US leaves main base in Afghanistan as pullout now set to end in late August

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(NEW YORK) — The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that it had turned over the sprawling Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to the Afghan government and also announced that it now expects the total withdrawal of U.S. troops to be completed “at the end of August.”

The withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from the base marks a major milestone in the withdrawal process as it had been the main hub for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan for the last 20 years.

Handing over control of the base had been seen as a key indicator that the end of the withdrawal from Afghanistan would be completed in July — months earlier than the Sept. 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden.

But the Pentagon announced Friday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had approved a plan to transfer command authority for the U.S. Forces Afghanistan from Gen. Austin Scott Miller to Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Miller will remain in Afghanistan for “a number of weeks.”

“The idea is to have him remain there … to effect all this, the turnover responsibilities, and … make preparations for Gen. McKenzie to assume those responsibilities,” said Kirby.

U.S. Army soldiers from the elite 75th Ranger Regiment helped to close Bagram Airfield on Thursday, a military source confirmed to ABC News.

U.S. military operations at the base ended with the departure of the last military flights carrying out American military personnel and equipment. Earlier this week, U.S. Central Command had said that 896 C-17 cargo flights of material had already taken place.

Kirby also said that the total U.S. military drawdown “process” from Afghanistan would be completed by the “end of August.”

The spokesman also said that the current defensive airstrike authority that Miller has to target the Taliban in support of the military will be transferred to McKenzie.

That development eases concerns that the Afghan military would be even more vulnerable to Taliban forces without American combat air support after all U.S. troops had left.

Even after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal, a force of 650 American military personnel will remain in Kabul to help defend the U.S. Embassy and the civilian airport in Kabul, according to a U.S. official.

This force will be led by Rear Adm. Peter Vasely who will be based at the embassy in command of what will be known as U.S. Forces Afghanistan-Forward.

While Turkey had agreed to provide security at the airport, a move seen as vital in ensuring the safety and operations of the U.S. Embassy, the pace of the U.S. military withdrawal had moved so quickly that questions remained about whether Turkey would have its forces in place.

Also, many details remain to be finalized for plans to remove at least 9,000 Afghan interpreters and their families outside of Afghanistan.

In addition to the new command in Kabul, Army Brig. Gen. Curtis Buzzard will be based in Qatar to lead the defense security cooperation management office that will administer U.S. funding to the Afghan military.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Charges will not be filed against Honolulu police in fatal shooting of Black man from South Africa

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(HONOLULU) — Three Honolulu police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Lindani Myeni, an unarmed South African rugby player, will not face criminal charges, according to the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney.

Honolulu prosecuting attorney Steven S. Alm announced Wednesday that the officers were justified in using deadly force because Myeni, who is Black, refused to comply and attacked the officers. Alm did not name the officers involved in the shooting.

Myeni, who had recently moved to Hawaii with his wife and two young children, was fatally shot on April 14 by Honolulu police who were responding to 911 calls after he apparently accidentally entered a neighbor’s home. According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his widow, Lindsay Myeni, her husband may have confused the home he entered for a next-door public temple.

Doorbell camera video obtained and made public by the Bickerton Law Group, which is representing the family of Lindani Myeni, shows Myeni arriving at a house, removing his shoes, entering the home and then quickly leaving after his presence confused the occupants. He repeatedly apologized in the video.

Once officers arrived, Myeni repeatedly punched one of the officers who pointed a gun at him and told him to get on the ground, according to documents provided to ABC News by Alm’s office. Alm said the other two officers attempted to stop Myeni by using a stun gun on him and tackling him to the ground before the first officer shot him once in the chest.

Even after being shot in the chest, Alm said Myeni continued punching the officer before another police officer shot him three times, striking him in the torso and right thigh. It was only after the shooting that police can be heard identifying themselves on body camera video. Myeni was pronounced dead of multiple gunshot wounds.

Alm said there was no evidence race played a role in the shooting.

In a statement provided to ABC News, the Bickerton Law Group said the civil case is not affected by this decision and they will continue to move ahead.

“In the civil case, we will address the central questions that Mr. Alm appears to have avoided completely,” the statement said. “When you avoid addressing the very first wrongful act committed, your analysis of what comes afterwards should not be accepted by the public.”

Lawyers representing the family denounced Alm’s decision, saying in a statement that he “did not address whether it was lawful for Mr. Myeni to defend himself from the unknown assailant with a gun. Without that analysis, the rest of his analysis can have no weight.”

“The big question was whether Mr. Myeni knew they were officers, and not a private security detail of the hysterical 911 caller standing behind them who had, just minutes before, falsely pretended to report a ‘break in’ to someone,” the statement continued. “We know that Lindani said ‘Who are you?’ at least twice.”

The Bickerton Law Group said the civil suit will “definitely” address Mr. Alm’s analysis and his “unsupported conclusion that, because of the ‘lighting,’ Mr. Myeni knew they were officers.”

