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Surfside Mayor Discusses Rescue Operation At Site Of Florida Condo Collapse

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Search and rescue teams in Surfside, Fla., are using dogs and microphones, working around-the-clock in hopes of finding anyone still alive in what remains of the collapsed building there. Charles Burkett is the mayor of Surfside, and he joins us now. Thank you for speaking with us.

CHARLES BURKETT: No problem.

FADEL: I mean, the first thing I want to say is I'm just so sorry for the families, you and your neighbors. What a difficult time. How are you holding up?

BURKETT: Listen; it doesn't matter how I'm holding up. We're - we got a job to do.

FADEL: Yeah.

BURKETT: And our job is to pull as many victims out of that pile of rubble as we can. And that's exactly what we're focused on doing to the exclusion of everything else.

FADEL: I want to ask about a report that NPR obtained - it was first reported by the Miami Herald; it's now posted on the town website - saying that the building's managers were warned of the risk from major structural damage three years ago. Was this disaster preventable?

BURKETT: We were told last night at a meeting that the 40-year report, the 40-year recertification had not been received by the city or the town. This is a 2018 email. I'm under the impression that it is something that nobody had seen until yesterday, when we started looking back into the records to try to understand if there was anything in the record that would indicate why this building fell down. This was not information that we had been made aware of. But I'm - I've asked that that report be sent to me this morning so I could review it.

FADEL: Yeah. Well, what do you know as of now about why the building collapsed?

BURKETT: Oh, I don't - we don't know anything. All I know is that buildings in America don't fall down like this. I do know that something is very, very, very wrong with this situation.

FADEL: Yeah.

BURKETT: I'm concerned because we have an identical building built by the same builder, maybe with the same materials, maybe with the same plans, just one building away. And we're taking steps right now. I've requested from the county mayor and Senator Rick Scott that they advise me and let me know how to proceed with potentially evacuating that building so we can get in there and do a forensic investigation on the status of that particular structure.

FADEL: And are there other buildings like that that you're concerned about beyond that second building?

BURKETT: We have residents calling and asking if their buildings are safe. And that's not a good thing when you have residents that are concerned about whether their building's going to fall down. And I would say, for the most part, there's no evidence, there's no reason to believe their buildings are not safe. However, if somebody asks me about a building that was built by the same developer, potentially with the same plan, the same materials and the same design, I can't say that. And because I can't say that, we need to take some type of action, and we need to take some type of action pretty soon.

FADEL: What about the missing? What are the latest on the search and rescue efforts? I understand bad weather has been a challenge.

BURKETT: Let me just say this. We don't have a resource problem.

FADEL: Yeah.

BURKETT: We have the White House supporting us. Nancy Pelosi - Speaker Pelosi, I should say, called me yesterday to offer any support she could provide. Our - both of our United States senators have offered to provide any help that they can and have offered to move heaven and earth to get that done. Our Florida governor, DeSantis, is on the site right now, I understand. I'm going back to meet him shortly. All of our United States representatives, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has been instrumental, has engaged and cleared the way for anything that we need. And lastly, our county mayor, Cava, has delivered so many resources that it's unimaginable.

However, having said that, we don't have a resource problem; we have a luck problem. We just got to get lucky, and we got to have some good weather. We got to get that fire out, and we got to pull those victims out of the rubble.

FADEL: Charles Burkett is the mayor of Surfside. Thank you for being with us.

BURKETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 26, 2021 at 10:00 PM MDT
A previous headline and description for this segment identified the wrong person as the guest for the interview. The guest for this conversation was Charles Burkett, the mayor of Surfside, Fla.
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