Jul 2, 2021
Surfside, FL Condo Collapse Update Press Conference Transcript July 2
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Surfside officials held a press conference on July 2, 2021 to address updates on the condo collapse. The death toll has risen to 20 after 2 bodies were found. Read the transcript of the news briefing speech here.
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Speaker 3: (05:30)
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the joint operational briefing. As I stated earlier, please… The mics are on? As always, we’re going to be taking the questions at the end, so please hold your questions. You’ll be selected. I now welcome to the podium Governor Ron DeSantis.
Gov. DeSantis: (05:51)
Good morning. I was able to meet this morning with some members of one of the Urban Search and Rescue teams from Virginia that are now deployed. They drove, I think, almost 18 hours and then immediately went right to work. We also have teams from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey. We appreciate that. Our folks in Florida, particularly the South Florida Search and Rescue teams, have been working tirelessly and relentlessly. It’s obviously physically very taxing. It’s also emotionally draining. As many of you know, they were able to identify a child whose father worked for the city of Miami Fire Department, and these are tough things for them. I mean, obviously we focus on the families, and rightfully so, but our folks have gone through a lot who’ve been out there, and I think that added support really means a lot. And so I just wanted to publicly thank, again, the folks I met in Virginia, as well as Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey.
Gov. DeSantis: (06:50)
I also want to thank the president for supporting doing 100% reimbursement for some of the things here in terms of costs like debris removal. It can be very pricey, particularly for a municipality and even for a major county like Miami-Dade, and obviously the state would have a share of that as well. So he was very, very supportive of doing a 30-day reimbursement. That’ll be very, very helpful, I think, to all levels of government here in Florida, so we appreciate that commitment. Of course, as many of you know, Tropical Storm Elsa has now become Hurricane Elsa, and we are working. I’ve ordered our department of Emergency Management to start preparing a potential state of emergency, so I’m going to be working on that today. If we do do the executive order, that will assist our emergency response team in preparations for Hurricane Elsa.
Gov. DeSantis: (07:46)
Now, we don’t know exactly the track that it’s going to take. It is possible that we could see tropical force winds as early as Sunday night in Southern Florida. And so we’re actively monitoring the situation like we always would do with these storms, but given what we’re doing on this site, we’re also paying special attention to any impacts that could happen here in Northeast Miami-Dade county. It is possible that this area could see tropical storm force winds. Not guaranteed, but it is possible, and so our department of Emergency Management is assuming that that will happen, and making the necessary preparations to be able obviously to protect a lot of the equipment. You could potentially have an event with the building as well. So we are going like we normally would with these things. This is just what we do, but we’re adding this special emphasis on this site, because we understand the sensitivities involved. How it will work most likely is the further west that this thing tracks, the less likely of course there’ll be impacts here, but it would likely be stronger when it got to the Gulf of Mexico.
Gov. DeSantis: (09:02)
The more it interacts with land, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, the more likely you would be to slow it down. But there will be some impacts in Florida at some point starting as early as Sunday night, so we’re going to be working on that and working on this. We’ll be doing both on a dual track. And obviously, our emphasis with the storm, do what we normally do, but then also a special sensitivity to anything that would need to be done to make sure that the efforts here are supported and protected. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (09:40)
Thank you, governor. And now, for Spanish remarks, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez.
Lt. Gov. Nuñez: (09:52)
[foreign language 00:09:52].
Speaker 3: (10:46)
Thank you, Lieutenant Governor. And now, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz: (12:24)
Thank you so much. I had a chance to meet with a number of the families this morning, both survivor families as well as families that are still struggling to know about the results with their own family members, and I can tell you that both following yesterday’s visit by President Biden meeting for three hours with the families, and then their sense today that there is so much more relief and reassurance and comfort following his visits, that the role of consoler in chief is so important, and it’s one that President Biden-
Rep. Wasserman Schultz: (13:03)
Chief is so important, and it’s one that President Biden really does better than no one else. I particularly want to stress his proactive announcement, that the federal government would provide a hundred percent reimbursement for the next 30 days. I know I’ve began talking about that and the impact on the budget for little towns like Surfside and even the county, as the governor mentioned, knowing that those costs are going to be taken care of a hundred percent in the first 30 days of this crisis is really important. And it takes a load and a burden off of our governments here that are responding.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz: (13:38)
I want to also emphasize that with the potential onset of a hurricane, we’re certainly taking a whole of government approach to this. We always take a whole of government approach to when a hurricane potentially is going to hit our shores. So making sure that you’re ready, that you prepare for the hurricane possibly coming now and make sure that you have your seven days of supplies and get your house and your personal belongings in order. And make sure that you have a plan to keep yourself safe if it does come closer to our shores.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz: (14:11)
And then lastly, just something really important because as time goes on in a disaster we often have the bureaucracy start to set in and we’re talking about people here so we want to make sure that they have accurate information. At the mobile office hours that I have at the family assistance center and talking with families yesterday, they’re starting to be concerned. Some of them are staying in hotels and the time for them to stay in a hotel is going to run out and they want to know how can they get access to the federal relief if they don’t qualify for federal relief, which if they’re not citizens and don’t have a US citizen child, then they wouldn’t, where can they get access to the charitable relief? Because the charitable relief has been so incredibly generous.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz: (14:51)
Everyone who needs access to the individual assistance or help from FEMA or from the charities that have been working to assist families would do so at the family assistance center. Make sure if you’re a family in need that has been impacted by the collapse to go to the family assistance center, register with the family assistance center if you have not done so already, and also make sure that you registered with FEMA, which you can also do at the family assistance center. And then our office is always available and I have staff on the ground at the family assistance center to help cut through any of the red tape. Thank you so much.
