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At Least Four Dead, 159 Unaccounted for in Condo Collapse; Rain, Fire & Smoke Complicating Condo Collapse Search & Rescue. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 25, 2021 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. At the dimming of another rough day here in Surfside, we are waiting for late word from officials on the state of search, rescue, and recovery operations.

We expect a press briefing to happen any moment now. We are going to bring that to you live.

Already though, the news has been difficult. Today, we saw the number of people unaccounted for and potentially trapped or lost in the rubble of Champlain Towers, which is right behind me just over there. You can see the smoke. That number rose sharply.

The news only adding urgency for rescue teams already who are working nonstop and have been throughout the night. It is however, the most delicate job imaginable under the toughest conceivable conditions, where even one wrong move could cost lives or maybe saving lives even making it harder to save lives than it already is.


MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D-FL), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: These first responders are going in through tunnels, they're working from the top. They're working from the bottom. It has to be done very, very carefully.

Debris is falling on them as they do their work. We have structural engineers on site to assure that they will not be injured, but they -- they are proceeding because they are so motivated.


COOPER: As she said, debris is falling on them as they try to rescue others, as they search for those who are trapped somewhere in that rubble. The weather complicating efforts. Rainy weather as you heard, they've also had to contend with fires breaking out on site. You can see in the shot on the side of me -- on the left side of me, I believe it is, just the smoke coming off the rubble of this building and it permeates this whole area as they search what could be as many as 159 people not yet accounted for.

They can't be sure of exactly who was in the building at that moment. They're trying to trace as many vehicles that are in the garage as possible thinking that will give them an indication of well, somebody's car in the garage, there is a good chance they were in the building.

For most, that means family members, friends, and neighbors. They've been gathering in a local community center waiting for word, holding out whatever hope they can muster and finding it in surprisingly good supply.


MIKE SILVER, HAS RELATIVES IN THE CONDOMINIUM THAT COLLAPSED: There's absolutely survivors in here. There's no question about it that survivors are there. I hope it's my family and I hope it's everybody.


COOPER: Well, that's Mike Silver who rushed here from New York. His uncle and four other family members are among the missing. So far, only four bodies have been recovered. Four people have been recovered dead. Three have been so far identified.

Waiting families tell CNN they are having DNA samples taken in case they need to identify what could be many, many more. They're also of course waiting and looking for answers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Building falls down into third world country where they don't have, you know, building codes and stuff. But with all the strict building codes in this country, a building shifts and collapse like that.


COOPER: His parents are missing in the rubble right now. Today, Florida's Governor promises speedy investigation into how this could happen. President Biden pledged Federal assistance.

And at an emergency meeting today, town officials here said they are hiring an outside engineering firm to evaluate the structural integrity of other area beach front towers. Now, tonight though, the search takes priority.

With me now is Bettina Obias, Maria and Claudio Bonnefoy are her aunt and uncle they live on what was the building's 10th floor. Bettina, thank you for being with us. How are you holding out?

BETTINA OBIAS, UNCLE AND AUNT AMONG THE MISSING: Well, I'm trying to be strong because my aunt was a very strong woman.

COOPER: She was like a mother to you.

OBIAS: Yes, she was like a mother to me. Yes. She was the matriarch of the family. And so, yes.

COOPER: You flew here in the afternoon, didn't know -- OBIAS: Early morning.

COOPER: In the early morning.

OBIAS: At four o'clock in the morning yesterday.

COOPER: When did you realize that they were in this building?

OBIAS: When I actually grabbed my things from the baggage claim, I found out that -- through my sister -- actually she is a nurse here, a frontliner that my aunt's apartment condo collapsed. So, when she asked me to -- so as soon as I heard this, my sisters were still asleep. I grabbed an Uber and came here.

COOPER: You just came down to the site?

OBIAS: Yes. I came to the site. And as soon as I saw this, I fell apart pretty much, you know, because when I saw this, I knew that they were gone. It's hard for me to take a look at that really knowing -- yes, so ...

COOPER: I mean, it is one thing to, you know, one sees things on television and then when you're here and the smoke and the reality of it. I mean, it's overwhelming.

OBIAS: Yes, it is. Actually when something like this you see on television, you're pretty much detached, but when it becomes a part of you, your family, it hits you really hard. So, it is very hard to --

COOPER: You've been to the center where family's loved ones can go. What is that like? I know that they give updates every four hours, but there's not a lot to update, I imagine.


OBIAS: Yes. Well, when I came there yesterday, they were pretty much quickly very organized. I think that the Red Cross was there, and they took a lot of information. They were trying to gather as much data from everybody that were missing. So, they didn't really have a lot of information as to how many people were missing at the time.

