Jun 30, 2021

Surfside, FL Condo Collapse Press Conference Transcript June 30

Surfside, FL Condo Collapse Press Conference Transcript June 30
RevBlogTranscriptsSurfside, FL Condo Collapse Press Conference Transcript June 30

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Surfside officials held a press conference on June 30, 2021 to address updates on the condo collapse. Read the transcript of the news briefing speech here.

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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Hello, thank you for being here. I’m going to introduce the first speaker for the day, Governor Ron DeSantis.

Gov. Ron DeSantis: (00:09)
Well, good afternoon. I appreciate all the hard work. You see it’s been non-stop. I’ve been able to visit with a lot of the search and rescue teams who are now from all across the state being deployed here, the largest deployment in a non-hurricane-related response in the history of the state, 24/7. We appreciate that very much and that will continue and that work will continue. I’ve been meeting with a lot of the families privately to offer any type of support we could provide, offer any type of consolation to the best that we can given the difficult circumstances. I think that while there’s an overwhelming amount of grief, there’s just still the apprehension about not knowing for sure. I know there’ve been more identifications made today. But rest assured that those folks are going to be working on that pile and it’s not going to stop and they’re going to get answers one way or another.

Gov. Ron DeSantis: (01:05)
I, also, have been able to see the toll. You have some people that have lived remarkable lives, have tremendous families, and to be able to see the real raw pain and emotion that this has caused is something that I don’t think any of us are going to ever forget. But it’s also something for some are going to require some additional help and so we have mental health resources that are here in Surfside, have been here for a number of days now. We’ve been able to link individual families at their requests for that support, but that support is there if folks need it. We want to make sure that they’re getting to the right places, because everybody handles these things differently and there’s going to be a need I think. You’ve seen a great community support, but specifically with some of these resources, we anticipate that this is going to be something that is going to require a lot of attention, and understandably so. Our state agencies are in that for the long haul as are the community groups who’ve stepped up so well.

Gov. Ron DeSantis: (02:12)
Then the final thing I’ll just point out is, this is the attention of the state, of the country, and in some respects the world and rightfully so, but we also understand it’s a big state. This is hurricane season. There’s assets here that could potentially be used in future disasters as those come. The state government’s monitoring all storms that are happening. There are some, Kevin Guthrie is going to provide a little bit of brief on that. But suffice it to say, we take those very seriously and we’ll take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we would be able to respond. We hope we don’t have to. We hope it doesn’t come to that. But ’tis the season and you got to be ready. I want to thank our Florida Department of Emergency Management, all their personnel. This is a key mission. One of the most important in the state’s history. Also, over a year on COVID and then they’ve been able to prepare to respond to storms as well, should those storms present themselves for us. Thank you for that.

Speaker 1: (03:18)
Thank you, Mr. Governor. To provide comments in Spanish, we have Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez: (03:28)
Good afternoon. [Spanish 00:03:29]

