Arkansas braces for 3rd COVID-19 surge as vaccination rate slows

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

(LITTLE ROCK, Ark.) — As COVID-19 vaccination rollouts continue and the U.S. returns to a semblance of normality, Arkansas officials are warning of a third surge following a spike in cases.

Arkansas, which never issued an official stay-at-home order during the pandemic, reported 686 new probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases Wednesday — the largest one-day increase in more than four months.

The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations also rose by 19 to 325, and deaths increased by four to 5,909.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement that “the high number of cases today makes it clear that the delta variant is increasing the spread of the virus” in the state.

So far, 34.3% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hutchinson touted the effectiveness of vaccines during a Tuesday coronavirus briefing, saying 90.5% of current active cases in the state are among the unvaccinated, who, officials noted, also account for 98.3% of Arkansas’ 3,765 hospitalizations and 99.6% of the deaths since Jan. 26.

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said at the press conference that the delta variant is driving up case numbers.

The delta variant, first detected in the state on May 1, makes up more than 25% of infections in the state and is projected to make up more than half of all infections within a matter of weeks, Patterson added.

“We have to be concerned that this would be a trend that could continue, and if it does, it would appear that we may be in the third surge of COVID-19 here in the state of Arkansas,” he said.

Hospitals see more younger patients

Doctors in Arkansas told ABC News that the highly transmissible new variant, low vaccination rates and infrequent mask-wearing are fueling the surge.

Hospitals are seeing more and younger patients arrive, many with more severe symptoms, Dr. Jason McKinney, a pulmonologist and the ICU medical director at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas, told ABC News. He said this isn’t because younger people are more susceptible to the virus but because more older people have been vaccinated.

“Most definitely we are seeing the beginning of a third surge,” McKinney said. “And as far as our inpatient load of COVID, we’re at about 30% of where we were previously. And so that makes me very concerned, because we’re very early on.”

As of Thursday, Mercy Hospital Northwest was treating about 16 COVID-19 patients at the hospital.

“The misconception of younger people is that if I’m at low risk of dying, I’d rather risk getting the disease and just be sick than get the vaccine,” he said, referring to people in their 20s to 50s. “COVID is often a virus that keeps on giving after you’ve gotten rid of it. And the amount of chronic fatigue, the neurologic problems, the vascular problems, cardiac problems and the pulmonary problems that people suffer from this disease long term, it’s scary.”

Last week, UAMS Medical Center in Little Rock reopened a unit for COVID-19 patients after shuttering it in April.

Dr. Steppe Mette, CEO of UAMS Medical Center, told ABC News that the hospital has seen a “300 to 400% increase in the number of patients with COVID just over the last three to four weeks.”

“So,” he added, “we’re back to hospitalization numbers that we haven’t seen since February or March. And that’s happening around the state.”

UAMS last reported having 22 COVID-19 patients in hospital beds and nine in the ICU. Around the city, there are over 100 hospitalized with the virus, Mette added. Previously “about a quarter of our patients hospitalized in the ICU, and now we’re running more like 50 to 70% in the ICU.”

Failed incentives

The vaccination rate in Arkansas, one of the lowest in the U.S., has slowed further despite the introduction of several incentive efforts.

Last month, the state launched a million-dollar vaccine incentive program, giving out Arkansas Lottery Scholarship $20 scratch-off tickets or a $20 gift certificate for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission for new first doses, but it’s failed to bring up vaccination numbers.

Only 2,482 lottery tickets and 926 Game & Fish Licenses have been given out as part of the program, a Health Department spokeswoman told ABC News.

Data from Johns Hopkins shows that the state’s seven-day average vaccination rate sunk from 27,298 on April 1 to 4,591 on June 30.

Mette said while earlier in the year there were issues of accessibility, now the real battle is vaccine refusal.

“It’s more that there is a resistance, refusal or hesitancy to get a vaccine,” Mette said. “It’s more that they’ve been influenced by somebody else, that the vaccines are not safe, or they’re not necessary, or that the pandemic isn’t even anything real or to worry about it. That degree of resistance is pretty concerning.”

Stepping backwards

In a bid to curb an outbreak, some facilities have stopped in-person visitations, an echo of earlier on in the pandemic.

