Wildfire experts urge skipping fireworks this July 4th amid extreme conditions

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(LOS ANGELES) — Wildfire scientists and fire officials are pleading with people to forego fireworks this Fourth of July, as unprecedented heat waves and drought conditions have elevated fire risk in the western United States.

In an open letter published this week in The Conversation, an online publication for academics and researchers, more than 150 scientists said they are “gravely concerned about the potential for humans to accidentally start fires” in the West, as extreme heat, record-setting drought and dry vegetation are “setting the stage for widespread fire activity.”

“We urge people to skip the fireworks this July 4th and to avoid other activities that could start an unintentional wildfire,” the letter stated. “This will be critical for a safe Independence Day holiday, good practice for the rest of the fire season, and one way we can adapt to more safely live in increasingly flammable landscapes.”

The number of wildfires caused by humans spikes on the Fourth of July, particularly in the West, according to a 2020 study published in the journal MDPI.

Nationwide, nearly 30% of all fires started by fireworks from 2014 to 2018 were reported on the Fourth of July, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Half of reported fires on the holiday during that time were started by fireworks.

But fireworks aren’t the only cause for concern this fire season.

“With this year’s tinder-dry grasslands and parched forests, sparks from anything — a cigarette, a campfire, a power line, even a mower blade hitting a rock — could ignite a wildfire, with deadly consequences,” the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

Over 90% of the West is currently considered to be in a drought, with record-breaking heat in the Northwest leading to “worsening drought conditions across the region,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

A day after declaring a statewide drought emergency, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte asked residents to “please use caution outdoors” ahead of the holiday weekend.

“Montana’s facing critical fire weather conditions, and it’s going to take all hands on deck to reduce the risk of wildfires,” the governor said in a video statement Friday.

Several communities in Colorado have canceled Fourth of July fireworks displays amid elevated fire risk, according to ABC Denver affiliate KMGH-TV. Many Arizona cities are doing the same, ABC Phoenix affiliate KNXV-TV reported.

In Utah, several cities have already banned fireworks due to the drought, ABC Salt Lake City affiliate KTVX-TV reported. Officials in Ada County, Idaho, have also restricted fireworks, according to ABC Boise affiliate KIVI-TV.

“Those aerial fireworks can land anywhere, and they can travel great distances,” Idaho Department of Lands Fire Management Bureau Chief Josh Harvey said during a press briefing Thursday in which state officials urged people not to set off fireworks amid the extreme conditions. “Please do not use aerial fireworks anywhere in the state.”

 

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Hurricane Elsa latest: Track may spare Surfside, rescue effort from worst weather

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Hurricane Elsa, the first of the Atlantic season, could take many paths when it reaches the United States, from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast to Florida — including Surfside, where rescue operations are ongoing following last week’s condo collapse.

The good news is the latest guidance on Friday evening shows the forecast track shifting west and avoiding a direct hit on Miami. Any potential impacts from Elsa are much lower than 24 hours ago, but the chance for heavy rain, gusty winds and scattered thunderstorms remain.

Elsa continues to race across the eastern Caribbean Sea as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph. Friday evening it was moving very quickly to the west at 30 mph.

Elsa crossed over St. Lucia Friday morning after blowing through Barbados, where it brought wind gusts of 86 mph.

A hurricane warning is now in effect for Jamaica and a hurricane watch has been issued for eastern Cuba.

By late Saturday morning, conditions will begin deteriorating across parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti as Elsa closes in.

The latest forecast still has Elsa weakening to a tropical storm after hitting Cuba and then turning northward over the southeast Gulf of Mexico into Monday and potentially bringing notable impacts to Florida’s Gulf Coast later Monday into Tuesday.

Elsa could potentially impact the ongoing rescue efforts in Miami-Dade County following last week’s deadly condo collapse

As of Friday at least 20 people have been confirmed dead and 128 others remain unaccounted for.

The first rain bands in South Florida, including Miami, are expected Monday morning.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said crews are securing equipment, preparing for the possible impact.

But Florida may be spared from a major hit. With several days still to go, Elsa could take other paths, either hitting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast states or staying east of Florida and impacting the Carolinas.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Surfside building collapse latest: Death toll rises to 20 after body of firefighter’s child found

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 20 people, including three children, have been confirmed dead and 128 others remain unaccounted for since a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last week.

The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through the debris in hopes of finding survivors.

Two more bodies were pulled from the rubble on Thursday night, including that of a 7-year-old girl who was the daughter of a Miami firefighter, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. The firefighter was not part of the crew that discovered the girl’s body but he was notified, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky.