Speaker 5: (15:30)
Thank you Congresswoman. Now Miami-Dade County Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava.
Daniella Levine Cava: (15:39)
Here we are, day nine. Yesterday evening just before 5:00 PM the search and rescue mission was able to resume operations, as you all know, following the engineer’s evaluation. Our first responders have been hard at work as they have been this entire time, continuing to search through the pile that is accessible to them. And last night we did discover two additional victims. Tragically one of those victims was the seven year old daughter of a city of Miami firefighter. And it goes without saying that every night, since this last Wednesday has been immensely difficult for everybody in particularly the families that have been impacted. But last night was uniquely different, it was truly different, and more difficult for our first responders. These men and women are paying an enormous human toll each and every day and I ask that all of you, please keep all of them in your thoughts and prayers. They truly represent the very best in all of us, and we need to be there for them as they are here for us.
Daniella Levine Cava: (17:05)
With these developments last night, we have now confirmed 20 deaths, 188 people are accounted for and 128 are unaccounted for. And you’ll notice that the number of accounted for people has increased, which is of course good news and one of the reasons that it has increased is that in some cases, in which we originally received a report of a potentially missing person, that report was only marked as one person. But when the detectives were able to reach and verify the safety of the person in question, we discovered that there are in fact, several family members who could have been counted for potentially in the building, and now we can mark them as safe. So this is very, very good news. Again, that’s 188 people accounted for.
Daniella Levine Cava: (18:12)
Our detectives are continually conducting an ongoing audit of this list as we verify every single angle, every single report, so that these numbers will continue to change. As we’ve said, all along they’re fluid and you can understand exactly why. Our engineers and our Miami-Dade fire team have continued to evaluate and test the site as they work to expand the search area as quickly as possible, and as it becomes safe to do so, we’re proceeding with our evaluation of all of the factors all of the time and the impacts related to the demolition of the building. While the search and rescue continues as our top priority. And it is important to stress as our engineer explained yesterday evening that a demolition cannot be done overnight. In fact, it takes weeks to demolish a building. We continue to aggressively monitor what is now Hurricane Elsa. We could potentially feel sustained tropical storm force winds as early as Sunday midday. We’ll be joined by our weather service and our department Incident Commander Charles Cyrille, and our Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, to provide more detail on our preparedness for the site and our storm prep for the entire community. So please stay tuned.
Daniella Levine Cava: (19:40)
I want to once again, remind everybody here in South Florida, that hurricane season is very much upon us, and it’s important to make sure that you have a plan in place and that you take precautions at home. Everyone must prepare now for the eventuality of a storm. As we’ve been saying all along the level of coordination and collaboration between Miami-Dade County, the state of Florida, the city of Surfside, the federal government, and all of our local partners is truly unprecedented. This is truly unprecedented. And we know the world is watching. This has been the largest non hurricane related emergency mobilization of resources in the history of our state and it would not be possible without the ongoing cooperation and commitment of everybody on the ground. So please let’s all continue to keep the victims, their families, our first responders in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you. And God bless.
Daniella Levine Cava: (20:43)
[foreign language 00:20:43]
Speaker 5: (20:43)
Thank you. Madam Mayor. And now city of Miami Mayor of Francis Suarez.