The Conway Human Development Center, a state-run residence for people with disabilities, stopped visitations after 20 staffers and 13 residents tested positive for the virus within a two-week period, according to ABC Little Rock affiliate KATV.

Under the state’s recently passed “No Patient Left Alone Act” visitors will be allowed if a resident requires emergency care or hospice care.

Baxter Regional Medical Center in north Arkansas tried to ban visitations at its emergency department last week only to walk that back after realizing it could no longer enforce it.

“We’ve been through a lot over the past year and a half,” McKinney said. “We’re worried that we’re looking at a similar situation where we’ve all been working extra days and nights and taking care of a high volume of patients. We’re very worried that we’re going back in that situation.”

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Governor adds to reward for mom gunned down during trip to drop off son at Naval Academy


(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) — A reward has climbed to more than $30,000 for the suspect who shot and killed a Houston mom while she was in Maryland to drop off her son at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Michelle Cummings, 57, was sitting on a hotel patio, enjoying the breeze, when she was shot multiple times just after midnight on Tuesday, Annapolis Police Chief Edward Jackson said.

Cummings was with her husband and another couple at the time, police said.

“It is believed that the shots were fired on Pleasant Street and traveled a short distance shooting the victim,” Jackson said at a news conference Tuesday.

Cummings didn’t appear to be the intended target, police said.

Cummings and her husband were in Annapolis to bring their son, a football prospect, to the U.S. Naval Academy, Jackson said.

Her son, Midshipman Candidate Leonard Cummings III, graduated this year from the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island, and is an incoming freshman for the Naval Academy Class of 2025, the Academy said.

Last year, when he committed to the Naval Academy, Michelle Cummings told ABC Houston station KTRK-TV, “I love this kid dearly … We could not ask for a better son.”

Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a statement, “We will do all that we can to support Leonard, his father and the entire Cummings family during this unfathomable time. My wife, Joanne, and I, on behalf of all of us here in Annapolis, offer our deepest sympathies.”

Leonard “Trey” Cummings graduated last year from Westfield High School in Texas, the Spring Independent School District said.

“Ms. Cummings was a very engaged parent,” the district said in a statement. “She served in 2019-20 as the president of the Westfield High School Football Booster Club and was always ready to support our student athletes. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Cummings family during this time of sorrow.

Jackson said at a Wednesday news conference, “I’m a bit emotional with this case … this is a true victim.”

Rachel Byrd of the FBI said Wednesday, “I know the pride she must have felt bringing her son to start his new life … only to have her life cut senselessly short.”

“Somebody has lost their mom on the proudest day, probably, of her life,” Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley told reporters Tuesday.

“We are focused on getting guns off the street, but it only takes one criminal with a gun for the results to be tragic,” Buckley said.

Jackson announced Wednesday that a reward of $22,000 was offered for information leading to the gunman’s arrest and conviction. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday said the state, at his direction, is adding another $10,000 to that reward.

The governor said he spoke to Michelle Cummings’ family on Thursday to offer his condolences.

Jackson on Wednesday said police have leads, though he declined to go into detail.

The mayor vowed, “The perpetrators will be found and they will be held to account.”

To the gunman, the chief said, “Turn yourself in — we’re coming after you.”

Police ask anyone with information to contact the department at 410-260-3439.

ABC News’ Sarah Shales, Ben Siu and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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3-year-old boy dies after he’s left in hot car in South Carolina: Police


(SPARTANBURG, S.C.) — A 3-year-old boy has died after he was left in a hot car in Spartanburg, South Carolina, authorities said.

When officers responded to a home around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, the boy’s guardian told them that he was mistakenly left in the car, Spartanburg police said. She said she thought she dropped the 3-year-old off at day care with her other children that morning, but didn’t notice he hadn’t gone inside with them until later that day, police said.

The woman said she called 911 as soon as she found the boy in the back of her SUV, police said.

The preliminary autopsy found that the boy died from heat, Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger said. Spartanburg reached a high of 92 degrees Wednesday.

Police said the investigation is ongoing but it appears that the boy’s death was accidental.