“It goes without saying that every night since this last Wednesday has been immensely difficult,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Friday morning. “But last night was uniquely different. It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders.”

Meanwhile, 188 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has stressed that the figures are “very fluid” and “continue to change.” The number of those accounted for has gone up as detectives continue to audit the list of people reported missing, a development that Levine Cava called “very good news.”

However, no survivors have been discovered in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed, and the hope that more people would be found alive appeared to be fading Friday.

Cominsky said rescue workers are “emotional” after the discovery of a first responder’s own daughter, which “takes a toll.” But he said that won’t stop them from continuing to search for those who are still missing.

“I just was hoping that we would have some survivors,” Cominsky said at the press briefing on Friday morning.

City of Miami Department of Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Zahralban later confirmed in a statement that a member of the team lost his 7-year-old daughter in the disaster.

The massive search and rescue operation, now in its ninth day, was temporarily halted for much of Thursday due to safety concerns regarding the structural integrity of the still-standing section of the building. Movement in the pile of rubble as well as in the remaining structure prompted the hourslong pause, according to Scott Nacheman, a structure specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue support team.

Structural engineers, who have been on site monitoring the situation, are currently planning for the likely demolition of the rest of the condominium amid the ongoing search and rescue mission, according to Levine Cava. Nacheman, who is helping develop those contingency plans, told reporters it would be “weeks” before a “definitive timeline” is available.

The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been shifted to focusing on the pile of rubble. But the two sites are side-by-side and the remaining building has posed challenges for the rescuers trying to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage.

“Given our ongoing safety concerns about the integrity of the building, we’re continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Thursday evening.

Shortly after search and rescue efforts resumed Thursday evening, the Miami-Dade County mayor noted that the crews “looked really, really excited to get back out there.”

Levine Cava told reporters on Friday morning that structural engineers are working to expand the search area as quickly as possible when it is safe to do so.

“Here we are, day nine,” she said. “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.”

Heat, humidity, heavy rain, strong winds and lightning storms have also made the conditions difficult for rescuers, periodically forcing them to pause their round-the-clock efforts in recent days. Officials are monitoring weather systems in the region as the Atlantic hurricane season ramps up.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said his office is beginning to prepare a potential state of emergency declaration due to Hurricane Elsa, the first of the Atlantic season, which could possibly hit Surfside. The storm’s track is not yet clear, but DeSantis said tropical force winds could arrive in South Florida as early as Sunday night. So officials are making the necessary preparations to ensure that both the search area and the remaining structure in Surfside is protected.

“This is just what we do but we are adding the special emphasis on this site because we understand the sensitivities involved,” DeSantis said during the press briefing on Friday morning.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, as well as families of the victims. Recalling the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and 1-year-old daughter as well as badly injuring his two sons, the president told reporters: “It’s bad enough to lose somebody but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ll survive or not.”

The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation.

Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.

A structural field survey report from October 2018, which was among hundreds of pages of public documents released by the town of Surfside late Sunday, said the waterproofing below the condominium’s pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”

A slew of lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging the partial collapse could have been avoided and that the association knew or should have known about the structural damage. A spokesperson for the association told ABC News they cannot comment on pending litigation but that their “focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”

The association’s board released a statement Friday saying its surviving members “have concluded that, in the best interest of all concerned parties, an independent Receiver should be appointed to oversee the legal and claims process.”

“We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation,” the statement continued, “and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy.”

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Hurricane Elsa forecast’s multiple paths includes Surfside where rescue efforts ongoing

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Hurricane Elsa, the first of the Atlantic season, could take many paths when it reaches the United States, from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast to Florida — including Surfside, where rescue operations are ongoing.

Elsa is over St. Lucia Friday morning after blowing through Barbados, where it brought wind gusts of 86 mph.

A hurricane warning has been issued for Haiti, where heavy rain, flash flooding and rough winds are expected when Elsa charges in Saturday afternoon, likely as a Category 1 hurricane.

By Sunday night into Monday, Elsa will pass over Cuba as a tropical storm with heavy rain, flash flooding and 65 mph winds.

On Monday, Elsa will reemerge in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm with winds of about 65 mph.

By Monday evening, Elsa will approach the Florida Keys as a strong tropical storm with winds near 65 mph.

The National Hurricane Center forecasts Elsa will move up the west coast of Florida, from Key West to Tampa, Monday night through Tuesday night.

Elsa could potentially impact the ongoing rescue efforts in Miami-Dade County following last week’s deadly condo collapse.