Speaker 1: (04:25)
Thank you, Lieutenant Governor. Miami-Dade County mayor, honorable Daniella Levine Cava.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (05:10)
Good morning, everyone. Day seven. Our USAR teams have worked through the night, as they have every single night, to make headway through the rubble. I want to thank them once again for their tremendous, tremendous effort. The world is watching their bravery, putting themselves in harm’s way to find people in the rubble. The weather has continued, unfortunately, inclement, causing definitely some challenges, but they have continued. They have persisted. The operation is moving forward. We pray for their safety on this mission.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (05:54)
We’ve now recovered four additional victims. The number of deceased is at 16. 12 next-of-kin notifications have been completed. That is four families still waiting to hear. Please join me in continuing to pray for those who’ve lost their lives in this unthinkable tragedy and all of their families who are grieving and all of those who are still waiting and waiting and waiting for news. As I mentioned, we are conducting an audit of the list of those accounted and unaccounted for over the last few days. Our detectives have been working around the clock to reach every single person who we have been told may be missing by a loved one. We need to verify every report and to remove duplicates wherever possible. Please, this takes some time and we will continue to update you.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (07:04)
As of now, the number of accounted for is 139. The number of unaccounted 147. To remind you, we were previously including the number of deceased in the accounted for number. But for clarity, moving forward, we’re separating that, and so we have deceased, accounted and unaccounted. As I mentioned yesterday, the process of verifying every names on these lists is very slow and methodical. We are calling everybody, all family members, and sometimes we receive incomplete reports. We don’t have the full information. It’s difficult to reach some of the people who’ve provided reports. Our detectives are continuing to work and will continue to provide the best possible numbers, the best updates as we get them. The numbers are fluid and will continue to change.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (08:03)
Please, anybody who has information, provide that information to us as soon as possible. It could be about a safe person or a missing person. Please call our hotline (305) 614-1819. (305) 614-1819. The website is MiamiDade.Gov/emergency.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (08:28)
We’ve also continued to expand operations at our family assistance center. My deputy incident commander Charles [Cirillo 00:08:35] will give you further details about that next. And we are monitoring two systems, storm systems, in an abundance of caution. Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie will give us an update about the storms that we’re monitoring.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (08:53)
As we continue our and rescue efforts 24/7, without stop, we’re also taking immediate action to provide answers and accountability. I’ve been in close contact with our state attorney, Kathy Fernandez Rundle, and her office will be spearheading, we hope, she’ll be asking the grand jury to do an investigation into the collapse. We’re also continuing to move forward with our own county audit of those buildings and the recertification process and we’re collaborating with our partners in the cities to support them as they conduct similar audits in their cities. We have 34 cities in Miami-Dade County.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (09:34)
As I mentioned yesterday, my team and I are also meeting with subject matter experts on the issues relevant to this investigation. This will be from leaders in our coastal cities as well as experts from every possible angle. We are going to get inputs and develop a set of recommendations for changes that need to be made here in the building process at the local level to ensure that this tragedy can never-

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (10:03)
… level to ensure that this tragedy can never, ever happen again. And we know that our city partners, our state, and federal as well will be doing the same. So, I’m grateful, beyond grateful for this incredible team, for this deployment, and for this community. And we are doing everything humanly possible and then some to get through this tragedy, and we are doing it together.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (10:29)
[foreign language 00:10:29].

Speaker 2: (14:00)
Thank you, Madam Mayor. Division Director for Office of Emergency Management, Deputy Incident Commander, Charles Cyrille.

Charles Cyrille: (14:12)
Good morning, everyone. The past nearly seven days have been an all-hands-on-deck effort led by Miami-Dade County in close collaboration with our federal, state partners. I want to provide you with a few updates, beginning with the Family Assistance Center. As of this morning, we now have 26 organizations present at the Family Assistance Center. Together these organizations in their first full day have served 30 families offering an array of mental health, grief counseling, financial, lodging, travel, and logistical assistance, as well as many other services.

Charles Cyrille: (14:56)
I want to thank the 26 organizations who are working with us to provide this support. I’d also like to thank everyone who has continued to generously support the relief efforts from your contributions that you are making. They are welcomed and greatly received. There have, unfortunately, been some people trying to take advantage with fraudulent GoFundMe accounts. What we can do is to assure that you are properly submitting funds or donating to the appropriate agencies, we express that you go to www.miamidade.gov/emergency. Anyone watching at home can visit this site and choose one of the agencies to support and to donate. You can also sign up there to volunteer and [inaudible 00:15:56] that it is important to sign up in advance to volunteer. Please do not show up at the site without signing up first. Thank you very much.

Speaker 2: (16:09)
Thank you, Commander. To translate for the Deputy Incident Commander, Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue Public Information Officer Erika Benitez.

Erika Benitez: (16:18)
[foreign language 00:16:18].

Speaker 2: (17:21)
Thank you, Erika. And representing the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Director Kevin Guthrie.

Kevin Guthrie: (17:33)
Thank you. Good morning, everyone. I’m going to provide another update on the recent state response efforts. The Division of Emergency Management is working with Miami-Dade County Emergency Management to develop contingency plans for severe weather, including tropical cyclones. As part of this planning, the division requested a federal USAR team that we mentioned yesterday. The reason for this is that we will need that team to augment the efforts here so that we can free up some of our state assets to be able to respond to a tropical cyclone. That team will be here later today.

