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Updates On Haiti And Cuba, A Structural Engineer Investigating Surfside, And Cruise Ships & COVID

Haiti's interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph gives a press conference in Port-au-Prince on Friday, the week after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse's on July 7.
Haiti's interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph gives a press conference in Port-au-Prince on Friday, the week after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse's on July 7.

WLRN's Americas Editor Tim Padgett gives an update on the situations in Haiti and Cuba. A structural engineer who investigated the Pentagon after the attacks of Sept. 11, and the FIU bridge collapse, now investigates the Surfside condo collapse. And, a conversation on cruise ships and COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Latest In Haiti And Cuba

Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph stepped down from his position today. It comes nearly two weeks after Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in his home just outside of Port-Au Prince.

Joseph’s departure leaves a political vacuum in the country that’s struggling with rising COVID-19 cases, a spiraling economy and rising gang violence.

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Ariel Henry was chosen by Moise to be the next prime minister two days before Moise’s assassination. This means Henry was not able to be sworn in.

"Since the assassination, we've had this wrangling going on in Haiti between the factions who want to just keep Claude Joseph as prime minister, maybe for stability. Or bring in the guy that Moise really wanted to be the new prime minister, Ariel Henry,” said WLRN Americas Editor Tim Padgett.

Also, anti-government protests continue in Cuba and South Florida. Padgett said that hundreds of people have been detained by the government since the start of the protests. He said that the feel of these current protests is different from protests from years ago.

"That fear that we once associated with Cubans on the island is dissolving,” Padgett said.

Haiti and Cuba

Surfside Investigation

It might be years before we have answers on what truly caused the partial collapse of the Champlain Tower South building in Surfside.

Though numerous people have speculated about possible causes for the tragic collapse, Surfside officials hired their own investigator — renowned structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer.

His past experience includes investigating the Pentagon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the 2018 collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University. Kilsheimer is the founder and chief executive of KCE Structural Engineers firm.

Kilsheimer said that despite being hired to investigate the collapse, he has not been given access to the rubble site to run any tests.

“I've not been allowed to do any sampling or testing or touching. I was asked to not take any more pictures," he said.

The Miami-Dade Police Department has labeled this site an active crime scene. Kilsheimer said the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is doing its own investigation, has not been working with him.

Kilsheimer says his investigation is focusing its efforts on the original building design and plans but it's difficult to determine the cause of the collapse without being able to test the site.

"We're doing it way out of order from what we're used to doing," he said.

Kilsheimer has been given limited access to the Champlain Towers North, which was built at the same time and with similar plans to the South tower. He did two laser scans of the North building and has taken some samples of building materials. His investigation is also using digital models of the South building to see what could have potentially caused the collapse.

"It's like a 3,000-piece puzzle that you get in, you throw up in the air and somebody sweeps all the pieces around the floor all over the place," said Kilsheimer. "And then you have to try and put it back together again. And sometimes not all the pieces of the puzzle are there anymore."

Surfside Investigation

Cruises And COVID-19 Vaccinations

There are two lawsuits happening involving cruise lines and COVID-19. The first was brought by Florida against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arguing that cruise ships should be allowed to operate without any requirements for COVID-19 protocols. A lower court agreed with the state and was going to remove these regulations. Then, an appeals court stepped in.

In the second lawsuit, Norwegian Cruise Lines sued the state of Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning the use of so-called “vaccine passports.” The results of that lawsuit should be decided by mid-August.

Miami Herald tourism reporter Taylor Dolven said some companies are getting around the state law by calling cruise passengers and surveying them about their vaccination status. The companies then ask the passenger to volunteer their proof of vaccination.

“If they don’t volunteer the information then they’re considered unvaccinated and have to be tested, sometimes multiple times at their own expense and there’s a lot of other restrictions for unvaccinated passengers,” Dolven said.

Dolven gave an example of cruise ship COVID-19 protocols going awry. Laura Angelo was a Royal Caribbean passenger who had COVID previously and was not vaccinated. She was accidentally given a wristband meant for vaccinated passengers.

"On the second day of the cruise, the company realized that they had messed up," Dolven said, describing Angelo's story.

Angelo and her friend were then tested and one of them tested positive. They were kicked off the cruise and flown back to the U.S.

Cruise Vaccinations

Kristin Moorehead is a 2021 WLRN summer intern and recent graduate of the University of Florida with a B.S. in Telecommunication.