As of Friday at least 18 people, including two children, have been confirmed dead and 145 others remain unaccounted for.

The first rain bands in South Florida, including Miami, are expected Monday morning.

But Florida may be spared from a major hit. With several days still to go, Elsa could take other paths, either hitting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast states or staying east of Florida and impacting the Carolinas.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Two pilots alive after plane crashes few miles off coast of Hawaii

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(OAHU, Hawaii) — Two pilots are alive after their 737 Cargo jet crashed several miles off the coast off Oahu, Hawaii, following an emergency, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

The plane was en route from Honolulu to Maui when the pilots reported that one engine was down and they were having problems with their second engine, officials said. At 1:46 a.m. local time the pilots lost their second engine and notified the Federal Aviation Administration that they were going down.

One pilot was taken to a trauma center and officials said the second was on a rescue boat heading to a fire station, officials said.

The Queens Medical Center said it received one patient in critical condition.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Surfside building collapse latest: As search resumes, officials plan to demolish standing structure

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 18 people, including two children, have been confirmed dead and 145 others remain unaccounted for since a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last week.

The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through the debris in hopes of finding survivors.

Meanwhile, 139 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who has stressed that the numbers are “very fluid” and “continue to change.”

The massive search and rescue operation, now in its ninth day, was temporarily halted for much of Thursday due to safety concerns regarding the structural integrity of the still-standing section of the building. Movement in the pile of rubble as well as in the remaining structure prompted the hours-long pause, according to Scott Nacheman, a structure specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue support team.

Structural engineers, who have been on site monitoring the situation, are currently planning for the likely demolition of the rest of the condominium amid the ongoing search and rescue mission, according to Levine Cava. Nacheman, who is helping develop those contingency plans, told reporters it would be “weeks” before a “definitive timeline” is available.

The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been shifted to focusing on the pile of rubble. But the two sites are side-by-side and the remaining building has posed challenges for the rescuers trying to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage.

“Given our ongoing safety concerns about the integrity of the building, we’re continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Thursday evening.

Shortly after search and rescue efforts resumed Thursday evening, the Miami-Dade County mayor noted that the crews “looked really, really excited to get back out there.”

Heat, humidity, heavy rain, strong winds and lightning storms have also made the conditions difficult for rescuers, periodically forcing them to pause their round-the-clock efforts in recent days. Officials are monitoring weather systems in the region as the Atlantic hurricane season ramps up.

Although officials have continued to express hope that more people will be found alive, no survivors have been discovered in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed. Bodies, however, have been uncovered throughout the site.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, as well as families of the victims. Recalling the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and 1-year-old daughter as well as badly injuring his two sons, the president told reporters: “It’s bad enough to lose somebody but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ll survive or not.”

The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

1-month-old, 9-year-old girl shot in the head in separate acts of violence: Chicago police

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(CHICAGO) — A 1-month-old girl and a 9-year-old girl were both shot in the head in separate acts of violence in Chicago on Thursday, according to police.

Seven people, including the 1-month-old baby, were shot shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday when three men got out of a black Cherokee Jeep and began spraying bullets on the city’s South Side, Chicago police said.

The baby was hit in the head and hospitalized in critical condition, police said.

The other six people shot were listed in good condition, police said.

The gunmen fled the scene and no arrests have been made, police said.

Hours earlier, at about 2:45 p.m., a 9-year-old girl was shot in the head while in a car on the city’s South Side, police said.

The 9-year-old was hospitalized in critical condition, police said.

A man in the car was also shot and hospitalized in good condition, police said.

The suspects, who may have been in a white SUV, fled the scene, and no arrests have been made, police said.

Chicago has had 1,489 shootings incidents this year, as of June 27 — a 12% increase from 1,333 shootings over the same time period last year, according to police department data.

These latest shootings come as the Chicago Police Department says it has a summer focus on removing illegal guns from the streets.

Police have seized 5,901 guns, including 290 assault weapons, so far this year — a 26% increase from the number of guns seized by the same time last year, David Brown, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, said at a news conference Thursday.

The city is on pace to recover over 12,000 illegal guns by the end of the year, he said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Brown said. “When crime happens, which is likely late evening into the early morning … is when our schedules are being adjusted. Because we are sworn to protect the people of Chicago. But we have also acknowledged 12-hour shifts and canceled days off are impacting our officers. … and we have implemented an officer wellness plan as a part of this.”