Francis Suarez: (24:25)
Thank you, Madam Mayor. Thank you to all who have collaborated and cooperated on this terrifying few days that we’ve been here. I can confirm as the governor and the mayor have stated that the city of Miami Fire Department has lost a seven-year-old daughter of one of our own firefighters. She was recovered last night by members of our urban search and rescue team and Florida Task Force too. Our chief is asking that all of you respect the privacy of the immediate family, as well as our fire department, which is understandably grieving tremendously. I’m the father of two children, I have a seven year son and the thought of losing him in this way is unimaginable for me and my family. And I think this tragedy has haunted so many of us because so many of us know someone who has been in the building or affected by this tragedy. And so now not only do we know someone, this is someone that’s a member of our family, of our fire family. So that’s why I’m here today.
Francis Suarez: (25:40)
[foreign language 00:25:40]
Francis Suarez: (26:00)
Speaker 6: (27:23)
Thank you Mayor Suarez. From the National Weather Service, Robert Molleda.
Robert Molleda: (27:30)
Good morning. We continue to closely monitor Hurricane Elsa as it moves over the Caribbean Sea this weekend. By late Sunday or early Monday, we expect that the storm will be emerging off the coast of Cuba and approaching or getting pretty close to Florida during the Monday to Tuesday timeframe.
Robert Molleda: (27:53)
As the mayor and the governor said earlier, the tropical storm force winds could begin as early as Sunday, here in South Florida. Most likely, based on the official forecast, it would be Monday and possibly even into Tuesday. So, we do have this weekend to prepare for the possibility of tropical storm conditions at least.
Robert Molleda: (28:18)
There’s still a lot of uncertainty as you’ve heard other. There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the forecast, how it will evolve, how the storm will interact with the land areas that are to our south, and that could affect not only the intensity or how strong the storm is, but also the track that it takes.
Robert Molleda: (28:36)
So right now, we’ll continue to closely monitor the storm, we’ll be providing advisories every six hours. And just to be ready, look over our preparedness plans this weekend and be ready for the potential tropical storm conditions along with heavy rainfall early next week.
Robert Molleda: (28:58)
Speaker 6: (30:02)
Thank you, Mr. Molleda. Now Division Director for Office of Emergency Management, Deputy Incident Commander Charles Cyrille.
Charles Cyrille: (30:16)
Good morning, everyone. With Hurricane Elsa strengthening into a Category 1 hurricane, the Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management and the Florida Division of Emergency Management are working together to assess all potential impacts as it approaches.
Charles Cyrille: (30:35)
As we enter the holiday weekend, please ensure you monitor the progress of this storm and begin your personal preparedness. Make sure you have three to seven days of supplies on hand for each person, each person, in your home.
Charles Cyrille: (30:49)
Additionally, residents are urged to begin securing their home in preparation for potential impacts. Any objects that can easily be blown away by hurricane winds should begin to be secured, either tied down or brought indoors. Examples are garbage cans, patio furniture, et cetera. And be sure to take tree trimmings to your local trash and recycling center. It is critically important that these preparatory activities begin today.
Charles Cyrille: (31:19)
Also, be sure that your emergency equipment such as hurricane shutters and battery powered radios are working and are in order. Please test them today. Find out if you live in an evacuation zone, know your zone, and as always the 311 Contact Center is available for any questions. If you would like more information, please visit miamidade.gov/emergency.
Charles Cyrille: (31:46)
Miami-Dade County officials will continue to monitor the storm and will ensure any advisories in conjunction with the National Weather Service as they become necessary. Stay informed of all latest developments by downloading the ReadyMDC app.
Charles Cyrille: (32:04)
Of course, the ongoing search and rescue mission as well as providing support for the afflicted families remains our highest priority. Our Family Assistance Center is open from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM, seven days a week. There are currently 26 organizations there providing services to the families and survivors. Mental health, grief counseling, financial lodging, travel and many other services to those in need are being provided today. Currently there are 63 families that have been served. Thank you.
Speaker 6: (32:47)
Thank you, Mr.Cyrille. And now in Spanish on behalf of the Deputy Incident Commander, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Director of Media and Public Relations, Erika Benitez.
Erika Benitez: (33:01)
Speaker 6: (34:29)
Thank you, Erika. And now Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett.
Charles Burkett: (34:35)
Good morning, everybody. As I usually do now, early this morning I spent a good amount of time at the site. I also went up to the family briefing and I have a couple messages from there. Chief Brian [inaudible 00:34:54] has done a stupendous job arranging for the families to be moved around this town and being able to obtain the services that we’re offering. They’ve instituted bus trams, and the families can now just hop on and hop off and get to where they need easily, which is a great step forward.
Charles Burkett: (35:18)
With respect to the maximum effort that’s being put forward by search and rescue, I want to personally commend Chief Ray Jadallah for working 20 hours a day and sleeping four hours a night since the beginning of this. He’s the only guy that I see… Well, I should take that back. He’s the guy that I always see when I’m here and I’m here a lot. I’m sleeping a little more than four hours a night. It’s probably up to five and a half or six.