The boy, whose name was not released, was in foster care, Clevenger said. Authorities are working to reach his biological mother, he said.

This marks the sixth child to die in a hot car in the U.S. this year, according to national nonprofit Kids and Car Safety.

A record 54 children died in hot cars in 2018, followed by 53 fatalities in 2019, according to Kids and Car Safety. Twenty-five children died in hot cars last year, a drop which director Amber Rollins attributed to the pandemic.

“Hot car deaths continue to take place because nobody believes this could happen to them,” Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Car Safety, said in a statement. “The unfortunate reality is that this has happened to even the most loving, responsible, and attentive parents. Factors such as fatigue, stress, or a sudden change in routine can contribute to parents unknowingly leaving a child alone in a car.”

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He was found dead in 1963. Now this little boy finally has a name.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

(PORTLAND, Ore.) — A toddler found dead in Oregon in the 1960s went decades without a name on his grave, becoming the oldest case of unidentified human remains in the state. Now, thanks to genetic genealogy, his name and story are finally known.

The decomposed body was found by a fisherman on July 11, 1963, in the water of the Keen County Reservoir in Jackson County, the Oregon State Police said. The boy, fully dressed, was wrapped in a blanket and quilt with iron molds inside, an apparent attempt to weigh him down in the water.

The little boy’s identity remained a mystery for decades.

In 2009, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created a composite image to try to generate new leads, police said. The University of North Texas-Center for Human Identification also uploaded the boy’s DNA profile to the law enforcement database CODIS, but no hits were found.

Later, investigators turned to genetic genealogy, through which an unknown suspect’s DNA left at a crime scene can be identified using his or her family members who voluntarily submit their DNA samples to a database. This allows police to create a much larger family tree compared with using only law enforcement databases like CODIS.

This approach also can be used for unknown victims — like in this case.

Genetic genealogist CeCe Moore, also a consultant for ABC News, found several of the boy’s relatives and researched their family trees to narrow the search to the boy’s immediate family.

A man identified as a possible brother told investigators he had a younger brother with disabilities named Stevie who lived in Oregon in the early 1960s “but mysteriously vanished from the family with little explanation,” police said in a statement on Wednesday.

Authorities requested New Mexico birth records for babies with that name born in late 1960 or early 1961 whose mother could be identified using genetic genealogy, police said.

That led investigators to Steven Alexander Crawford, born Oct. 2, 1960.

The possible brother agreed to share a DNA sample, which proved he was the half-brother of the boy, now identified as Stevie Crawford, police said.

“This disabled little boy was loved and missed by his siblings, and deserved to have a name and identity. Stevie’s case was a very emotional one for all of the investigators involved,” Moore, the genetic genealogist, told ABC News. “Once the genetic genealogy research led to his family, the fact that his surviving family has been very loving and willing to assist has been a great comfort.”

Stevie lived with his mother, who has since died, Jackson County sheriff’s officials said. His suspected father lived in California at the time and is also dead.

Stevie’s cause of death isn’t clear. There’s no evidence to support that he was killed, but his secretive burial and lack of family information is considered suspicious, sheriff’s officials said.

Stevie’s exact disability is also not known, but was likely similar to Down syndrome, and his disability or a potential lack of medical access or medical knowledge could have led to his death, according to sheriff’s officials.

Sheriff’s officials said no charges are expected.

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Supreme Court strikes down California’s donor disclosure requirement for charities

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(WASHINGTON) — The ruling is a victory for Republicans, who have enacted 22 laws restricting voting in 14 states.
In a second significant opinion Thursday, the US Supreme Court divided 6-3 along ideological lines to strike down a California law that required charities to privately disclose the identities of major donors to the state attorney general.

State officials had argued that the identities, which not-for-profit charities are allowed to keep secret from the public, would help enforce rules around tax-exempt status and catch potential fraud.

A pair of conservative groups that challenged the requirement — and backed by the ACLU, NAACP and others — argued the state was unnecessarily violating the donors’ First Amendment right to free association and that prior leaks of the information exposed donors to harassment and attacks.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative majority, sided with the charities, concluding “the Attorney General’s disclosure requirement imposes a widespread burden on donors’ associational rights. And this burden cannot be justified on the ground that the regime is narrowly tailored to investigating charitable wrongdoing, or that the state’s interest in administrative convenience is sufficiently important.”