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Surfside building collapse latest: As search and rescue resumes, officials shape plans to demolish remaining structure

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 18 people, including two children, have been confirmed dead and 145 others remain unaccounted for since a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last week.

The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through the pancaked pile of debris in hopes of finding survivors.

Meanwhile, 139 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who has stressed that the numbers are “very fluid” and “continue to change.” Officials previously were including the number of deceased among those accounted for but are now separating the figures.

The massive search and rescue operation, now in its ninth day, was temporarily halted for much of Thursday due to safety concerns regarding the structural integrity of the still-standing section of the building. Movement in the pile of rubble as well as in the remaining structure prompted the hours-long pause, according to Scott Nacheman, a structure specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue support team.

Structural engineers, who have been on site monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of rescue workers, are currently planning for the likely demolition of the rest of the condominium amid the ongoing search and rescue mission, according to Levine Cava. Nacheman, who is helping develop contingency plans for the demolition, told reporters it would be “weeks” before a “definitive timeline” is available.

The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been shifted to focusing on the pile of rubble. But the two sites are side-by-side and the remaining building has posed challenges for the rescuers trying to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage.

“Given our ongoing safety concerns about the integrity of the building, we’re continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Thursday evening.

Shortly after search and rescue efforts resumed Thursday evening, the Miami-Dade County mayor noted that the crews “looked really, really excited to get back out there.”

Heat, humidity, heavy rain, strong winds and lightning storms have also made the conditions difficult for rescuers, periodically forcing them to pause their round-the-clock efforts in recent days. Officials are monitoring weather systems in the region as the Atlantic hurricane season ramps up.

Although officials have continued to express hope that more people will be found alive, no survivors have been discovered in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed. Bodies, however, have been uncovered throughout the site.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to tour the scene of the disaster and meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, as well as families of the victims. Recalling the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and 1-year-old daughter as well as badly injured his two sons, Biden told reporters: “It’s bad enough to lose somebody but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ll survive or not.”

The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation by local and federal agencies. Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.

A structural field survey report from October 2018, which was among hundreds of pages of public documents released by the town of Surfside late Sunday, said the waterproofing below the condominium’s pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”

A slew of lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging the partial collapse could have been avoided and that the association knew or should have known about the structural damage. A spokesperson for the Champlain Towers South Condo Association told ABC News they cannot comment on pending litigation but that their “focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Bill Cosby’s prison release leaves accusers retraumatized, victim advocates concerned

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(NEW YORK) — As Bill Cosby awoke Thursday to his first full day of freedom in nearly three years, women who accused him of sexual assault and victim advocates we’re left reeling from the fallout of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to vacate his 2018 conviction.

Two women who alleged Cosby drugged and assaulted them told ABC News they felt sick to their stomachs, including one who said the ruling retriggered her post-traumatic stress disorder.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people are expressing feelings of trauma, retraumatization, feeling helpless and hopeless in the criminal justice system,” Elizabeth Jeglic, a professor of clinical psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who studies sexual violence prevention, told ABC News on Thursday.

Jeglic said the court’s decision came across as a giant step back from the progress made during the #MeToo movement, in which rich, powerful men like Cosby and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein were convicted and imprisoned in sexual assault cases.

“Following #MeToo, we had some hope,” Jeglic said. “It’s very difficult for survivors to come forward and make accusations, and to go through the criminal justice system process. So when you see that it has failed yet again, you just kind of feel like, ‘What can I do?’ ‘How is this ever going to end?'”

Jeglic said that only 25 out of every 1,000 cases of sexual abuse end with the assailant going to prison.

Cosby was convicted on April 26, 2018, on three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault, stemming from accusations made by Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia mansion. Cosby was given a sentence of three to 10 years in prison.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Cosby’s conviction on Wednesday, ruling he should have never been prosecuted because of a deal he and his attorneys cut with former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor in 2005. As part of the deal, Castor agreed not to criminally prosecute Cosby if he testified in a deposition for a civil suit Constand filed against him, one that resulted in a $3 million settlement.

During a four-day deposition, Cosby, believing he had immunity from criminal charges, made incriminating statements, including that he obtained drugs, specifically the sedative Quaaludes, to give women for sex. Castor’s successor, Kevin Steele, then used Cosby’s statements as grounds to file criminal charges.

The state Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors violated Cosby’s constitutional rights to due process and described Steele’s decision to file felony charges as an unconstitutional “coercive bait-and-switch.”

“The court is saying the entire process was fundamentally unfair,” Dan Abrams, ABC News’ chief legal analyst, said Thursday on Good Morning America.

