News Brief: Florida Condo Demolition, Taliban Gain Ground, Camp For Billionaires
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Late last night, crews brought down the rest of the Champlain Tower South building in Surfside, Fla.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Right. Just after 10:30 p.m., demolition experts used explosives on the part of the condo tower that was still standing.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIVES DETONATING, DOG BARKING)
KING: At this point, 24 people are confirmed dead, and 121 people are still unaccounted for. City officials said that demolition was necessary in order to safely continue search and rescue efforts.
FADEL: NPR's Brian Mann has been covering this story in South Florida and joins us now with the latest. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.
FADEL: So, Brian, describe the scene as that last heavily damaged tower came down.
MANN: Yeah. There was that quick kind of rapid-fire burst of powerful detonations. And in just a few seconds, the targeted explosives undercut the structure. It kind of rippled, then folded, and then all that concrete came down in a rush, sending up a huge cloud of dust and debris.
Stephanie Rioja is a parishioner at St. Joseph's Church. Her congregation lost people in the condo collapse, and she came to watch and pray and hold a candle.
STEPHANIE RIOJA: They're in peace now. They are in peace. It's over now. Thank you, Lord. We lost people from our church and from my kids' school, St. Patrick's.
MANN: So this moment brought some closure for some people. Officials say it also will make the disaster site hopefully a bit safer for search and rescue teams so they can get back to work. They had halted recovery efforts because that tower was so unstable.
FADEL: What about the families who lived in that tower, Brian? What's happening with them?
MANN: Yeah, this part is painful. Last night, a lot of people lost their homes. FEMA and other agencies are helping relocate survivors from the structure that collapsed and also these people forced to evacuate the remaining tower that was demolished. But, you know, these families have lost possessions, furniture, everything really. Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents this area, spoke about this at a press conference last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And we need to think about the loss, the further loss that the demolition of this building means for all of these families. And so I hope you keep them in your hearts. The initial collapse was certainly devastating. The demolition is going to add to that sadness and sorrow.
MANN: One bit of comfort is that donations have just poured in to help people restart their lives. But, yeah, there's just a lot of grieving here.
FADEL: Lives lost, lives being restarted - I understand there's also a lot of concern among residents of that tower about their pets. What happened to the animals left behind in those apartments?
MANN: Yeah, this became a big concern for folks here. We haven't actually heard of animals being rescued, but Miami-Dade officials say they really tried hard to make sure that all the pets and animals that were left behind in this remaining tower had been located if they were still in there. They used drones. They scoured the building. And officials say they also just had to move forward with last night's demolition because of Tropical Storm Elsa, which is expected to bring high winds and rain to South Florida later today.
FADEL: Right. So as search teams get back to work in that rubble pile, there's a big storm coming. What happens next?
MANN: Yeah. So these crews will keep working and rotating shifts as long as it's safe, looking for victims and recovering bodies. It's slow, painstaking and risky work. And the weather has already been terrible for much of this search effort. And Tropical Storm Elsa will just add to that. Meanwhile, investigations are underway to find out how this collapse could have happened.
FADEL: NPR's Brian Mann, thanks for your reporting.
MANN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FADEL: The Taliban are advancing across Afghanistan as U.S. and allied forces are leaving the country.
KING: Right. So when American troops withdrew from Bagram Airfield last week, it was a clear indication that the U.S. is very close to a full departure. The Taliban are capitalizing on that by moving into rural areas with the hope of eventually capturing the capital of Kabul.
FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid covers Afghanistan and joins us now. Good morning, Diaa.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.
FADEL: So it sounds like events are really moving quickly on the ground. Can you update us?
HADID: Yeah, sure. So just over the weekend, the Taliban overran much of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, and dozens of Afghan troops there fled to neighboring Tajikistan. A reporter shared footage of people rushing into an airplane in the provincial capital. He said they were officials scrambling to escape to Kabul. The Afghan capital is seen still as the safest place in the country. It's the most heavily defended. And all of this comes in a context, Leila - the Taliban are moving faster than anybody really expected. Since May, they've captured about a quarter of the country. They now hold one of the largest dams. They're nearly at Afghanistan's tiny border with China. They hold one border crossing. They're trying to seize more.
And the insurgents share videos of themselves seizing Afghan army equipment abandoned by fleeing forces. It's largely U.S.-funded stuff, and it's fodder for upcoming battles. But it's also, just as importantly, helped to create this perception that they're unstoppable. That's important. And you can see that because morale is collapsing, particularly among Afghan forces in the north. And it's really striking for Afghan watchers because these were once the places that fought the hardest against the Taliban during the civil war in the '90s.
FADEL: Now, you mention officials scrambling to get to Kabul. What's the mood like in the capital?