So they -- I asked them to -- they asked me where my aunt's apartment was located. I said, it is 1001, and they were quiet. And so they checked the list of people who are in hospital, and people who are the survivors --

COOPER: People whose whereabouts they can account for.

OBIAS: Yes. And I knew when they said that it wasn't there, and I saw this. I knew -- I just had a very strong feeling that there gone. Yes, yes.

COOPER: Are you -- are you? Do you hold on to hope?

OBIAS: I'm actually a pragmatist at the same time. Also, you know, spiritual. COOPER: You want to be prepared for anything.

OBIAS: Yes. Yes, yes. I think hope is a very valuable thing when people are going through crisis to hold on to. So, I'm holding on to a sliver of hope. Because I know in my heart, somebody there is still alive. And if it's not my aunt or uncle, I hope it's somebody's father, somebody's son, you know.

COOPER: Every rescue person we have talked to, will tell you, you know, people can survive for a long period of time in buildings, you can imagine somebody survived.

OBIAS: Yes, that's what I also heard. So, I'm hoping that there are many survivors. So, I hope that they get to them.

COOPER: What do you want people to know about -- we are showing pictures here of your aunt and uncle -- what do you want people to know about them?

OBIAS: I want them to know that my aunt and uncle were -- he was -- my uncle was United Nations legal counsel, a retired one; and my aunt was a -- she was an International Monetary Fund budget officer -- official.


OBIAS: So, as a matter of fact, my uncle is -- I don't know if you know, the former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet is his niece.

COOPER: Oh, wow. Okay.


COOPER: So, there are a lot -- this is a very international building.


COOPER: I know, there are people from Paraguay who lived here, who have -- I know that a lot of people in Paraguay are watching right now, very concerned about this as well. People all over the world are watching very closely.

OBIAS: Yes. Yes, there are a lot of people actually that are from international -- as a matter of fact, we are expecting people from Hong Kong tomorrow, and Chile.

COOPER: Does it help in some ways to be able to be here and see that there are so many search and rescue people here to see that there's a lot of focus on people trying to do everything possible.

OBIAS: Yes. Yes. Sometimes when you see this thing and you know your family in there, you want them out, and people are getting frustrated. But these people are experts, you know, they've been through a lot of -- they've been through a lot of these kinds of rescue. And so we're just hoping we're still in the rescue portion, not the recovery.


OBIAS: Yes, and that's where we're hoping right now.

COOPER: Bettina, thank you so much.

OBIAS: Thank you so much, Anderson.

COOPER: Stay strong.

OBIAS: Okay, thank you.

COOPER: All right, my best. Thank you very much.

We are, as I said, expecting a press conference very shortly. It is a very active situation here. There are obviously medical -- you know, search and rescue teams coming and going, police, fire units. There are structural engineers, city officials.

And again, there is this sort of otherworldly feel with this smoke as you can see behind me. Sanjay Gupta is with us. He has been here throughout the day. You were actually here for another story yesterday and when you came down here. Talk about what you've seen throughout the day.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT Well, you know, it's been an on again off again sort of search and rescue. You know, there's been weather you see -- now, you can see right now, I mean this is more activity, I think, Anderson than we've seen in a few hours.

So, for a period of time, I think when all the water -- when all the rain was there, it really did hamper their efforts for some time.

COOPER: It's such a delicate balance for these rescue workers, you know, the desire to find somebody alive, the desire to get to them as quickly as possible, and yet, also the very real dangers of the structure collapsing on them, even removing debris can shift the structural balance.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, we're seeing you know, a portion of a building obviously that is still standing that has another portion that has fallen, and so they're very worried about that. But also you know, you could smell the air, all the fumes and everything that these rescue workers are doing 15-minute shifts, in part because they want to reduce the exposure to these fumes.

COOPER: Which is again something a lot of folks learned after 9/11.

GUPTA: Right.

COOPER: You know, this smoke is not good.

GUPTA: It's not good, and obviously you know, this sort of duration hopefully won't be as big a problem as what we saw after 9/11 when people were on the pile for days and weeks on end, but you know, 40- year-old building. You have asbestos probably in there. You have all these various chemicals, all these things that are sort of accumulated over 40 years are burning. That's what we're smelling, and I think that's why they're concerned.


COOPER: There's also an issue of, you know, the water that has been pumped into the building. In some of the video we saw from yesterday, that was released by I think, it was Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue, you know, they're working in water from the water that's been pumped in to put out fires in the building and such, and that actually adds the weight of the structure and that actually causes even more concern.

GUPTA: It's a big concern. And, you know, even packing down the pile more with that weight of the water makes it really challenging. I mean, it's one of these things.