There were no conditions placed on Cosby’s release and he does not have to register as a sex offender.

The state Supreme Court justices took their ruling a step further by concluding the only way to remedy the miscarriage of justice was to release Cosby from prison and bar prosecutors from trying him for the third time.

“We do not dispute that this remedy is both severe and rare. But it is warranted here, indeed compelled,” the justices wrote in their 79-page decision.

“That was the most surprising part of the ruling to me,” Abrams said, adding that the justices could have ordered a new trial.

Following the ruling, Steele released a statement saying Cosby “was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime.”

Steele could conceivably face sanctions by The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania if a complaint is filed over how he and his office handled the prosecution, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court told ABC News on Thursday. The Disciplinary Board declined to comment on whether a complaint has been filed against Steele.

Cosby has maintained his innocence throughout the legal ordeal, saying he never engaged in non-consensual sex.

In an interview Wednesday night with ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis, Cosby slammed prosecutors and the media.

“Nobody had the sense to say, ‘Wait one second, this doesn’t match up with the truth, this is not what I was taught in college, this is not what I was taught at home,'” Cosby said.

But California attorney Gloria Allred, who represents 33 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault, said at a news conference on Wednesday that “Mr. Cosby is not home free.”

Allred said she is charging forward with a civil case she filed against Cosby on behalf of a woman alleging he sexually abused her as a child at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. She said the suit had been stayed for trial until the conclusion of Cosby’s criminal case.

Allred said a status conference on the case has been scheduled for August in Santa Monica, California, and that she expects Cosby to testify at a deposition under oath.

“Because his criminal case is now concluded and because he is not in jeopardy of being criminally prosecuted, he will not be able to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in our case,” Allred said.

Despite the state Supreme Court’s decision, Allred told ABC News that the accusers she represents have found Cosby’s prosecution an “empowering experience” that has allowed them to speak out and demand changes in the laws to make it easier to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence.

But Constand and her attorneys said in a joint statement that the Supreme Court’s decision “may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant.”

Tarana Burke, a founder of the #MeToo movement, told ABC News that the decision by the state Supreme Court will not derail her group’s mission to support survivors of sexual assault and to “expand the possibilities for ending sexual violence.”

“We don’t owe anybody anything. We don’t owe anybody our survival,” Burke said. “We just owe ourselves to survive.”

Burke added, “As much as I feel sort of appalled by this overturn … the legal system in this country was not built to support survivors, it wasn’t made to give us accountability. So, when we see these failures of accountability, it’s to be expected.”

Lise-Lotte Lublin, who accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 1989, was one of five Cosby accusers to testify at his trial to help prosecutors establish prior bad acts and a pattern of practice by the comedian. She told ABC News that she takes some solace in the notion that Cosby will likely never regain his reputation as “America’s Dad.”

“That,” Lublin said, “is gone forever.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Surfside building collapse latest: Search and rescue efforts resume following structural concerns

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — One week after a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County, at least 18 people have been confirmed dead while 145 others remain unaccounted for, officials said.

The massive search and rescue operation, now in its eighth day, was halted for much of Thursday due to structural concerns, as officials worried about the remaining condo building also collapsing. Crews continue to carefully comb through the pancaked pile of debris in hopes of finding survivors. The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah.

Among the bodies most recently pulled from the rubble were two children, ages 4 and 10, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

“Any loss of life — especially given the unexpected, unprecedented nature of this event — is a tragedy. But the loss of our children is too great to bear,” Levine Cava said during a press conference in Surfside on Wednesday evening. “We’re now standing united once again with this terrible new revelation that children are the victims as well.”

All the victims recovered so far have died from “blunt force injuries” due to the collapse, Dr. Emma Lew, director of the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department, told ABC News.

Meanwhile, 139 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who stressed that the numbers are “very fluid” and “continue to change.” Officials previously were including the number of deceased among those accounted for but are now separating the figures.

Concerns about remaining structure temporarily halt search and rescue efforts

Search and rescue efforts were paused early Thursday morning due to concerns about the stability of the remaining structure and the potential danger it poses to the crews. Structural engineers were on site monitoring the situation and determining the next steps, according to Levine Cava.

“We’re doing everything that we can to ensure that the safety of our first responders is paramount and to continue our search and rescue operations as soon as it is safe to do so,” she said at a press conference in Surfside on Thursday morning.

By Thursday evening, the search and rescue mission was “back to work full power,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told ABC News. The work resumed shortly before 5 p.m., Levine Cava said.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky told reporters that crews observed a shift of 6 to 12 inches in a large column hanging from the still-standing structure as well as some slight movement in the concrete floor slabs just after 2 a.m. local time, prompting concerns that the rest of the condominium could collapse.

