We need the cooperation of our citizens, and we'll get through this, like we got through the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) snowstorms that we had a few days ago. Again, thank you very much.

QUESTION: At this point you don't think there's anybody in there, really? You have no missing persons, the dogs haven't found anything? So why, it seems like the danger level has gone down quite a bit.

JOHNSON: Well, the danger level has gone down. But we don't know yet. Until we know, because there is a small area that has not been searched. But the good news is that the canines have not confirmed that a person or any individual are in the place.


JOHNSON: That's correct.


COOPER: You've been listening to a press conference given by Jack Johnson, executive of Prince George's County in Maryland, talking about the roof collapse, that Toys "R" Us. That is a story we've been following all throughout the day and will continue to follow into the evening as events warrant it. Thank you very much for joining us on CNN SATURDAY. I'm Anderson Cooper.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Carol Lin. We've had a lot of breaking news today. In fact, in just a few minutes, we're going to bring you the latest on the brain dead 17-year-old girl at Duke University Hospital, Jesica Santillan. We've heard from her attorneys and we're trying to figure out what the decision will be next for her parents who are just agonizing over whether to disconnect her and admit that she's now dead. COOPER: Obviously, one of the most difficult decisions any family could make. They are facing that at this very moment. We are first going to go to the suburbs around Washington. Kathleen Koch is standing by in Maryland with the latest on the roof collapse -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, obviously we just got that very hopeful news from the Prince George's County executive that they're cautiously optimistic that there is indeed no one trapped inside this Toys "R" Us store. But it's been a very frightening scene here. This occurred mid-morning, about 11:30, when the store manager says there were roughly about 25 people in the store. It was a relatively light morning. It was raining very, very heavily at the time. Ten of the people in the store were workers. And we were able to interview someone who was inside at the moment that that roof came down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right after I signed for my purchase, I was trying to give the clerk some information so I could pick up my purchase later with a vehicle, a large vehicle. As I wrote down my first name, I hear this crashing sound. I look up and I see the roof rolling towards us. There was a lot of metal clashing sound, a lot of debris starting to fly forward to the front of the store and we ran for the exit.


KOCH: Some of the eyewitnesses, including that gentleman, mentioned that they heard screams, that also there was a woman with a young girl who they were shopping back in the bicycle section and that they were not seen after the collapse.

So obviously, with reports like that, they're doing everything they can here to eliminate the possibility that anyone is trapped inside. And as you heard, they said there was one portion of this building that they haven't quite gotten to, that they haven't searched.

But you know, Anderson, this is one of a number of incidents that are occurring around the area right now. There's a Wal-Mart store that's in Leesburg, Virginia, about 20 miles west of here. The roof there has buckled. They've evacuated that facility. A senior citizen's home in Leesburg, Virginia, the Heritage Hall nursing home. They've taken 162 senior citizens out of that area of the building. Apparently it was leaking heavily from the roof, tiles were coming down on some of the residents. So they've all been moved.

We've recently gotten a report that there's a Gap store at an outlet mall apparently also in the Leesburg area where some of the support beams for the store were buckling. So again, rescue workers going there to see if there may be a structural issue with that building as well.

All of this, again, because of the heavy snow, in some areas more than two feet that we got in this -- in the Washington, D.C., region last week and in through Monday. And all of this, add on top of it about two inches of rain that we had today. So very dangerous situation, Anderson.

COOPER: And is the rain continuing there, Kathleen?

KOCH: It's been on and off all afternoon. It's been slacking off the last couple of hours, so it's not pouring. We hope it's a good sign now, because we really need a break from all this.

COOPER: Absolutely. Kathleen Koch, thanks very much.


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