I know you're going to speak to some of the search and rescue guys later on, but that point that you're making of, we're doing this obviously at risk to ourselves. It's always a risk benefit ratio. At which point does the inflection sort of flip, right? In a sense that, as you well know, Anderson, most successful rescues occur within the first 24 hours.


GUPTA: You mentioned 9/11. The last successful rescue in 9/11 was 27 hours.

COOPER: You know, we saw in Haiti, I mean, there was -- I remember being on site, I think it was at least seven days.

GUPTA: Yes, I know. And so there's always those stories. So, that's the hope versus honesty sort of thing. But you know, balancing it with the risks that obviously these search and rescue guys are putting themselves into, as well. As you mentioned, debris falling on them, being exposed to all these things.

COOPER: I mean, when you start to learn about building engineering and how buildings collapse, I hadn't realized there's different kinds of collapses. There's pancake collapse, which is what this is, but apparently, for some who've been really examining the video of the collapse, there's a whole variety of it. There's a V-shaped collapse.

There's different kinds of collapses, a lean-to, which all of which make it possible that for somebody to have a space where they can stay safe. I understand the press conference is just getting underway. Let's listen in.

CAVA: ... and we're standing with them. They are working tirelessly. They are passionate about this. They are dedicated to finding people in the rubble. So, we stand with them and we're going to give them all the support that they need to get the job done.

We've been joined by teams from all over the state and we have the best people for the job and we have the right people for the job. The people who are here are highly skilled and trained. They are the ones that go all over the world, whenever there's a trouble spot meeting this kind of rescue. And they are using the skills and the tools to get this job done.

And as well, they continue to believe that there are people that they can reach, getting through the crevices, pushing through walls, removing debris safely with the advice of our structural engineers, and so we stand with them to get this job done.

So, to the families who are waiting for news of their loved ones, we are giving them twice daily briefings with details of exactly how the search is being conducted. We are providing for their living in hotels, their meals there with chaplains, many are celebrating the Jewish Sabbath right now at sundown.

And we know that they are feeling very, very concerned, of course anxious and wondering, but we are telling them that we are here working, praying, and I'm really still hopeful that we will find more of their loved ones.

Unfortunately, the numbers are the same that they were this morning. We have not found anybody else in today's search, but through the night, we will continue and God-willing, there will be some big news later tonight, or in the morning and we'll be back.

We have created a village here, a village of media, people all across the world watching, waiting, and caring, donating. The world is watching and the world is caring what happens right here in Surfside in Miami-Dade County.

We are so grateful for the support of our cities, of our state, of our Federal government. F.E.M.A. has come to the rescue. We're going to have more resources to pay for this expensive search and rescue and to give us access to more teams for the rescue, later for the clearance of the rubble and for the assistance for the families as they put their lives back together.

So, we're here. We will continue and please stand by us. Stand by us as, as we stand by the families. Thank you.


COOPER: So, the mayor of Miami-Dade County. I am here with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. You can hear metal being cut. So there are things happening. But again, as we were talking about and you were saying as you've been witnessing throughout the day, it's kind of on off in terms of how active they can be. Even the question of whether they start to remove debris at this stage.

GUPTA: Yes, I think that's the thing is that, there's been all sorts of different reasons for it, you know, in terms of the weather and other things. But I think, you know, obviously, the mission is still search and rescue. That is what it has been called.

But I think, you know, obviously, we're at 41 hours now at this point. So, I think that's part of the reason you've seen the activities sort of start and stop from time to time. This is probably the most activity I've seen, you know, in several hours right now. So, I don't know if something in particular has happened as we're looking at the images. I know that they're throwing more water onto the fires and things like that, we're seeing that smoke bellow out, but this is the most I've seen.

COOPER: Yes, and of course, so many questions still remain about exactly what it was that caused this. There's a lot of different theories. We'll go into that and also have more on the rescues and the search efforts taking place.

When we come back, what the moment looked, sounded, and felt like for survivors. Some of them were just down the hall from some parts of the building that are no longer there.

Plus, we'll be joined by a trauma surgeon who has been working with rescue crews about the complications of being on site, so close, and getting into that rubble. We will be right back.


COOPER: All throughout the day, we have been hearing from people who were on site when the building went down, people who live next door, people who live in the same towers just not too far from the tower that went down.


COOPER: We've compiled some of what we have heard throughout the day from a number of people. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A really loud clap of thunder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It kind of felt like a jet took off above the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chandeliers and the pendant lights just swaying completely, and that was not normal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least my husband and I woke up to that, to him grabbing me and saying "what is that?" And the whole bedroom was just shaking so violently that honestly, I was prepared for the building to come down because it was not something stable. There was nothing going on that seemed normal about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really, until we opened the door, we didn't know anything happened to the building. The unit was intact.