Justice Roberts wrote that the state did not sufficiently consider alternative means of gathering the information or protecting against fraud. He said the current requirement could create a “chilling effect” on donors because of the state’s documented history of leaks of private donor information.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, said the charities challenging the rule failed to show any concrete harm by the disclosure requirement.

“The Court jettisons completely the longstanding requirement that plaintiffs demonstrate an actual First Amendment burden,” Sotomayor wrote. “It can point to no record evidence demonstrating that the regulation is likely to chill a substantial portion of the donors. These moves are wholly inconsistent with the Court’s precedents and our Court’s long-held view that disclosure requirements only indirectly burden First Amendment rights.”

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center summed up the impact of this case as relatively limited, if disappointing, to transparency advocates and watchdogs in a statement.

“Wealthy special interests scored a win, albeit a narrow one. We at Campaign Legal Center are disappointed that the majority chose to sidestep established precedent recognizing the important public interests in nonprofit reporting and relatively minimal burdens such reporting imposes. While the standard of review applied by the Court here was unduly skeptical, it is one transparency laws in the electoral context easily meet, limiting the reach of this case. The decision does not call into question the longstanding laws and regulations requiring public disclosure of campaign spending.”

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One arrested after 17, including police officers, were injured in explosion of illegal fireworks in LA

Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

(LOS ANGELES) — At least 17 people were injured by a massive explosion Wednesday night following the Los Angeles Police Department’s attempts to detonate a cache of illegal fireworks in South Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

Soon after the explosion, Arturo Cejas, 27, a resident of the home where police found the fireworks, was arrested on charges of possessing a destructive device. His bail is set to $500,000.

Ten of the injured are LAPD officers, one is an ATF officer and six are civilians.

Three of the six civilians are being transported to the hospital with serious injuries. The others, along with nine LAPD officers and the ATF officer, are being treated for minor injuries. One of the injured officers was treated at the scene and not transported to the hospital.

“Our Bomb Squad officers were in the process of seizing over 5,000 pounds of illegal fireworks in the area of 27th Street and San Pedro. Some of the fireworks were being stored in our Bomb Squad trailer as a precautionary measure,” the LAPD wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening.

In a late-night press conference, LAPD Chief Michel Moore and LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said they moved to confiscate the illegal commercial-grade fireworks from Cejas’ home and worked all day to clear them and move them to an offsite location.

They then came across approximately 40 Coca-Cola can-sized improvised explosive devices with fuses and 200 additional smaller devices with similar construction.

That material was transferred into a multi-ton containment vehicle with an iron chamber inside that is designed to house explosive material that can be safely detonated.

At approximately 7:37 p.m. local time, those items were detonated — that’s when the containment vehicle had a catastrophic failure.

The explosion damaged cars and surrounding buildings and left debris scattered on the streets.

Alyssa Casillas, an Instagram user who took a video of the explosion, told Storyful that police said to the crowd the fireworks “were going to be contained in the truck when set off.”

“The police also told us it would be a small boom and nothing big,” the user said. “As we waited to hear the small boom, the whole truck blew up.”

“Our firefighters on scene started triaging the injured starting with officers,” Terrazas said. “In total we had 75 firefighters on scene.”

Moore said they knocked on every door near the area and people self-evacuated.

The LAFD said several homes were impacted and LA Building and Safety is evaluating them to determine their status and see if anyone will be displaced.

Moore said during the press conference that Cejas acquired the fireworks out of state with the purpose of reselling them to community members for use during July 4th. Child endangerment charges will also be pursued since Cejas’ 10-year-old brother was residing in the house with him.

The LAPD along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will investigate who supplied him with the fireworks.

Moore said that last year, the LAPD recovered more than 4 tons of illegal fireworks, which adds up to more than 8,000 pounds.

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Surfside building collapse latest: Death toll rises to 18 after 2 children found

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(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 18 people are dead and 145 others remain unaccounted for after a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last week, officials said.

The massive search and rescue operation marked its seventh day on Wednesday as crews continued to carefully comb through pancaked piles of debris in hopes of finding survivors. The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. local time Thursday 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.