Earlier, police officers on site had told ABC News that rescuers reported hearing cracks and were investigating the stability of the building.

The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been shifted to focusing on the pile of rubble. But the two sites are side-by-side and the remaining building has posed challenges for the hundreds of first responders trying to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage.

One area of the site had to be roped off on Tuesday due to falling debris. Then on Wednesday, officials said crews were no longer entering the remaining structure because it was considered unstable.

“Given our ongoing safety concerns about the integrity of the building, we’re continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing Thursday evening.

Poor weather conditions — from downpours to lightning storms — have also forced the crews to temporarily halt their round-the-clock efforts in recent days.

Engineers are currently planning for the likely demolition of the building amid the search and rescue operation, Levine Cava said Thursday.

“This is a decision that we need to make extremely carefully and methodically as we consider all the possible impacts to the pile of debris and to our search and rescue operation, as well as considerations of how to best manage the demolition in order to safeguard the integrity of the existing debris field,” she said.

Over the past week, crews have cut a vast trench through the pile of rubble to aid in their search as they try to tunnel through the wreckage and listen for sounds. As they work to reach the bottom of the pile, cameras placed inside show voids and air pockets where people could be trapped, according to officials.

Rescuers are using various assets, equipment and technology, including specially trained dogs that are searching for signs of life, underground sonar systems that can detect victims and crane trucks that can remove huge slabs of concrete from the pile. Crews have removed almost 1,400 tons of debris from the site so far, officials said.

Rescuers are each working 12-hour shifts at a time and the conditions on the pile are “tough” as they risk their lives in hopes of saving others amid heat, humidity and rain, according to Cominsky. But “spirits are high” and they are still “hoping for a positive outcome,” he told reporters.

“We’re exhausting every avenue here,” Cominsky said during the press conference on Wednesday morning. “But it’s a very, very dangerous situation and I can’t understate that.”

Some of the first responders are members of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s urban search and rescue team, Florida Task Force-1, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Urban Search and Rescue Response System and has been deployed to disasters across the country and around the world. Search and rescue teams from Israel and Mexico have also joined the efforts in Surfside.

Col. Golan Vach, head of a unit of the Israel Defense Forces that specializes in search and rescue operations, arrived in Surfside with his team early Sunday and has been on the scene ever since.

“We find every day new spaces, new tunnels that we can penetrate into the site,” Vach told ABC News on Wednesday.

The ongoing operation in Surfside is the largest-ever deployment of task force resources in Florida’s history for a non-hurricane event. But as the Atlantic hurricane season ramps up, officials are monitoring storms in the region in case some resources deployed to Surfside are needed elsewhere, according to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Meanwhile, Mayor Burkett has acknowledged that there have been questions from families about when the efforts will transition from search and rescue to recovery.

“This is going to go on until we get everybody out of there,” Burkett said at the press conference on Wednesday morning.

Although officials have continued to express hope that more people will be found alive, no survivors have been discovered in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed. Bodies, however, have been uncovered throughout the site, which crews have categorized into grids, Cominsky said.

Officials have asked families of the missing to provide DNA samples and unique characteristics of their loved ones, such as tattoos and scars, to help identify those found in the wreckage. Detectives are also in the process of conducting an audit of the list of those accounted and unaccounted for, according to Levine Cava.

Shortly after the building partially collapsed, first responders heard cries for help from a woman trapped in a lower level that was now inside the parking garage. But a wall of concrete and other debris stood in their way, one rescue worker who asked to remain anonymous told Miami ABC affiliate WPLG.

“The first thing I remember is thumping on the wall,” the rescuer recalled. “And then I remember her just talking, ‘I’m here, get me out! Get me out!'”

“We were continuously talking to her,” he added. “‘Honey, we got you. We’re going to get to you.'”

Crews never abandoned their effort to reach the woman but the rescue worker said he later learned that she did not survive.

Cominsky confirmed the report during the press conference on Thursday morning, saying crews are “trying to do the best we can” but that “unfortunately we didn’t have success with that.”

Biden meets with officials, rescuers, families in Surfside

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to tour the scene of the disaster and meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, as well as families of the victims.

“I just want you to know that we understand,” President Biden told a group of first responders. “What you’re doing now is just hard as hell. Even psychologically. And I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Addressing reporters Thursday afternoon, Biden said he wanted to send a message to the impacted families that the nation is “here for you.”