I looked to the left, and the apartment to our left was half sheared off. I looked forward, which is where the elevator shaft is and it was just a hole. So, that that was the real thing. At that point, we knew we -- it was a race against time, because I didn't know if the rest of the building was coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hear this large, like rumbling noise, I don't know where and I actually just see like, white clouds like -- of just dust coming out. So, I told my mom and my sister who were also parked outside, we'll have to start running. We ran -- all we just see was just white dust like thick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I looked down the hallway and there was nothing there. It was just a pile of dust and rubble, and paint falling from the ceilings.

We went down to the garage, in the basement, water was pouring down from the pipes and we realize that we had to get out of there because staying down there, we could drown knowing how -- what it looked like outside my door, I thought that any minute we could be that same pile of rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just don't know why we're here. The rest of the people aren't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Having gone out to the hallway and seen that it was mere feet from the wall that my kids were sleeping in, it could have been a very different thing. I could have walked into the living room, checking on them and found that rubble and it just -- I don't think I've processed it. It looks like I'm in that mode, but I don't think I've really processed what happened.


COOPER: Some of the voices of those who survived.

We're here with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, also Dr. Howard Lieberman, who is actually part of the team Miami-Dade Rescue. It's extraordinary what you and the men and women have been doing in search and rescue. Explain what it's like working on this site.

DR. HOWARD LIEBERMAN, MIAMI-DADE RESCUE, URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE TASK FORCE: So you know, the pictures basically say, you know -- sum it all up. It's a pretty devastating sight. You know, the good thing is though, I'm working with a group of men and women who are absolutely extraordinary.

You know, Urban Search and Rescue from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, they're amazing people. It's a pleasure really to work with them.

COOPER: Your job -- I mean, your job is, if you find somebody with injuries, you want to have people on scene who can immediately treat.

LIEBERMAN: So my job is sort of multifactorial, so my primary responsibility is to make sure that guys that are up on that pile and searching, stay safe. If they get injured, we take care of them, and that's what we're primarily there for.

Obviously, as a surgeon, as a trauma surgeon and being with the Urban Search and Rescue division for a couple of years now, we do -- and we're capable of doing other things as well. So obviously, if we find patients, we'll treat them.

Like I said before, if patients need to be removed from the pile, but there's a limb that's caught or mangled, we could amputate that on the scene. We could provide any kind of care we need to provide to stabilize them, so they can get transferred to the hospital.

COOPER: It is just incredibly difficult work. How risky is this site for rescue personnel?

LIEBERMAN: You know, there's always inherent risk. You know, here in Miami, one minute it is sunny, the next minute, it is pouring rain. It makes everything wet, slippery, we have to clear one off the pile, wait for the rain to stop, you know, bring them back on.

COOPER: So when it rains, work stops.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, when it rains, work stops. One, because of the lightning, and it's just -- you can't really see anything. Things get really slippery up there, so much that it's too dangerous. It's not worth, you know, risking everyone's life there, you know, to -- you know, it's better to take a pause, keep everyone safe, and you know, able to keep the search going as soon as the rain stops. We're right back on top of that.

So -- but yes, there's a lot of hazards there. But these guys are professionals. This is what they do.

GUPTA: Yes, I'm curious because, you know, there's disasters that this team has rescued all over the world.

LIEBERMAN: Absolutely.

GUPTA: And you and I were talking about this earlier. How different is this?

LIEBERMAN: I think it's a little bit different because it's literally in our backyard. I think everyone is like one or two degrees away from knowing someone who know someone that's in that building.

COOPER: You live not far from here.

LIEBERMAN: I live not far from here. I think, I told Dr. Gupta earlier that my colleague from medical school, he is missing a cousin and that cousin's wife who is pregnant and their one-year-old baby.


LIEBERMAN: So, yes, I mean, it touches close to home. And I think you'll find that there's a lot of people like myself who again have that one or two degrees of separation from someone -- everyone is getting text messages, like, hey, have you seen so and so? You know, it's Miami, it's our home, you know, it's a relatively small community, when --

COOPER: You know, you're also going through the rubble of people's homes and seeing possessions and things. That's one of the things that has always struck me on sites like this, when you come across the reality. LIEBERMAN: Absolutely. So you know, a lot of people, you know, you

just think about rubble and metal and twisted steel, but we're seeing, you know, stuffed animals, teddy bears, box of diapers, child's bunk bed, and we're finding a lot of pictures, family pictures. And it's a little bit more emotional than going somewhere, you know there's no one. Let's say, for a hurricane where they had enough warning, and they had evacuation time, and they got out.

But this, you know that it happened in the middle of the night. For the first time now, I just saw the video and yes, it's pretty impressive.