The latest bodies pulled from the rubble were those of two children, ages 4 and 10, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Wednesday evening.

“For 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,” the mayor said. “We’re now standing united once again with this terrible new revelation that children are the victims as well.”

So far, 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.

“Our teams have worked through the night, as they have every night, to make headway through the rubble,” Levine Cava said during a press conference in Surfside earlier on Wednesday. “The world is watching.”

‘We’re not going to leave anybody behind’

The remaining structure was cleared by rescue crews last week, and all resources have since been shifted to focusing on the debris, according to Jadallah. Hundreds of first responders and volunteers have been working around the clock to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage. However, poor weather conditions — among other challenges — have periodically forced them to pause their efforts.

“It’s been tough,” Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said at the press conference Wednesday morning, before noting that crews are “hoping for a positive outcome.”

“The spirits are high,” he added. “We’re still moving forward.”

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told reporters that there have been questions from families about when the efforts will transition from search and rescue to recovery. But he said there’s a strong consensus among officials and rescuers: “We’re not going to leave anybody behind.”

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

Crews have cut a vast trench through the pile to aid in their search, according to Levine Cava. As of Tuesday afternoon, they had moved more than 3 million pounds of concrete — over 850 cubic feet — according to Cominsky.

Meanwhile, dump trucks have begun moving debris to an alternate site, according to Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who told reporters that rescuers have “all the resources” they need.

Crews have still not physically reached the bottom of the pile but cameras placed inside showed voids and air pockets where people could be trapped, according to Jadallah.

More than 80 rescuers — each working 12-hour shifts — are on the pile at a time, listening for sounds and trying to tunnel through the wreckage, according to Andy Alvarez, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s deputy incident commander overseeing search and rescue efforts. Speaking to ABC News on Monday, Alvarez described the process as both “frantic” and painstaking.

The conditions on the pile are “bad” and “not ideal” for rescuers, Alvarez said, due to heat, humidity and rain, but efforts are continuing around the clock. Crews are using various equipment and technology, including underground sonar systems that can detect victims and crane trucks that can remove huge slabs of concrete from the pile, according to Alvarez.

The site also has proven to be dangerous for rescuers. One area had to be roped off Tuesday due to falling debris, according to Burkett, and crews are no longer entering the remaining structure because it’s considered unstable, Levine Cava told reporters.

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

It’s the largest-ever deployment of task force resources in state 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.

“‘Tis the season, and you’ve got to be ready,” DeSantis said at the press conference on Wednesday.

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.

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, according to Cominsky. The fire chief told reporters that rescuers with specially trained dogs are still “constantly” “searching for life” amid the debris.

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.

“The process of verifying every name on this list is very slow and methodical,” the Miami-Dade County mayor said at the press conference Wednesday morning. “Sometimes we receive incomplete reports, we don’t have the full information, it’s difficult to reach the people who provided the reports.”

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Surfside on Thursday, according to a statement from the White House. 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.

Investigation ‘will take a long time’

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.

“We are doing everything humanely possible — and then some — to get through this tragedy and we are doing it together,” Levine Cava said Wednesday.

The federal agency National Institute of Standards and Technology announced Wednesday that it has activated its national construction safety team to investigate the collapse.

The investigation will be a “fact-finding, not fault-finding” one that could take years, Dr. James Olthoff, director of the small agency that investigated the collapse of the World Trade Center towers after 9/11, said at Wednesday evening’s press conference.

“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.

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.”

Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work, according to Surfside officials.

The partial collapse happened as the Champlain Towers South Condo Association was preparing to start a new construction project to make updates, according to Kenneth Direktor, a lawyer for the association. Direktor told ABC News last Thursday that the building had been through extensive inspections and 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.

Records show structural damage, concerns over nearby construction

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.

Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told ABC News on Tuesday that Prieto’s response to Chouela reflects “laziness” from someone who was “too comfortable” in his job.

“The residents should have a place to go for their complaints,” Salzhauer said. “They should have been treated seriously.”

“What happened here is a wake-up call for every small town and for every government,” she 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.”

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.

Lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of residents, 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.”