Kevin Guthrie: (18:11)
Again, I want to be clear that this is contingency planning, and at this point in time, we’re working with our state meteorologists. We’re working with Dr. Ken Graham and the National Hurricane Center. I talked to Dr. Graham just before this news conference. He is keeping his team well aware of what’s going on here. My team is very aware of what’s going on here, and we will be closely monitoring the tropics. However, if a system does develop, I want to ensure you we have contingency plans, which include facility relocation, communications, backup plans of how we will continue to respond here while responding to the hurricane.

Kevin Guthrie: (18:54)
Our State Emergency Response Team back in Tallahassee, you heard the governor talk about that they’ve been responding for well over 470 days. A handful of them, about 20, went right into this response as well and have been working that ever since last Thursday night. So, we are well aware and we have done this before where we have responded to multiple emergencies in the state at the same time. State Emergency Response Team is extremely experienced in managing multiple disasters at one time.

Kevin Guthrie: (19:27)
The Florida Department of Transportation has brought in additional district staff to assist with around-the-clock debris removal. FDOT is also deploying additional heavy equipment from other areas of the state to assist with this effort. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued an emergency final order waiving permitting requirements for the storage and processing of solid waste. This emergency final order will remove any requirements that may hinder the debris removal process. The emergency final order also includes guidance for disaster debris to assist-

Kevin Guthrie: (20:03)
… order also includes guidance for disaster debris to assist the heavy rescue operations. The Florida… I’m sorry. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation has identified more than 120 multi-family rental developments to provide emergency housing to displaced individuals impacted by the collapse. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation has also requested that the Department of Housing and Urban Development at the federal level waive income limitations and other provisions to allow families affected by this tragedy to reside in any vacant unit home funded properties. The state has also deployed additional human services personnel from the Florida Department of Education to respond to the family assistance center to support the county’s efforts. Overall, the state is continuing to fulfill all requests by our local partners. Also, want to ensure, to encourage all individuals impacted by this disaster to visit surfsidestrength.com. Again, that is surfsidestrength.com. This website provides resources for immediate emotional support and assistance. During this difficult time, the state is encouraging individuals to prioritize their mental health. The website is also available to families, survivors, first responders. Please remember to take care of yourself. Thank you.

Speaker 2: (21:36)
Thank you, director. Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Secretary Dane Eagle.

Dane Eagle: (21:42)
At the governor’s direction, the Department of Economic Opportunity continues to assess the economic impact to the area and meet with individual businesses. The update this morning is that the SBA, the Small Business Administration, has accepted the governor’s request to draw down additional funds. This will allow local families, businesses, nonprofits to qualify for a low interest loans. They will be deploying personnel to the family assistance center where we also have a team deployed and our two mobile units will assist them in identifying businesses who have expressed a need for assistance. We want to continue to direct businesses, families, nonprofits in need to floridadisaster.biz, floridadisaster.B-I-Z, where they can access these resources. Thank you.

Speaker 2: (22:22)
Thank you, sir. Surfside Mayor, Charles Burkett.

Charles Burkett: (22:34)
Good morning. I started my day today as I normally do now with a tour of the site. I wanted to respond to the families who have been talking, asking me questions about the dogs. Are the dogs being used, are the dogs active? And I made it a point to visit with several of the handlers and yes, indeed, they are very, very active. And we have two sets of dogs there. We have dogs that are looking for people who are alive, and we have dogs that are looking for people who have passed on. And they rotate those dogs in and out. An interesting question that came up in our conversation was whether or not the winds and the rain are inhibiting the dogs and the handlers told me, “No.” The dogs are not inhibited. As a matter of fact, they practice and they pick up scents from great distances and the winds actually just… Apparently the dogs are able to follow the scents to the destination.