“Mr. Alm did not explain why the officers all had to use flashlights if the lighting was so good, or why Officer #1 says repeatedly after the shooting ‘I couldn’t see him,’ or why Mr. Myeni says, ‘Who are you?'” said James Bickerton, one of the lawyers representing Myeni’s widow. “Nor did Mr. Alm report doing any forensic tests to see what a person in Mr. Myeni’s position would see if a 600 lumens tactical light is shone in their direction on a moonless night.”

The city has not publicly identified the two officers who fired the fatal shots that resulted in Myeni’s death, but Bickerton Law Group said they have identified the officers through an investigation. On Thursday, lawyers representing Myeni’s widow filed papers to name the two officers who fired the fatal shots as additional defendants in the suit.

“I just never thought, I would think of Honolulu as a bad place, as a dark place … it’s just full of love and aloha,” Lindsay Myeni told ABC News in an interview last month. “To have this place be so dark, and to actually have this other side where our police are just like the rest of the mainland, it’s like there’s no safety, there’s actually fear now.”

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Surfside building collapse latest: Death toll rises to 22, including child of firefighter

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 22 people, including three children, have been confirmed dead and 126 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 Friday, as crews search the area of the collapse, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press briefing Friday evening.

Two bodies also 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 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 hours-long pause, according to Scott Nacheman, a structure specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue support team.

On Friday, Levine Cava signed an emergency order authorizing the demolition of the rest of the condominium “in the interest of public health and safety,” she said.

“Our top priority remains search and rescue, I want to be very clear about that, and we will take no action that will jeopardize our ability to continue the search and rescue mission,” she said. “I want to acknowledge that this was not a decision we made lightly, and I know especially how difficult this is for the families who escaped the building and who have lost their homes and their belongings. The building poses a threat to public health and safety, and bringing it down as is critical to protect our community.”

Nacheman, who is helping develop the plans, told reporters it would be “weeks” before a “definitive timeline” is available. Signing the emergency order will “help us move quickly,” Levine Cava said.

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.”

In the wake of the Surfside building collapse, the city of North Miami Beach ordered that another condominium close immediately amid safety concerns connected to the 40-year recertification process, officials said.

The Crestview Towers Condominium is “structurally and electrically unsafe,” based on the review of a recertification report submitted Friday, city officials said in a statement.

“The city of North Miami Beach has taken the steps that we recommended to review to make sure that the recertification process was being done in a timely basis. And as I understand it, as a result of that audit, they found a building that had not been recertified, and when the information came in, they took some steps,” Levine Cava said Friday evening.

Some 300 residents have to evacuate, according to ABC Miami affiliate WPLG, while a full structural assessment is conducted.

The 156-unit condo was built in 1972.

ABC News’ Will Gretsky contributed to this report.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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.”

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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

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(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.

French astronaut makes ‘crepe’ in space

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(NEW YORK) — While it may not be a traditional crêpe, it’s as close to the real deal as a French astronaut can get in space.

Thomas Pesquet, the first French commander of the International Space Station, shared a video on Twitter of his spin on the sweet treat.

“Unfortunately for my teammates, my culinary skills do not match my nationality. At least Shane and Oleg with whom I have already lived were warned this time. Creation so French today: chocolate crepe, strawberries, (how’s that a tortilla?),” the translated tweet said.

The 43-year-old first shared the video Monday and as the floating disc of dough made its rounds on social media, comments varied with some hailing the snack as hilarious and original, to others calling it dismal and disappointing.

Although the recipe may not be Le Cordon Bleu-worthy, Pesquet gets serious points for creativity and credit for the first known crepe served in space.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden backs removing sexual assault, harassment cases from military chain of command

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden has announced his support for the recommendation that prosecution of sexual assaults and sexual harassment cases be removed from the military chain of command in favor of independent prosecutors to handle those cases.

Recommended by an independent civilian panel that looked at sexual assault in the military, the change has been long been supported by advocates for sexual assault victims who say it will improve the handling of sexual assault allegations.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had already announced that he backed the same recommendation made by the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault on the Military when the group presented him with recommendations.

“I strongly support Secretary Austin’s announcement that he is accepting the core recommendations put forward by the Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault (IRC), including removing the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command and creating highly specialized units to handle these cases and related crimes,” Biden said in a statement released Friday.

“Sexual assault is an abuse of power and an affront to our shared humanity,” he added. “And sexual assault in the military is doubly damaging because it also shreds the unity and cohesion that is essential to the functioning of the U.S. military and to our national defense.”

“Today’s announcement is the beginning, not the end of our work,” Biden said. “This will be among the most significant reforms to our military undertaken in recent history, and I’m committed to delivering results.”

Biden said he looked forward to working with Congress “to implement these necessary reforms and promote a work environment that is free from sexual assault and harassment for every one of our brave service members.”

The change to remove the military chain of command from prosecutions has been the centerpiece of legislation championed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., for the last decade.

Recently, Gillibrand has received bipartisan support for a bill that has been previously voted down and not backed by the Pentagon.

But Gillibrand’s bill has not received the support of key lawmakers on the Armed Services Committees who are opposed to the removal of the chain of command from all felony cases, not just sexual assault prosecutions.