On Wednesday, two law firms announced they’d filed a lawsuit and emergency motion requesting that a representative of the impacted families be allowed at the site for observation and for permission to use a drone to document evidence.

“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 of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, which filed the documents along with the law firm Morgan & Morgan, said during a press briefing.

“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,” he added.

The documents were filed on behalf of the family of Harry Rosenberg, a resident of Champlain Towers South who is missing in the collapse, along with his daughter and son-in-law, the attorneys said.

“They do not want this to be about them,” Mongeluzzi said. “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.”

The law firms expect the motion to be heard in Miami-Dade County court on Thursday, Mongeluzzi said.

ABC News’ Judy Block, Lucien Bruggeman, Alexandra Faul, Matt Foster, Kate Hodgson, T.J. Holmes, Joshua Hoyos, Soorin Kim, Sarah Kolinovsky, Victor Oquendo, Stephanie Ramos, Laura Romero and Stephanie Wash contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What we know about the victims of the Surfside building collapse

Gladys and Antonio Lozano (Provided)

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — From the mother of a teenage boy rescued from the rubble to a couple married for 59 years, more information is emerging about the victims of a partial building collapse in Surfside, Florida.

At least 18 people have been confirmed dead and 145 others remain unaccounted for since the Champlain Towers South, a 12-story oceanfront condominium, partially collapsed before dawn last Thursday. A massive search and rescue mission is still underway, as officials hold out hope that more survivors will be found in the wreckage.

Local police and relatives have identified several of the victims.

Stacie Dawn Fang, 54
Stacie Dawn Fang, who lived in apartment No. 1002 of the Champlain Towers South, was the first victim to be identified in the tragedy.

The 54-year-old mother and her 15-year-old son, Jonah Handler, were both pulled from the rubble alive just hours after the partial collapse. A man walking his dog near the scene spotted Handler in the debris and alerted first responders.

“We could hear someone screaming, yelling, making noise,” Nicholas Balboa told ABC News. “He was putting his hands up through the rubble, saying, ‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.’ That’s when I signaled firefighters to get over here.”

The mother and son were transported to a local hospital, where Fang later died. Her identity was released by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Saturday.

“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” Fang’s family told ABC News in a statement. “The members of the Fang and Handler family would like to express our deepest appreciation for the outpouring of sympathy, compassion and support we have received. The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time. On behalf of Stacie’s son, Jonah, we ask you now to please respect our privacy to grieve and to try to help each other heal.”

Antonio and Gladys Lozano, 83 and 79
The body of 83-year-old Antonio Lozano was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Thursday, while the body of his 79-year-old wife, Gladys Lozano, was recovered Friday. The couple lived in apartment No. 903 of the Champlain Towers South. Their identities were released by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Saturday.

Antonio and Gladys Lozano were married for 59 years and always use to spar over who would die first, with neither willing to live without the other, according to the couple’s grandson, Brian Lozano.

“It’s tragic but it’s strangely unsettling that I have peace knowing they would constantly play argue about who would pass first,” Brian Lozano told ABC News in a statement. “But in the end… they got what they both wanted. Each other.”

“Both were avid donators to non profit organizations especially to cancer since my grandmother lost her mother to the sickness,” he added. “Always providing for anyone who’s in need or just to spark a smile on someone’s face. Their souls were truly beautiful and are now blessed.”

The couple’s son, Sergio Lozano, said he lived in the tower across from his parents and had dinner with them the night before the deadly disaster. He said he heard a rumble at around 1 a.m. local time and got out of bed to look out on the balcony of his unit.

“I tell [my wife], ‘It’s not there,'” Sergio Lozano told Miami ABC affiliate WPLG. “And she’s yelling, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘My parents’ apartment is not there, it’s gone!’ and I just ran downstairs.”

Manuel LaFont, 54
Manuel LaFont’s body was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Friday and identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Saturday. The 54-year-old lived in apartment No. 804 of the Champlain Towers South.

LaFont shared two children with his ex-wife, a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. LaFont’s ex-wife, Adriana LaFont, said she picked up the kids from his apartment on Wednesday night, just hours before the collapse.