Charles Burkett: (35:47)
But Ray has been a beacon, a rock, a source of hope for the families. He’s there at those briefings every single day answering very tough questions. He is passionate. He’s compassionate. He’s understanding. And he’s, most importantly, he’s flexible. He’s heard the direction from the county mayor. He’s heard the direction from the state officials, from the governor. He’s heard the directions from the president and he’s following them.
Charles Burkett: (36:20)
He’s not letting bureaucratic roadblocks get in the way. The support for the families is unparalleled, it really is. It’s astounding how wonderful and beautiful all resources are, County resources, our local resources, all the municipalities that are joining together. It’s like a chorus and it’s just playing beautifully.
Charles Burkett: (36:45)
And I can tell you from firsthand experience that the families appreciate it and acknowledge it, and they do it over and over again in those meetings. So, there’s not any dissatisfaction than I’ve been able to detect and I’m looking for that. Because, my role here is, I’ve got a very small role. But I make it a point to be where everybody is, so that if there is a problem, I can bring it up to a County Mayor Cava. I can bring it up to Florida Governor DeSantis, and I can make our senators aware. That’s what I’ve been doing and that’s been working because when there has been a glitch, it has been immediately addressed.
Charles Burkett: (37:28)
I want to personally call out and thank Governor DeSantis and Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez for being in Surfside as much as they are in Surfside. It’s very difficult for them to run the State of Florida, but also spend as much time as they do here. I can tell you from the town of Surfside, and I imagine from the families and the residents of South Florida, we are all very, very grateful and it’s super reassuring to see their faces all the time around this disaster. I want to also congratulate… Listen, we had a very difficult situation yesterday where the work was stopped and there was incredible pressure on Mayor Cava. Incredible. I know for a fact that I was asking a lot of hard questions and she was rock solid. She did what she needed to do and she got that work started up again. I know the families and everybody else is very thankful for that and we praise her leadership skills. A lot of them people have called about animals in the building. They’re concerned. It’s not one or two people. I get calls and emails all the time, and they want to know whether or not we can get in there to rescue the animals. I will say that I know for a fact that that building has been covered at least three times by the brave men and women of the search and rescue teams, up and down, looking for anything alive. And to this point, I haven’t heard that they’ve seen anything. Moreover, I heard today that there are-
Charles Burkett: (39:03)
Moreover, I heard today that there are drones flying around inside that building also looking. I know that if there were issues with respect to animals in there, that we would probably hear about it. For those folks that are really worried and losing sleep over that, just know that your county officials have that in mind and are not discounting them.
Charles Burkett: (39:26)
Last thing I want to do, two more things. I just want to tell you that I’m meeting today with the displaced families from Champlain South, who were immediately taken care of. Again, the work that the county has done in conjunction with the state authorities and the federal authorities is really something I think that’s going to come out later on after we get over the shock and horror of this collapse, but, and we’re not going to talk too much about it, but suffice to say it is working. Government is working. Most people don’t see government working a lot. But right here, right now, government is working and I’m going to meet with the displaced families. They’ve asked me to come over and talk to them. I’m going to make sure that they’re getting everything they need. If they’re not, I’m going to make sure they do.
Charles Burkett: (40:12)
Last thing, Champlain North, the building that’s substantially the same as the building that came down, the same construction, the same developer, the same name, probably the same materials, people that are worried. Some people are especially worried. We have made arrangements for them to be relocated. Further, our building officially in conjunction with our experts are now getting ready to x-ray columns and do a deep dive, a forensic study into the structure, take that data back, plug it into the models and get to the point where we can definitively tell the people that are living there, whether or not we think there’s an issue or not, which I’m hopeful will give our residents a little more peace of mind. Thank you.
Speaker 7: (40:55)
Thank you, mayor. Now for Creole translation, [inaudible 00:40:58].
Speaker 8: (40:58)
Speaker 7: (40:58)
Thank you, Mr. [inaudible 00:42:39]. Now we’re going to be opening up for questions. Please address it to who the question is for, and then…
Speaker 9: (42:44)
I have two questions. The first question is for anybody. Are there any fears that the winds [inaudible 00:42:50] down visibility of the hurricane or tropical storm? To the fire chief, is there any way you could talk about the mental state that somebody could go to work knowing that their child is there? I mean, the story has pretty much [inaudible 00:43:06] so many people about the firefighter [inaudible 00:43:11]. What kind of mental state for somebody to go to work [inaudible 00:43:15].