While Biden expressed support for the change in military sexual assault prosecutions, ahead of Friday’s announcement two senior administration officials seemed to indicate that Biden does not support broader changes in Gillibrand’s bill.

The officials said the independent panel recommends that the changes be enacted by Congress this year but that they not go into effect until 2023 to help build the infrastructure needed to bring special victims prosecutors on board.

“We reject the notion that shifting legal decisions about prosecution from command to prosecutors diminishes the role of those commanders,” said one of the officials.

“We believe, instead, that it enhances their role and places them in the lead of taking care of their people — the number one job of commanders — and creating climates of no tolerance for sexual assault, sexual harassment, and related crimes” the official added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Air travel exceeds pre-pandemic levels for first time heading into July Fourth weekend

Mina Kaji andAmanda Maile, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Thursday marked a major pandemic milestone — air travel exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time as people took to the skies for the July 4th holiday.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported it screened 2,147,090 nationwide Thursday, surpassing the checkpoint volume for the same day in 2019 by 58,330.

It’s a remarkable recovery from the height of the pandemic when fewer than 100,000 people were flying in the U.S. each day.

Experts predict airlines will carry the most passengers since the start of the pandemic this weekend.

Domestic destinations like Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando are the most popular, according to the travel booking site Hopper. The Caribbean and Mexico are the most popular international destinations, according to Hopper economist Adit Damodarn.

“July 4th is the most searched weekend of summer 2021 thus far,” Damodarn said.

American Airlines is operating nearly 5,500 daily flights between Thursday and Monday, with the busiest travel days being Thursday and Friday, a spokesperson said.

United Airlines expects to fly 2 million customers from Thursday to Tuesday, with Thursday and Monday anticipated to be its busiest days. Delta Air Lines said approximately 2.2 million customers are expected to fly with the airline between Friday and Tuesday.

The busiest airports will be Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, according to Hopper. The busiest day to depart is Friday and the busiest day to return will be Monday.

“Travel is back,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told ABC News.

“July 1 is going to be the busiest day since COVID started, but it’ll only have that record for four days because July 5 is going to break it. It’s just another indication of how we really are on the road to recovery,” Kirby said.

TSA warned of staffing shortages at more than 100 airports last month and continues to ask for volunteers to help meet demand.

“Because of the fact that you know there are shortage and staffing, you know they’re going to be long lines, just be patient,” Everett Kelley, president of AFGE, the union that represents Transportation Security Officers, told ABC.

TSA has said it hopes to hire 6,000 new officers to handle the summer travel boost.

It has resorted to offering recruitment incentives such as $1,000 to officers who accept employment with the agency.

They say they are prepared to handle the increased traveler volume this weekend.

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.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Southwest Airlines canceled 2,600 flights in June; crews say they’re exhausted

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(NEW YORK) — As Americans flock back to air travel, airlines are scrambling to retrain crew and staff airport operations positions — the job hasn’t been easy with flight cancellations piling up.

Southwest canceled 2,687 flights in June according to flight tracking site Flightaware.com. In that same period, United canceled 189, Delta 106, and American canceled 2,423.

Southwest has blamed weather and a temporary IT outage in mid-June, but documents obtained by ABC News and conversations with flight crews detail more than just weather problems.

“Southwest is facing labor shortages, from the ramp to customer service agents to our flight attendants, pilots, and a lot of those are, they’re having trouble filling,” Southwest captain and president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Casey Murray told ABC News.

American has explained its recent problems citing staffing shortages, telling customers to expect up to 80 cancellations a day through July 15.

Besides cancellations, Southwest also saw 34,250 delayed flights in June, significantly higher than United which saw just 8,440 delayed flights during the same period. Delta delayed 11,057 flights in June, while American Airlines delayed 20,418, according to FlightAware.

Southwest flight attendant and union president Lyn Montgomery has been flying for Southwest for 29 years, and says this is the worst she’s ever seen.

“It’s the lowest morale we’ve ever seen. We are normally a pretty happy workforce who work for Southwest Airlines and have always taken pride in that, but right now morale is at the lowest it’s ever been,” Montgomery told ABC News.

As Americans began to travel for Father’s Day weekend, more than 20% of Southwest flight attendants called in sick, according to internal documents obtained by ABC News. Many of those sick calls were due to fatigue, according to Montgomery.

The airline is now offering flight crews up to double pay to pick up open shifts through July 7, the airline acknowledged.

On Thursday, Southwest had scheduled 3,445 flights scheduled but canceled 212 of them.

In a statement to ABC News Southwest said: “Our People are expert problem solvers persevering with fewer options available to them right now as we deal with a combination of disruptive weather, very full flights, and a flight schedule built for nonstop, point-to-point travel. We’re aware of the frustration this disruption is having on our Employees and Customers. We apologize and we are dedicated to doing better.”

Captain Murray said as more pilots come out of training, cancellations should subside. Southwest does have new flight attendants in training as well, but airline training programs take weeks to months before new hires work their first shifts.

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