Charles Burkett: (23:39)
So that was good. I will tell you, this is day seven, I believe. And in all the days that I’ve been going to the site three times a day, I’ve never seen as many assets in place on that site. We’ve got heavy, heavy equipment and it’s actively lifting gigantic pieces of concrete out of that pile. We’ve got waves of first responders and rescue people all over the top of that mound, all over the side of that mound and I’m told underneath that mound. So that’s really good. Following that, I went up to visit with the families. I want to commend Mayor Cava. There’s a revision in the way that the reports are now given twice a day to the families. It’s very restricted and it’s only families that are getting inside. And I believe that the families do appreciate that because the questions are coming to exclusively from the families.

Charles Burkett: (24:38)
They’re getting the answers that they want. So that’s very productive. With respect to… There’s been some talk by the families. They’ve asked me if the search is going to stop. Are we going to turn this from a rescue to a recovery? And I appreciated the governor’s comments just a few minutes ago where he basically said, “We’re not leaving anybody behind.” This is going to go until we pull everybody out of there. This is our number one effort and I very much appreciate that. And I know the families appreciate that and we’ll all keep working to make that happen. Thank you.

Speaker 2: (25:19)
Thank you, mayor. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief, Alan Cominsky.

Alan Cominsky: (25:26)
Good morning. I just wanted to emphasize the hard work that all our personnel are doing here on scene. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and their efforts and relentless time, all our taskforce, all our support is nothing but amazing. Again, it’s an extremely, extremely difficult situation. Nothing’s changed. As you see what dealing with inclement weather as I speak, but we keep moving forward. We keep looking for certain size specific things as we’re checking areas, focusing on our grids, those rescue grids as I mentioned so many times, the de-layering process. Very, very difficult situation but we’re working collaboratively in a group trying to attain that goal and that’s to save someone’s life.

Alan Cominsky: (26:16)
It’s been tough and I just want to emphasize that. It’s been tough. Talking to our personnel, the spirits are high. We’re still moving forward. We see the resources coming through. We’re exhausting every avenue here, but it’s a very, very dangerous situation and I can’t understate that. And so I appreciate all our efforts and all of our support. And I just want to assure everyone that as a team, as a total team, between Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Miami-Dade County, all our taskforce, state assets, our federal assets, we’re all working together collaboratively, hopefully for a positive outcome. Thank you.

Speaker 2: (27:00)
Thank you, chief. And I call upon a public information officer, Erica Benitez, so we can give the Spanish translation.

Erica Benitez: (27:08)
[foreign language 00:27:08]

Speaker 2: (27:08)
Thank you, Erica. American Red Cross, Mr. Ryan Logan.

Ryan Logan: (28:44)
Hey, good afternoon and good morning. So the Red Cross, we continue to work tirelessly with our government partners to really ensure a seamless service delivery for the survivors, as well as individuals that find out the news of their loved ones. So I would just encourage any survivor that we have not been able to make contact with. If you were living in the Champlain Towers to please contact the Red Cross. You can contact us here locally, or if you happen to be out of the area, please contact us 1 800 RED CROSS, and then will get you to us here so that we can ensure that we provide the same level of services that we’re providing here locally to you wherever you are. We have the fortune to be supporting roughly 17 to 18 families that are currently still here. And I’ll tell you, the resilience of those folks is nothing short of amazing. And just like the chief was mentioning about the determination of his responders, that’s what keeps us going. When you have these folks that we’re serving who we know they’re having the worst experience of their lives, we’re turning around and asking you, what can they do to serve their friends, their families, and even just, what can they do to better support the Red Cross? It’s nothing short of amazing. So I would just encourage anyone that’s out there that we have not been able to make contact with-

Ryan Logan: (30:03)
… anyone that’s out there that we have not been able to make contact with that was letting in the building to please reach out so that we can make sure that we get to the access that you need. Thanks.

Speaker 2: (30:12)
Thank you, Mr. Logan. And to provide us a Creole translator, Leonan Letterborn.

Leonan Letterborn: (31:06)
Thank you. [foreign language 00:31:06].

Speaker 2: (31:32)
Thank you, sir. And as we start the questions and answers, once again, we ask you to raise your hand, identify who the question is going to be going to, and we’ll do it one at a time. We’ll start off with CBS Corporate.

