© 2021 WLRN
MIAMI | SOUTH FLORIDA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Partial Collapse Of A Condo Building, Cruising and Travel Return, Plus The Search For UFOs

Building Collapse Miami
Gerald Herbert/AP
/
AP
View of the partial building collapse of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, FL on June 24, 2021.

State and federal help pours in to help after part of a condominium building collapsed in South Florida, the first cruise ship with paying passengers leaves from Florida this weekend. And waiting for a Pentagon report on UFOs.

At about 1:30 a.m. early Thursday morning — a huge rumble. An unimaginable tragedy.

That’s how the partial collapse of a condominium building in Surfside near Miami Beach has been described. Part of the 12-story Champlain Towers South just fell. The floors dropping onto one another and into the underground parking.

As of Friday morning, four people are dead, 35 people have been rescued from the rubble, and 159 people are unaccounted for as search and rescue efforts continue.

WLRN is here for you, even when life is unpredictable. Our journalists are continuing to work hard to keep you informed across South Florida. Please support this vital work. Become a WLRN member today. Thank you.

It is uncertain how long search and rescue efforts will continue. Rescue crews have had to deal with rain, the threat of lightning and small fires as they careful comb through the rubble, looking and listening for signs of life.

"They are feverishly but painstakingly going through the rubble and trying to make sure if there's any chance of saving someone and pulling out survivors, that they can do that. And then also trying to recover the remains of those who did not survive," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The town of Surfside is in her congressional district.

"The last thing they want to do is go too fast or make some kind of movements that would cause the rest of the building [to collapse]," she said.

President Joe Biden signed an emergency declaration early Friday morning. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for Miami-Dade County Thursday. Earlier Thursday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava asked for the state declaration.

The orders allow easier access to state and federal resources, including financial assistance for those directly impacted, and reimbursement of certain costs for local governments.

Wasserman Schultz called the federal declaration "unprecedented" because it was used due to the destruction of a private building.

The Miami Herald reports a half dozen people from the National Institute of Standards and Technology are coming to Surfside to determine if the federal agency has a role to play in the investigation.

"It's not certain that they will get involved but it is certainly possible. And they've been in communication with Miami-Dade County already," Wasserman Schultz said.

Virus Outbreak US
Lynne Sladky/AP
The Celebrity Edge cruise ship is docked at Port Everglades, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Celebrity Edge is set to sail on Saturday from Fort Lauderdale. It will be the first cruise ship to leave a U.S. port with ticketed passengers since the onset of the pandemic, which halted sailing. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Summer Travel

On Saturday, the Celebrity Edge cruise ship is set to lift anchor at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and set sail into the Caribbean Sea. It will be the first cruise with paying passengers from a Florida port in more than 15 months.

Cruising returns and airline traffic is picking up for the summertime travel season. It’s an important part of the Florida economy, bringing millions of visitors back to the state and helping fuel hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The question of whether passengers on this first sailing from Florida will have to be vaccinated or not is "tricky," according to Washington Post tourism reporter Hannah Sampson.

"They're asking people, 'Are you vaccinated?' And if people refuse to tell them or refuse to provide proof, then they're subject to all kinds of additional restrictions. If they pony up that proof and say they're vaccinated, then they can have nearly a pre-pandemic-style cruise," Sampson said.

This first commercial cruise from Florida since the pandemic began comes a week after Gov. DeSantis and the state of Florida won in a battle with the Centers for Disease Control. The state sued the CDC, in federal court, over its conditional sailing order — which set the rules for what cruise ship operators need to do to return to the water with passengers. Last week, a federal judge in Tampa ruled the federal agency cannot enforce its return to sailing rules beginning July 18. That's when the CDC's conditional sailing order will become recommended but not mandatory.

"Cruise lines can still have the same rules in place that they've worked out with the CDC," said Sampson. "Just because the judge made this ruling doesn't mean that they necessarily have to drop their protocols."

The agency also may choose to come back to the judge with more limited guidelines, arguing those are within its authority.

Meantime, Florida theme park visitors no longer have to wear masks. Universal dropped its indoor mask requirement in May. Disney World did the same earlier this month.

"I think it's going pretty well," said Orlando Sentinel tourism reporter Gabrielle Russon. "There have been a lot of changes. A lot of the rules that we had in place when the theme parks reopened a year ago during the pandemic — those are going away."

Universal Orlando parks have returned to full capacity. The theme park also stopped temperature checks and reduced social distancing rules.

"It's really more like the theme park days of the old with those lines and no mask mandate," said Russon.

Capacity limits remain in place at Disney World. While it has dropped its mask mandate for people who are fully vaccinated, the theme park said it expects "guests who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing face coverings" indoors.

UFOs
AP
The image from video provided by the Department of Defense labelled Gimbal, from 2015, an unexplained object is seen at center as it is tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind. “There's a whole fleet of them,” one naval aviator tells another, though only one indistinct object is shown. “It's rotating." The U.S. government has been taking a hard look at unidentified flying objects, under orders from Congress, and a report summarizing what officials know is expected to come out in June 2021. (Department of Defense via AP)

The Truth is Out There

The 1990s TV show "The X-Files" made a fictional promise that proof of extraterrestrial life existed — somewhere — deep inside a government conspiracy to keep it hidden.

Sometime before the end of June, the U.S. government has promised to release a report on government UFO research. For real.

"We're hearing reports that the government is not going to come out and say, 'This is aliens,'" said WFME space reporter Brendan Byrne.

Still, the report, which was mandated by Congress, holds hope it will help legitimize research into UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena).

"There is a phenomenon out there that we don't know what it is. Science demands that we investigate it and look into it and figure out what it is. And I think that's kind of the the crux of this thing. This is basic science and these scientists are motivated to want to know what this is," Byrne said.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee demanded this anticipated report as part of the intelligence budget for this year. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was the acting committee chair when the plan was put together. He told CBS's "60 Minutes" UAPs were a critical national security issue.

While the report due out does not involve NASA, Byrne said NASA Administrator — and former Florida Democratic senator — Bill Nelson, "came out and said his top scientists were going to look at the phenomenon as well."

"There's there's a mystery there. And and folks really want to get to the bottom of it," Byrne said.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.