COOPER: Have you -- I know, there's obviously dogs on site. There's devices where you, you know, sound devices you put into rubble. I know, in other places, sometimes even like, everybody has called for quiet on the site, just so you can hear in case anybody is tapping.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, there was prior to me getting there yesterday, around 1:00 p.m. or so, they did hear some tapping. There was some noise. And you know, it kept up for a while, and then over the course of the day, they sort of -- that dissipated.

GUPTA: This -- it's a tough question to ask, but you know, you want to be hopeful. We're 41 hours, 42 hours now, how do you sort of balance this, the hope versus honesty, you know of what is happening?

LIEBERMAN: So, I guess it's kind of in my nature and my backgrounds as a trauma surgeon, you just never give up hope, right? You always just keep pushing yourself, and you just keep going.

These guys, you know, that's their mindset also. They're just, we're going to keep going, keep going, keep going, until, like I said, every, you know, every stone is, you know, turned over and all the rubble is removed and that's how we do it.

I mean, they're used to it, I'm sort of used to it, from the trauma surgery end of it, and being with the Urban Search and Rescue department for a few years now. And, you know, we motivate each other and just, you know, it's like a -- you know, a brotherhood and a sisterhood, you know, we're all sort of one big family here, and we lean on each other, and we support each other. And we just -- so we don't back down.

Some of those guys, you know, you might have heard of before, like, you kind of have to pull them off, because they'll just keep going.

COOPER: When you're working, I mean, we're looking at images right now of, you know, people climbing over a pile of what we would call rubble, how do you? What do you do on -- where do you begin?

LIEBERMAN: So, you know, so what they're doing here in that particular footage, obviously, they're searching by hand. That's why I have the buckets. And they're literally taking brick by brick, stone by stone, you know, debris by debris into a bucket and taking off the pile, looking for voids, looking to see. They'll bring cameras in, sometimes we'll have the dogs walk on the pile first, so if the dog can sense something --

COOPER: And it has got to be -- I assume it has got to be done in that kind of by hand at this stage, because you don't want a backhoe going into an area where there may be somebody.

LIEBERMAN: Right, so for really large, heavy obvious structures, you're not going to be able to move them. So, there you get the heavy, you know, equipment to move that. And then once that sort of de- layered, then you can start doing the hand by hand, you know, piece by piece, using the high tech equipment, the different cameras, listening devices, infrared, you know, heat sensitive equipment --

COOPER: Do you divide it up in grids?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, so there's a whole search pattern, divided in grids, and it is, you know, numbered and they just basically do a grid search. And once that grid is searched, and they know there's nothing there, then that's it and they move on to the next one. So, you know, it's very thorough.

GUPTA: You know, I see you have the mask on and we were just commenting, you can really smell the acrid sort of heavy metals sort of smell in the air. I mean, how dangerous is that, do you think and also for the other residents who live around here?

LIEBERMAN: So, right, so I mean, obviously the longer you're exposed to it, the danger increases. We do have a Hazmat team that's here. We do decontamination whenever we leave the pile or even the scene. We get our boots like decontaminated.

They do air quality measurements also to make sure the air is safe for us. We have radiation detectors and stuff like that. So, our health is being monitored. The air quality is being monitored.

We're all supposed to wear you know, PPEs, you know, this goes back, you know, even before time of COVID. You know, we're all, you know, gowned up, gloved up pretty much, masked -- so here it is masks, it's eye protection, ear protection.

You know, we do whatever we can do to keep ourselves safe so we can keep, you know, doing the job we have to do.

COOPER: You've got to be exhausted.


LIEBERMAN: Yes, I won't lie. I'm used to it. You know working at Ryder Trauma Center is you don't stop. And like I said, I've been with these guys for a couple of years now. So, you know, I'm kind of used to it, but you could feel it. You know, if I stopped moving at any time, I'll probably, you know, pass (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: Do you think though, for families who are watching loved ones who are watching and all around the world. It's got to be some modicum of hope that just seeing how hard you all are working and how seriously you all are taking this and personally you all are taking. LIEBERMAN: Yes, I mean, like I said, it's we're taking it very personally, you know, we're all from Miami area. This is like home to us. Like I said, people know people who have loved ones who they haven't heard from. And so, it's very personal. And that's what keeps us going. And it's just in everyone's nature. You know, whether you're a surgeon or a search and rescue, you have that personality. We just don't quit. Don't give up. You just keep going.

COOPER: Yes. Well, we're glad you do. Howard Lieberman, thank you, Doctor Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN: And a pleasure. Thank you so much.

COOPER: It's an honor.


LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, as workers continued the exhausting work trying to find survivors here the latest investigation into why this building may have suddenly pancaked into the grand walls. Will bring you an update on a teenager rescued from the rubble that we told you about last night. What happened to his mom? Ahead.