“We’ll be in touch with a lot of these families continuing through this process. But there’s much more to be done. We’re ready to do it,” he said.

Prior to his remarks, Biden talked with the families of the victims for nearly three hours.

“I thought it’s important to speak to every single person who wanted to speak to me,” Biden said. “I sat with one woman who had just lost her husband and her little baby boy. Didn’t know what to do. I sat with another family that lost almost an entire family — cousins, brothers, sisters.”

The president said first responders are hopeful they will recover survivors, though acknowledged that the families are “very realistic.”

“They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminish slightly. But, at a minimum, they want to recover the bodies,” he said.

Last week, the president approved an emergency declaration in Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts in the wake of the partial building collapse.

The Miami-Dade County mayor told reporters that Biden’s visit “will have no impact on what happens at this site.”

“The search and rescue operation will continue as soon as it is safe to do so,” Levine Cava said at the press conference on Thursday morning. “The only reason for this pause is concerns about the standing structure.”

Federal agency that investigated collapse of Twin Towers joins probe
The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown. The Miami-Dade Police Department is leading an investigation into the incident.

The Miami-Dade County mayor told ABC News last Friday that there was no evidence of foul play so far but that “nothing’s ruled out.”

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she plans “to request that our Grand Jury look at what steps we can take to safeguard our residents without jeopardizing any scientific, public safety or potential criminal investigations.”

“I know from personally speaking with engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology that their investigation to determine exactly how and why the building collapsed will take a long time,” Rundle said in a statement Tuesday. “However, this is a matter of extreme public importance, and as the state attorney elected to keep this community safe, I will not wait.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology has activated its national construction safety team to investigate the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South. The federal agency investigated the collapse of the so-called Twin Towers in New York City after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The probe in Surfside will be a “fact-finding, not fault-finding” and one that could take years, according to the agency’s director, Dr. James Olthoff.

“It will take time, possibly a couple of years, but we will not stop until we have determined the likely cause of this tragedy,” Olthoff said during the press conference in Surfside on Wednesday evening.

What went wrong

Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification when it partially collapsed, according to Surfside officials.

The Champlain Towers South Condo Association was preparing to start a new construction project to make updates to the building, which had been through extensive inspections, according to Kenneth Direktor, a lawyer for the association. Direktor told ABC News last Thursday that the construction plans had already been submitted to the town but the only work that had begun was on the roof.

Direktor noted that he hadn’t been warned of any structural issues with the building or about the land it was built on. He said there was water damage to the complex, but that is common for oceanfront properties and wouldn’t have caused the partial collapse.

A 2020 study conducted by Shimon Wdowinski, a professor at Florida International University’s Institute of Environment in Miami, found signs of land subsidence from 1993 to 1999 in the area where the Champlain Towers South condominium is located. But subsidence, or the gradual sinking of land, likely would not on its own cause a building to collapse, according to Wdowinski, who analyzed space-based radar data.

Miami-Dade County officials are aware of the study and are “looking into” it, Levine Cava told ABC News last Friday.

A structural field survey report from October 2018, which was among hundreds of pages of public documents released by the town late Sunday, said the waterproofing below the condominium’s pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.” The New York Times first reported the news.

In a November 2018 email, also released by the town, a Surfside building official, Ross Prieto, told the then-town manager that he had met with the Champlain Towers South residents and “it went very well.”

“The response was very positive from everyone in the room,” Prieto wrote in the email. “All main concerns over their forty year recertification process were addressed. This particular building is not due to begin their forty year until 2021 but they have decided to start the process early which I wholeheartedly endorse and wish that this trend would catch on with other properties.”

A former resident, Susanna Alvarez, told ABC News on Sunday that Prieto said during the 2018 meeting that the condominium was “not in bad shape” — a sentiment that appears to conflict with the structural field survey report penned five weeks earlier.

ABC News obtained a copy of the minutes from the November 2018 meeting of the Champlain Towers South Condo Association, which stated that Prieto had reviewed the structural field survey report and “it appears the building is in very good shape.” NPR was the first to report the news.

Prieto has not responded to ABC News’ repeated requests for comment. He is no longer employed by the town of Surfside. He has been placed on a “leave of absence” from his current post as a building inspector in nearby Doral, according to a statement from the city on Tuesday.

When asked on Monday whether Prieto misled residents during the 2018 meeting, Surfside’s mayor told ABC News: “We’re going to have to find out.”