Fire Chief Alan Cominsky: (43:17)
Yes, in regards to sort of hurricane, now another significant obstacle in the horizon, heading this direction. Oh, so yes, we have engineers. We have an established engineer group. We’ve had them on site from the beginning with our USAR teams. Now we’ve incorporated more engineers, so we’re using our state and federal assets as well. Then as well as our county assets locally. Also have an engineer team, which is developing all different plans. We have more equipment now monitoring. We brought more resources in the other day where we’re continuing. As I stated from the incident when this began, it’s just so challenging, so many different obstacles, one after the other. That building standing definitely has been a huge obstacle and the hazards that for our men and women that are out there working. As a fire chief, that’s my top priority saving lives and protecting our personnel, and that goes hand in hand. It’s a delicate balance and very, very difficult decisions at time to make.
Fire Chief Alan Cominsky: (44:17)
For the windstorms, I mean, we’ll monitor and we’ll have to see if the direction of the storm and how close it gets, and then we’ll have to make the necessary precautions and modification to our plan.
Fire Chief Alan Cominsky: (44:27)
Then, also, I mean, I do want to comment to the second question. Every victim we remove, it’s difficult. It’s very difficult. We try to respect, we have a whole process in regards to how we remove each individual that we come across. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to remove any survivors yet. But it’s very difficult. Last night was even more, when we’re removing a fellow firefighter’s daughter. That’s just what I want to emphasize, the emotion, what we’re feeling. As firefighters, we do what we do, and it’s kind of a calling. We always say that. But it still takes a toll. That’s why you see more resources coming through. Our brave men and women of our Florida taskforce, we’ve been going non-stop. It’s nice with our federal resources coming through, and this has always been the plan. I just was hoping that we’d have some survivors so far.
Speaker 10: (45:27)
Chief, just to follow up on that. First of all, I’m so sorry about your team member’s child. The timeline for it, I know you’re not releasing names, but how is the whole team dealing with it? How is he doing and the family? Then a follow-up to that, how do you all keep from [inaudible 00:45:50] the word recovery at this point?
Fire Chief Alan Cominsky: (45:54)
Well, I mean, obviously the firefighters are emotional. I’m not going to disclose anything. I mean, out of respect for the family, but it takes a toll. It takes a toll. In regards to keep going, it’s how we evaluate what we look for, certain aspects. We know we still have several individuals missing and that’s kind of our primary focus to see if we have a survivor.
Speaker 11: (46:23)
Question right here.
Speaker 12: (46:24)
Chief, I’m sorry, but everyone really wants to know, to clarify [inaudible 00:46:29], was that firefighter actually working on the pile at the time or was it others from Rescue that were there observing and was there some kind of service? From what we are hearing, the work stopped and there was a moment. Forgive the question but [inaudible 00:46:46]. We just want to know.
Fire Chief Alan Cominsky: (46:51)
Oh, well, I mean, it was Florida Task Force Two. We’re out there in different work groups. Out of the work groups that go through, they were part. The father wasn’t part of that process, but obviously was notified. We don’t stop because we’re searching, but we do make modifications. We do that each group. Each rescue group, when we come across an individual, obviously we pay our respect. We have a process. I’m not going to go into details, but with different religious faiths, we have a process that we started from the very, very beginning. We comply with that. It’s obviously with police and homicide involved and in multiple steps. We’ll definitely disclose what we did at a later time. I don’t think now’s the time. But Jeff and I want to emphasize, we do that and we honor all the loved ones that we’ve lost.
Speaker 7: (47:39)
Speaker 13: (47:41)
Mayor, you mentioned it would take a while before the building would actually (silence) when would be the earliest potentially be that that building can actually come down?
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (47:55)
We’ve had a couple of meetings with the engineers. They’re meeting regularly to look at exactly what would be the process. We are going to move expeditiously. We’re going to move expeditiously on decision-making, but it will take some time for the demolition to occur.
Speaker 7: (48:13)
Mayor, there’s a last question here.
Speaker 14: (48:14)
In Spanish, please tell me how you guys feel the fire rescue about finding a kid that belongs to the [inaudible 00:48:27].
Speaker 14: (48:34)
Speaker 15: (48:43)
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (49:51)
I just want to emphasize that for all of us here and across the world, we know that this entire process is as if it were our own children, our own parents, our own sisters and brothers and grandparents. That’s how it is every day here and around the world. Thank you.
Speaker 14: (50:15)
Can you say that in Spanish please, Mayor?
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: (50:20)
Speaker 16: (50:20)
Thank you. Thank you, everyone.
Speaker 17: (50:20)