Leon Oliwkowicz and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 80 and 74
The body of 80-year-old Leon Oliwkowicz was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Saturday and identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Sunday. The body of his 74-year-old wife, Christina Beatriz Elvira, was recovered and identified on Sunday.

The couple lived in apartment No. 704 of the Champlain Towers South, their daughter told WPLG.

Anna Ortiz and Luis Bermudez, 46 and 26
The bodies of 46-year-old Anna Ortiz and her 26-year-old son, Luis Bermudez, were recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Saturday and identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Sunday.

Their family told ABC News that the mother and son were found together and that they are certain she ran to be by his side, saying she was “always his protector.”

Anna Ortiz’s sister, Nicole Ortiz, said it was agonizing not knowing whether her loved ones were still trapped and in pain.

“I didn’t have the certainty. Are they alive or dead? Now I know they are OK,” Nicole Ortiz told ABC News.

Anna Ortiz’s mother, Josefina Enriquez, said she was a wonderful mom.

“It’s hard. I know this will take time,” Josefina Enriquez told ABC News. “I know she left with her son, and they had a beautiful, amazing life.”

“Those are the memories that will stick,” she added. “Their love for each other — that’s what I walk away with.”

Two other relatives who were in the apartment at the time of the partial collapse remain unaccounted for, according to the family.

Frank Kleiman, 55
Frank Kleiman’s body was recovered from the wreckage by first responders and identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Monday. He was 55.

Kleiman had just gotten married to Anna Ortiz and they lived with her son, Luis Bermudez, in the Champlain Towers South.

His brother, Jay Kleiman, and their mother, Nancy Kress Levin, were on the same floor when the building partially collapsed and are still missing, according to The Associated Press.

Marcus Joseph Guara, 52
The body of 52-year-old Marcus Joseph Guara was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Saturday and identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Monday.

Guara lived in the Champlain Towers South with his 41-year-old wife, Ana, and their two daughters, 11-year-old Lucia and 4-year-old Emma. They are still missing, according to the WPLG.

Michael David Altman, 50
Michael David Altman’s body was recovered from the wreckage by first responders and identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Monday. He was 50.

Altman lived in apartment No. 1101 of the Champlain Towers South, according to WPLG.

Hilda Noriega, 92
The body of 92-year-old Hilda Noriega was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Tuesday and identified by the Miami-Dade Police Department on Wednesday.

Noriega lived in the Champlain Towers South, according to her grandson, Michael Noriega, who had told ABC News on Monday that their family was holding out hope she would be alive. The family had spotted a birthday card and photographs belonging to her amid the rubble, just feet away from where they were praying together.

ABC News’ Matt Foster, Kate Hodgson, Stephanie Ramos, Gina Sunseri and Stephanie Wash contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Dozens dead in Washington, Oregon as heat wave takes its toll

ABC News

(PORTLAND, Ore.) — Unrelenting heat waves are still pounding the Northeast and Pacific Northwest — but cooler weather is on its way for East Coast residents.

Heat is a silent killer. On average, more people die from heat than any other severe weather, including tornadoes, hurricanes or flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

Since Friday, there have been 45 heat-related deaths in Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland, officials said. “Many of those who died were found alone, without air conditioning or a fan,” the county medical examiner said in a press release. There have been 63 heat-related deaths statewide in the current heat wave, the Oregon state medical examiner said.

In Washington’s King County, which includes Seattle, 11 people have died from the heat, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. In Benton County, Washington, a 73-year-old woman with underlying conditions died; the cause was related to hyperthermia from the heat, said coroner William Leach.

President Joe Biden addressed the historic heat on Wednesday, saying, “We need people to check on their neighbors, especially seniors, who may need a helping hand.”

The dangerous heat also struck Canada. Vancouver police said they’ve responded to 98 sudden deaths since Friday, and two-thirds of the victims are over the age of 70. The causes of death haven’t been determined, but police said the number of calls have been higher than usual during the heat wave.

The record heat is over in Seattle and Portland. But on Tuesday, Spokane in eastern Washington hit a new record high temperature — 109 degrees.

The heat will continue for eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and California on Wednesday, and is also spreading into Montana and Idaho, where temperatures could climb above 100 degrees.