COOPER: As we've been reporting, the known death toll tonight still stands at four. One of those kills sadly is the mother of a teenager who was rescued in the immediate aftermath of the collapse. Last night I talked to a man named Nicholas Balboa, who was out walking his dog, he went around to the back of the building after it collapse. He told me that he heard someone screaming, and help lead first responders to where the boy was ultimately rescue. A 15-year-old Jonah Handler was under a mattress and a bed frame. You see him there being brought out. Here's what Nicholas Balboa told me last night.


NICHOLAS BALBOA, HELPED RESCUED TEENAGER FROM RUBBLE: He told me it was it was him and his mother in the apartment. And, you know, I could see him but I couldn't see his mother or hear her. You know, and at this time from what I've gathered from the crews and stuff like that, they still haven't been able to find her yet, so.

COOPER (on-camera): So he didn't know where his mother was or how she was.



COOPER: Well, today family members confirmed that Jonah's mom Stacy Fang did not survive. Our hearts go out to the family and all those affected by this tragedy.

As to why the condominium tower collapse part of it collapse, the explanations right now obviously elusive.

CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin joins us now with what we know and what we don't know.

So Drew, what are investigators looking at right now talking about to try and figure out what happened?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: The only thing they really have right now Anderson is that horrific surveillance camera video, which shows just the moments when this building collapsed, they don't have access to the site, obviously, they don't have access to the materials or the ground underneath it to determine what would happen and talking to engineers and forensic experts all day long. I can tell you that anybody who tells you how or why or what happened to this building, it's just pure speculation at this point.

What will be key and I'm sure investigators are honing in on is a series of inspections that this building was just undergoing. The building is 40 years old, by Florida law it was required to be recertified, and it was going through that process, which mean for the last several months, major inspections were taking place on this building, so we could reapply for that recertification. Those records we've been trying to reach, we've been talking with town officials, they apparently do not have them or have not made them public. But I think Anderson those will be key as the determining where they at least start to see, were there any problems with this building.

COOPER: We know 40 -- or 40-year old building, do we know much about the history of it?

GRIFFIN: You know, it -- by all accounts from what we can see from the records that we have, there weren't many big problems with this. There was a lawsuit in 2015. It was an exterior crack, which caused leaking into a unit but the damages there, were only added up to about $15,000. There was a study done by a Florida professor looking at the sinkage of the building back in the '90s. It sunk about a half an inch over a six year study in which they studied this. But again, the professor saying that alone would not have caused this problem.

And from what we gather one town official one building official was actually on the roof of that building, looking at the roof repairs that were going taking place. Just 14 hours Anderson before this collapse took place. Jim McGinnis and he says, look at it was a professional roofing job, everything was permitted. Everything was an order. So there wasn't any clear indication of anything going on, that we can see at this point with this building, other than it was 40 years old, going through recertification, and it's a building built on sand on the ocean.

COOPER: Yes, any sense of the timeline? I mean, obviously everyone wants to answer as quickly and obviously the focus for everybody right now is the search and rescue. What's the timeline look like for sort of understanding more of what actually went on? GRIFFIN: You know, to really understand what took place, we're told it's going to be months, not, not weeks. And unless you have a smoking gun kind of incident like a terrorism or somebody smashed into one of the pillars, when you have to put together what happened it's much like a plane crash. One small failure leads to another failure leads to another failure. So you have this string of things that take place. Unraveling that often takes months. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Drew, appreciate it. Thank you.

As we reported the top of the program, town officials here are hiring an engineering firm to help evaluate the integrity of other buildings in the area. Some expert perspective now with me is Kobi Karp, a noted architect and Miami resident and structural engineer. Kit Miyamoto who has had vast experience in building collapses around the world.

Kobi, thanks so much for being with us. Let me start with you. Obviously there's more we don't know then than we know right now. What do you -- I know you've been looking at that video of the fall a lot. What have you -- what can you tell from that?


KOBI KARP, ARCHITECT: I think that just as the gentleman said before, it's a lot of speculation. But really, you can see in the video that the interesting thing is that the Southwest L shaped buildings stood (ph). And this building was built in 1981. I was in high school, I was 18 years old. This building is not old. We are working similar buildings up and down the street here that were built in the 1920s, '30s, '40s and '50s.

COOPER: I was going to say, the building right next to it that looks to me like a 1920s, '30s building that's kind of art deco building. Maybe it's been rehabbed.

KARP: You're 100% correct. And that building was renovated, and all of our buildings get renovated. And that's the issue right now. This is an event that we have never had before. You can look at it, you can speculate how it happened. But at the end of the day, it will take us months.

COOPER: It will take months. Yes. Well, how does that even begin to -- I mean, how do you even begin to do that?