HADID: Surreal - life continues as normal. There's traffic jams; shops are open. There's also thousands of people rushing to apply for passports. Our producer in Kabul, Khwaga Ghani, spoke to three people. One is a university professor. His name is Aminallah Masroor, and he doesn't think Kabul will for any time soon. But he says, yeah, people are terrified, especially outside the capital. Have a listen.
AMINALLAH MASROOR: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: And another woman, Rabia, she imports clothes from Turkey. And she tells NPR she's leaving the country.
RABIA: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: She's worried, she says, that the Taliban will take over, and she won't be able to keep working.
And then there's a 19-year-old, Samira. She blames the Afghan government for the Taliban rampage.
SAMIRA: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: She says, "Afghan troops are being left to starve." "They don't even have bread," she says, "because of a corrupt and inept government."
FADEL: So we heard anger at the Afghan government. How do people feel about the U.S. government, which has largely withdrawn its forces at this point?
HADID: Well, it's complicated. Many Afghans feel the Americans brought nothing but hardship, and they're happy to see them go. Others, like urban women in particular, who fought for their rights over the past three decades, feel betrayed. They feel like America is abandoning them to the Taliban. And you could hear that in responses they had to a July 4th press conference with President Biden, who bristled when reporters asked him about Afghanistan. He wanted to talk about happier things. And a human rights activist responded on Twitter with this - as an Afghan woman, I don't have that option to talk about happy things; I have to worry about a looming gender apartheid.
FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid, thank you.
HADID: Thank you, Leila.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FADEL: In Sun Valley, Idaho, this week, executives from influential American companies will hike, golf and make deals.
KING: Yeah, it's known as summer camp for billionaires. And it was canceled last year because of the pandemic, but it's back on.
FADEL: NPR's David Gura will be following all of this and joins us now. Good morning, David.
DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
FADEL: So what's this conference, and who will be attending this year?
GURA: Yeah. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to be there along with Sheryl Sandberg. Tim Cook of Apple is a regular, so is Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber. It's a real who's who from media and entertainment and tech. And in years past, Jeff Bezos has made the trip, so has Elon Musk, Satya Nadella from Microsoft and Warren Buffett. It's really remarkable to see all these people in one place there to mix and mingle, to take hikes, to go rafting. And something that really stands out is everybody's dressed really casually, kind of - Patagonia vests have been standard issue in the past.
FADEL: So despite the casual attire, there are pretty serious meetings for these companies. What's the talk going into this year's conference?
GURA: Yeah. Obviously, the pandemic has changed the way deals are done. We'll see how that affects attendance at this year's conference. But it's been a record-setting year for deal-making. There have been a lot of them. This conference comes on the heels of Discovery's purchase of AT&T's media assets, of Amazon's deal with MGM. So it's likely participants are going to be talking about buying content. There are also some newcomers. The new CEO of Amazon reportedly is going to make an appearance at the event this year. And new regulation and oversight is probably front of mind for a lot of these executives. This comes at a time when Big Tech is probably under a lot of scrutiny...
GURA: ...At a lot of these companies. And the Democratic majority in Congress is promising more scrutiny. And you have the regulator, Lina Khan, running the FTC, running the Federal Trading (ph) Commission, also promising a tougher approach to Big Tech.
FADEL: Who arranges this big conference, and why?
GURA: Yeah, this is fascinating. It's an investment bank called Allen & Company - rents out the entire resort, takes care of everything, including cars and condos, food and drinks.
FADEL: Sounds nice.
GURA: And the reason they do this - (laughter) yeah - is if a deal comes out of this conference, Allen & Co. expects to be involved in that deal, to get a fee from that transaction. And deals do come out of this. It's been widely reported that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, decided to buy The Washington Post at Sun Valley. He hashed out the terms with the newspaper's former owner at the conference. You know, Allen & Co. is small, but influential. It's a bank that focuses on building these kind of deep personal relationships over time.
Donna Hitscherich is a finance professor at Columbia.
DONNA HITSCHERICH: You know, at the end of the day, I think what a lot of people don't necessarily completely appreciate is that this business is all about people. Right?
GURA: Allen & Co.'s kind of sustained focus on this makes it an outlier. Many other investment banks have gotten bigger. They've gone public, and they're beholden to shareholders.
FADEL: You called Allen & Co. influential. How influential are we talking here?
GURA: Yeah, we're talking about some initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions worth billions of dollars. And this company has gotten in very early. Allen & Co. helped Facebook go public, helped Google go public as well. And later, it helped broker Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp and Microsoft's purchase of LinkedIn. It's also worked on some big deals in cable and telecom, big mergers that have been pretty transformative. So, yeah, pretty influential across this space.
FADEL: NPR's David Gura, thank you for your reporting.
GURA: Thank you.
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