The hot and dry weather is also helping to fuel fires; there are now 47 large wildfires burning in the West.

Meanwhile, the Northeast is on its last day of its scorching heat wave.

Hartford, Connecticut, and Manchester, New Hampshire, smashed records Tuesday at 99 and 98 degrees respectively.

More record highs were set Wednesday with temperatures reaching 98 degrees in New York’s Central Park, the hottest temperature in eight years, while Newark, New Jersey, reached 102 — tied for the highest temperature all-time in June. LaGuardia Airport in New York City also set a daily record at 100 degrees.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents to cut back on energy use to avoid a widespread outage, noting that about 1,700 customers were without power in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Wednesday.

Severe weather will then move into the Northeast Wednesday afternoon. A severe thunderstorm watch is in effect from western New York to Maine. Wind gusts will post the biggest threat from Albany to Boston to Portland, and isolated large hail and brief tornadoes are possible.

Then the Northeast will get a cool down. By Friday and Saturday temperatures will fall to the mid 80s in Philadelphia and New York, and plunge to the 60s in Boston.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Climate change may increase frequency of historic heat waves, experts say


(NEW YORK) — The heat wave that hit the Northwest this past weekend and into this week is one for the record books, and likely has links to climate change, experts say.

“This heat wave is simply astounding,” said Robert Rohde, Ph.D., lead scientist at Berkeley Earth in California. “The heat wave has brought the largest increases in temperature above normal highs ever measured during summer anywhere in North America. Based on what was normal during the 20th century, a heat wave like this in the Pacific Northwest would be expected to occur no more than once in 1,000 years. Global warming has made events like this more likely, but it should still be considered quite rare.”

Portland, Oregon, set a new all-time record high of 116 degrees on Monday, making it the third straight day that the city saw a new all-time record high. Seattle hit a new all-time record high on Monday as well, with temperatures reaching 108 degrees — its second consecutive day seeing an all-time record high. Multiple weather stations in Washington State reached 118 degrees, the hottest temperature the state has ever recorded.

This heatwave didn’t just shatter records in the U.S., but Canada too. There were historic all-time high temperatures from the heatwave in Lytton, British Columbia, which hit a sweltering 121 degrees on Tuesday afternoon — the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada and the third day of consecutive all-time highs in the city. By comparison, Lytton’s temperature went higher than some parts of the Southwest desert, like Las Vegas, where the hottest temperature on record is 117 degrees.

According to the National Weather Service, heat kills more people on average than any other weather disaster in the U.S.

U.S. heat waves have been becoming more frequent, lasting longer and are more intense than ever before — a clear symptom of climate change. Although this historic heat wave in the Pacific Northwest is quite rare, events like this could start happening more often, according to Zeke Hausfather, Ph.D., director of climate and energy at The Breakthrough Institute.

“Summers in the Pacific Northwest have warmed around [3 degrees Fahrenheit] over the past century, with nearly all of that warming occurring in the years since 1970,” Hausfather said. “The heatwave currently occurring in the Pacific Northwest would have been an unusually severe heat wave in the absence of historical warming, but on top of warming, it’s blowing past old records for the region.”

Hausfather said that due to climate change, a heat wave of this magnitude could occur not once every 1,000 years, but rather, closer to once every 100 years.

“If we continue to increase global emissions, it may be a one-in-10 year event by the end of the century,” Hausfather said.

A small increase in the earth’s average temperature can dramatically impact climate extremes, both hot and cold, increasing their chances of occurring exponentially.

“Rare events can have their frequency greatly altered by small changes in the mean,” Rohde said. “As the average global temperature rises, extremes will be prevalent for both cold and heat. However, these extreme heat events are occurring more frequently with more severity, and therefore they will likely push our average temperatures higher for years to come. We’ve already seen average temperatures over the past decade going up.”

This brutal, record-shattering heat wave follows a record-shattering winter during which a cold blast hit the southern U.S. In February, much of Texas saw its coldest air since 1989, while six states in the central U.S. ranked February 2021 among their top 10 coldest Februaries ever.

Although the connection between the cold blast and climate change is less clear, it appears that two of the most impactful weather events of 2021 were at least in part due to extremes in temperature.

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