KARP: For us like engineering is the way to go. And really the way these buildings were built, which is all the same way, concrete piles, concrete reinforcement, around the staircases, around the elevators, which is the spine of the building, and then you can see how the building pancaked down.

So, what most people believe that there was a failure between the horizontal and the vertical. But that has to be looked at, that has to be judged, that has to be agreed upon.

COOPER: Yes. KARP: At the end of the day, the reason that the northeast corner is down, and the southwest corner is still up. That's a mystery. You can see the vertical shaft holding it up. That's the spine, but nobody really knows.

COOPER: Vertical shaft, is that you call that the spine of the building?

KARP: Yes. Most of the buildings here in Florida are built in a similar manner, with a staircase, of emergency staircase and or the elevators act as our shear walls. The shear walls is what holds us up. That's our spine. And then the horizontal slabs, which are in this case are eight inch post tensioned slabs, for example, is what pulls it in and are the floors.

COOPER: I want to bring Kit. Kit, you and I spoke last night it was really just so fascinating. Your description of what you what you saw in that video. I'm wondering now 24 hours later, what come -- what's on your mind in terms of what you want to know, what you feel like we know more about?

KIT MIYAMOTO, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: I think, you know, it's a definitely a classic failure of a collapse, calling as collapse mode by the column basically fall off. So if the column fell everything come down with it. Right. So, the question is why the column failed, and we talked about yesterday is probably possible corrosion of metal inside of the column, or (INAUDIBLE) the so-called settlement or sinking of the ground a certain area, a different rate from others that will cause that. And/or potentially, someone just asked in the (INAUDIBLE) call -- to the column that's, that's also, you know, highly unlikely by those things happens.

But also, the -- I think that the maybe combination of it, you know. Because the building is actually hard to collapse, there's a lot of redundancy exists in building system. That's why you don't see the collapse like this, right? There's the thousand, thousands of buildings in area for 10 years, but nothing collapse, because it's hard to collapse, actually.

So, even like the earthquake area, you know, when we live in California, the probable (ph) collapse of a building as a 1% over a 50-year time and a maximum, maximum earthquake. So it's really hard to collapse. So it's maybe different, a whole bunch of different reasons, possible combination or settlement of a soil, to the cause and over get the steel in a column. But I think eventually the engineers can figure it out, though. I know it's going to be very difficult, because of the depth thing come down to the so-called that way the failures have happened. But you can definitely basically peel the onion off essentially, to kind of get down to the bottom, you know.

COOPER: Kit was pointing out last night that, you know, it's the side facing the ocean got, you know, the salt air coming in, salt corrodes, a metal. And, you know, we look at a building, we see the concrete, but there's the steel, there's the rebar inside the concrete. And the salt can actually get to that and corrode. KARP: Yes, right. Then what we do on the post tension is we come back on the calves and we refinish them and we take care of that over the years as part of the 40 year certification. What's interesting --

COOPER: To do that you have to cut away all the concrete and I mean, how do you get to us bar -- rebar that's in the middle of concrete.

KARP: That's very good. Many times we look at it and then we find out that the cancer is really bigger than what we expected.

COOPER: That's what people call the, actual like a cancer that the weakening of that bar, the expansion of that bar cracks the cement.


KARP: Absolutely. And in the old buildings that we've done in the '20s and '30s, like in South Beach.

COOPER: Right.

KARP: We actually use beach sand with more salt in it. So the corrosion is even greater. But at the end of the day for this to crash, like this is a very unique and special situation. But you can see the steel is inside. And the steel generally speaking, once you start to clean it up, and we do this to many, many of the buildings here, we find more of the cancer, as we call it within it.

COOPER: Kit, what do you make of you know, we've heard there were engineers who looked at this building in it as part of this 40-year, you know, planning for this 40-years certification thing. They wrote up a report about apparently there was some work being done on the roof as well. It is -- how serious an inspection is it for that -- for a certification like this that would it catch? Should it have caught issues like what may have led to this?

MIYAMOTO: Well, I mean, first of all, the just Miami-Dade County is a statue of a 40-year, you know, recertification is considered to be one of the best practices in the world, you don't see that often. Like in California, we don't have there. We don't have here like that. And so, it's a definitely prudent approach about them. And especially if the -- at the major corrosion going on in a columns and you want to see spalling which means like (INAUDIBLE) cracks in a columns or like walls sometimes or floor, you're going to start seeing the potential risks exist.

But again, you know, rebar is hidden right, inside of the concrete and make it concrete there is a finish around it. So you have to kind of get down into the really hard of it to see what's going on. But that's definitely impossible to see that.