Speaker 5: (31:42)
[inaudible 00:31:42]. I just want to be very clear this is still a search and rescue mission. And then my second question, you mentioned you’re going through looking for certain signs, what exactly are you looking for?

Alan Cominsky: (31:54)
Oh, it’s absolutely still a search and rescue mission. The signs are the same that it has always been. We sweep with the dogs, we use our equipment, the audible sonar equipment. We will use video equipment that we will possible at times, core drill to put through certain areas to look. Signs we look for is the voids, any aspect. Again, with this type of collapse and what we’re seeing in the debris, very difficult to move any of the large concrete slabs. We’re seeing just pulverized underneath and crumbling as we’re trying to move them. So that just compounds it. But that’s what we’re looking for. If we see a void space, if we find an area we expand from there, we try to tunnel certain areas through there. Not tunneling, obviously through per se, but in certain aspects to see if we find someone. So, definitely come across some aspects like that. And when we do, that’s where we continue to move forward.

Speaker 2: (32:49)
Thank you, chief. Ma’am?

Speaker 3: (32:56)
[inaudible 00:32:56].

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (33:00)
So as you know, our process is to contact the next of kin. And so that’s what we’re working on at this time, before we can reveal any details. Thank you.

Speaker 2: (33:10)

Speaker 4: (33:15)
[foreign language 00:33:15].

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (33:21)
[foreign language 00:33:21]. Where’s [inaudible 00:33:28]?

Alan Cominsky: (33:33)
Yes. In conversations with the mayor, we have included additional resources to assist. So Topos Mexico team, we made contact with them. They were supposed to be in the morning so that we can be credentialed to go through. Several things we have to evaluate. So as they go through, we have our FEMA incident support team who checks credentials and different aspects as well, capabilities. Again, this is an extremely dangerous situation and I know everybody wants to help, but we need to make sure we have the properly trained individuals to do the job that needs to be. But they’ll be assisting in different ways, and that particular group as much as possible.

Speaker 4: (34:20)
But what is it exactly you have to evaluate? Because they are experience people all over the world.

Alan Cominsky: (34:20)
Well, that’s where they just check the credentials. I don’t know that group. That’s what I’ve been saying from where we are with our support. We have our state assets, we have our federal assets, and that’s the goal in regards to these missions. This is how we deploy our task force units, because we know the training. Definitely we’ll utilize resources, but if everyone had the opportunity, everybody would be out there. Everybody would be out there. And that’s the key. I can’t overemphasize the risk that everyone’s taking right now. And we all know why we’re doing that, and that’s just where it’s critical. But yes we are utilizing them to the best that we can. And we are very grateful for everyone’s assistance.

Speaker 2: (35:14)
Oh, Erica?

Erica: (35:52)
[foreign language 00:35:52].

Speaker 6: (36:03)
Yesterday, you all released video of scaffolding, what appear to be either underneath what’s left of the building or debris. Can you put that in perspective as to where that is in the building, what you’re doing there [crosstalk 00:36:06]?

Alan Cominsky: (36:06)
Well, those sections, I guess you’re referring to probably wasn’t in the garage section. So those are certain devices that we’ve put up and how we shore different components. So when we first arrived and on our initial assessment and where we started our search and rescue, those are components where we made entry. We went into that very difficult situation seeing if we had any location, any positive outcome. So that would be, I’m assuming what you’re speaking of, what you saw.

Speaker 2: (36:36)
Thank you, chief. Last question over here.

Speaker 7: (36:38)
Yep. The logistics of the president’s visit. Talk about the challenges, whether that could affect everything as far as people getting in and out of not only this area, but just the SNR people as well.

Speaker 8: (36:52)
We’re very grateful that the president is coming. He’s been showing support for this community since the beginning. And we assure you that we have plans in place with the Secret Service and our federal partners that this operation will continue. We have been resilient. We’ve had several challenges from weather, sorrow, pain. And I think that the president coming will bring some unity here for our community, support, like our governor, our mayor, all of us together. And it’s a great message for the family. And we’re going to get it done. That’s not going to be a problem.

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