Meanwhile, Surfside officials and engineers are concerned that recent construction of a nearby residential building may have contributed to instability at the Champlain Towers South and, according to one expert, could have potentially been “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“Construction of a neighboring building can certainly impact the conditions, particularly the foundation for an existing building,” Ben Schafer, a structural engineering professor and director of the Ralph S. O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told ABC News on Tuesday. “A critical flaw or damage must have already existed in the Champlain Towers, but neighboring new construction could be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ in terms of a precipitating event.”

According to media reports from that time, the construction began in 2015 when Terra, a South Florida development firm, started erecting Eighty Seven Park, an 18-story luxury condominium in Miami Beach, across the street from the Champlain Towers South. The project caused such a raucous for residents that Mara Chouela, a board member of the Champlain Towers South Condo Association, reached out to Surfside officials in January 2019, according to records released by the town.

“We are concerned that the construction next to Surfside is too close,” Chouela wrote in an email. “The terra project on Collins and 87 are digging too close to our property and we have concerns regarding the structure of our building. We just wanted to know if any of tour officials could come by and check.”

Chouela received an email back from Prieto, saying: “There is nothing for me to check.”

“The best course of action is to have someone monitor the fence, pool and adjacent areas for damage or hire a consultant to monitor these areas as they are the closest to the construction,” Prieto added.

Residents and board members continued to complain about the project next door for several months, mostly about styrofoam and dirt from the construction site ending up on the Champlain Towers South pool deck and plaza, according to documents released by the town.

A spokesperson for 8701 Collins Development LLC, a joint venture that was established by Terra and other developers involved in the project, told ABC News in a statement Wednesday that they “are confident that the construction of 87 Park did not cause or contribute to the collapse that took place in Surfside on June 24, 2021.”

Another expert, forensic structural engineer Joel Figueroa-Vallines, said that because Eighty Seven Park is “lower in elevation” than the Champlain Towers South, there is a possibility that the construction of the newer building could be cause for concern. But he emphasized that more evidence is still needed.

“It’s almost important and necessary to not discard anything so early on that could potentially be a consideration,” Figueroa-Vallines, founder and president of SEP, an Orlando-based structural engineering firm, told ABC News on Wednesday.

Mehrooz Zamanzadeh, a Pittsburgh-based corrosion engineering expert, told ABC News on Wednesday that any cracks and spalling on the Champlain Towers South should also be examined to determine whether the vibrations from the construction next door played any role in the structural integrity of the condominium.

Regardless, Zamanzadeh said the accelerated deterioration and corrosion of the Champlain Towers South was a critical factor in the partial collapse. He called for mandated corrosion inspections of buildings as well as a recertification process shorter than the town’s current 40-year term.

Jose “Pepe” Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, told ABC News on Tuesday that he would not speculate what role neighboring construction had on the partial collapse but said officials will investigate it.

Mounting lawsuits in wake of disaster

A slew of lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging the partial collapse could have been avoided and that the association knew or should have known about the structural damage.

A spokesperson for the Champlain Towers South Condo Association said they cannot comment on pending litigation but that their “focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”

“We continue to work with city, state, and local officials in their search and recovery efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy,” the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Monday. “Our profound thanks go out to all of emergency rescue personnel — professionals and volunteers alike — for their tireless efforts.”

Two law firms, Morgan & Morgan and Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, announced Wednesday that they have filed an emergency motion — in addition to a lawsuit — requesting site inspection and evidence preservation on behalf of the family of Harry Rosenberg, a resident of the Champlain Towers South who is still missing, along with his daughter and son-in-law.

“The families have no idea whether it is being documented as they peel through that collapse, layer by layer, have no idea what is going to happen to that evidence, and they deserve a voice and a role in this process,” Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia-based attorney and founder of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, said during a press conference in Miami on Wednesday. “We believe that we could give the families a voice and a set of eyes without impairing the critical work of the search and rescue teams that are there, and without affecting at all the investigating agencies that are there.”

Mongeluzzi said the Rosenberg family “do not want this to be about them.”

“They have merely filed this so that we can file this motion on behalf of all the families, all the victims, so that they could start to get answers about why their loved ones are missing,” he added.

ABC News’ Faith Abubey, Judy Block, Lucien Bruggeman, Rachel DeLima, Alexandra Faul, Matt Foster, Stephanie Fuerte, Justin Gomez, Kate Hodgson, T.J. Holmes, Joshua Hoyos, Soorin Kim, Sarah Kolinovsky, Josh Margolin, Victor Oquendo, Dawn Piros, Stephanie Ramos, Laura Romero and Stephanie Wash contributed to this report.

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