And I think it eventually what's going to happen here is to kind of get down to the failure mode and you can simulate, you can a computer simulation about how actually get that started falling and why really happened. So that would be definitely happening down the road.

COOPER: Yes. Well Kit Miyamoto, I really appreciate your time tonight. I also understand, you know, my friend John Mark (ph) --


COOPER: -- in Haiti, I was just talking to him. He's --

MIYAMOTO: Yes. Oh, he did.



COOPER: -- yes, he'd done a lot of work, done a lot of work in Haiti. Kobi Karp, thank you so much. Really appreciate your expertise.

KARP: It's great (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: Yes, thank you.

Up next from here in Surfside, as the rescue effort continues. The tight knit Jewish community is coming together to help one another. Some family members of a local synagogue are still missing. Our Randi Kaye joins us with that when we continue.



COOPER: As the second day of this enormous rescue effort continues in tonight. We want to focus on the especially close Jewish community that surrounds Surfside, for many faith is crucial at a time like this. They're leaning on religious leaders for support.

Randi Kaye joins us now with more. I know you spoke to a rabbi from this area.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I spoke with Rabbi Zalman Lipskar, he has a synagogue just up the road from here in Surfside. And he told me that he believes at least 20 people who are associated with his synagogue are missing, possibly in that rubble pile, ages from 20 years old to 60 years old. And he's been spending some time in the last couple of days with one woman who believes that she is missing seven of her own family members. And this is what he told me about their conversation.


ZALMAN LIPSKAR, RABBI, SHUL OF BAL HARBOUR: The one that's really touching me the most is this family came for a funeral of a dear friend of theirs. And multiple family members were staying in that building, they have apartments there. And now missing seven or eight family members.

I've never seen the strength of a mother, that herself went through her own miraculous recovery from a devastating disease. And she's completely distraught that her daughter came for a funeral for someone, a dear friend, and she was there because she said to me, her daughter is the only one that could bring solace to others. So that story has continuously resonates with me because I'm just blown away by her faith, by her strength, even through her breaking down. I think that's her strength.


COOPER: Earlier I spoke to the family of the young man who came with his girlfriend for that funeral. Was the Rabbi especially close to anyone who may be missing?

KAYE: Yes, he was. He told me about another couple about who's 26, both of them 26 years old. They're missing a doctor who's a member of his synagogue also missing a great friend of the community. But he is especially close to this one couple. They're the parents of his childhood friend who he grew up with. He knew this man's family very well, knew these, this couple, this older couple, the boy's parents very well. And he is really just personally devastated by the fact that they're missing and we talked about them as well today.


LIPSKAR: Obviously, my dear friends that are from here that I grew up with my whole life, to watch the family's pain, it's hard for me to describe as. I know them through my life, the parents, the brothers and sister. And it's just been heart wrenching that not knowing and not being able to really deal with this magnitude of the tragedy. That's --

KAYE (voice-over): You knew their parent.

LIPSKAR: I knew them since I'm a little boy.

KAYE (voice-over)): What do you -- what can you tell me about them?

LIPSKAR: Amazing people. House was always open. Warm. Kids are awesome. All taken different paths in their lives. But it's a family that has been a part of my life since I can remember. I stayed at their home many times.


KAYE: And he also told me, Anderson, that his friend who he's been talking about is missing his parents, he was trying to talk to his own son and explain where his grandparents are to him. And, you know, for us as adults, it's hard to comprehend what's happened here. So for this man to try and explain it to his son, he shared some of how he tried to do that. And this is just heartbreaking.


LIPSKAR: So one of my childhood friends, he told me his son last night, I was at his house at 1:45 in the morning. And he says what am I telling my son, you all see. He wants to know how we can go to sleep when our Zaidi (ph) our grandfather and Bobby (ph) grandmother are laying in the rubble in dirt. How do we go to sleep? Why are we not here? Why are we not pulling off the cement blocks and bricks? So, what if -- so it's -- there's no words, to just give him hug, hug and kiss and say we're here as a family together.



KAYE: He said he just wanted to get out there on his own and just dig through the rubble to try and find his grandfather, but the community is pulling together is about five or 6,000 individual donations, people are bringing pillows and bringing cash and bringing blankets, because many of these families are homeless, Anderson, they have nowhere to go.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, it's at a time like this where a faith community can really make such a big difference in people's lives. Randi, thank you so much.

We'll be right back. We have more how you can help the people here. We'll be right back.


COOPER: If you want to look into organizations that are helping families here in Miami, you can go to for more information. That's it for me, let's hand -- want to handover our coverage to Chris who was on scene here with me in Miami. Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Anderson, appreciate it. Thank you very much.


Of course, I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Primetime." It's good to be with you brother as always.

We are live in Surfside Florida tonight, continuing our coverage.